Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, but even better friends don’t let friends go to Les Halles alone. So my good friend Susan, after a careful analysis of this New York magazine article, had really only one injunction: “FIND OUT WHEN!!”
When, indeed, might Monsieur Bourdain once more be taking up his mighty sauteuse and cooking at Les Halles – with Eric Ripert? For an episode of No Reservations? And a full dinner service, no less? Zut alors! What was he thinking? That, yes, despite – oh, about five years away from the stove – you CAN go home again? That you can survive a full, hard-on rush hour without collapsing into the cassoulet? That, even with your knees popping like rice cakes on a fandango dance floor, you CAN crank out a respectable 250 or slamming 350 covers a night, like you used to? Well . . . yeah. Why not? . But I guess we’ll just have to watch the show to be sure.
What I was sure about, however, was that Team Tony was in the house. Scoring a table right at the back with a partial view through the glass partition enclosing the kitchen, the first famous face the unsuspecting diners saw was none other than Eric Ripert, manfully working the grill station at the very front, with Todd Liebler and his camera hanging over his shoulder, and what appeared to be a black knit cap mashing Ripert’s hair . . . and towards the back, on sauté, was Tony. With a black knit cap mashing his hair. Mon Dieu!, I am thinking – what ees zees? Ze Creeps and ze Bloods are wearing zere coleurs? Apparently so.
Ahhh, now this set-up required some Strategic Eating. Clearly, one of our party of three would be ordering steak, and the other two something off the saute station, in the hope of improving the odds of getting something actually cooked by either Ripert or Bourdain. Hmmmmmm. Au revoir to Les Assiettes. Adieu to La Rôtissoire. A bien tôt to Am – no, wait! Do I detect foie gras on the Amuse-Gueles menu? Foie gras that gets . . . sautéed?
Obviously, the assault on the menu would demand the cunning of a Borgia pope so, savagely disregarding anything involving garde mange, we laid siege to saute with three orders of Foie Gras Poëlé aux Pommes:
with a stealth attack on the Boudin aux Pommes:
before – gasp! – a strategic error! The cassoulet Toulousain, not the Hamburger Rossini! (Mais non, non, non – not a two-day dish! Ầ la minute! From sauté!) Oh, well. There were sentimental reasons involved here. (NONE of them mine.)
Recovering quickly, our third Musketeer sized up the grill station carefully and scored a bull’s eye with a stunning Paleron (flat iron steak) with Béarnaise, prepared to order. Yes, by Chef Ripert:
Up to this point, the dining room pretended to ignore the sight of Todd, this time out among us, pointing a very large camera lens into their dinners, while the wait staff pretended to ignore a very large teal box on the empty seat at our table – both with minimal success. Understanding that I was (despite my clear grasp of the situation and usually much better judgment), about to enter the world of dorkdom, I put the wait staff out of their misery and dispatched the Bûche de Noël in a Big Blue Box back to the kitchen, and hoped the diversion would last long enough for me to squeeze off some shots of Ripert through the glass without either the whole floor or Ripert noticing. Now, THAT part worked:
It began with a Bûche de Noël:
that became a Bûche in a Box:
that became a Bûche in a Big Blue Box (well, teal, actually, but it ruins my alliteration):
Okay, so it’s out there, now. The fact that I had stupefying stunads to present two professional chefs – one half-French, the other full French, yet – with a Bûche at the height of dinner service, and – incroyable!- I did so after schlepping the damn thing on the subway. During rush hour. In both directions. But this is New York. Only the strong survive. (On Valium.)
(Charmingly, Todd tried to use this darling little boy as a tripod, except his mom is one of the producers. And, by now, the camera phones were going off.)
Fortunately, before Todd could get busted for child abuse or violating child labor laws, the mâitre d’, Frederic Larrieu, came by with a waiter, Tim, in tow, and gladly started accepting bets as to how long the self-styled Mr. Softy Palms would last before he found himself in the weeds:
And the answer was – he didn’t. Food arrived swiftly and steadily, all throughout, with Ripert so serene he took time to mug at the foodies shooting him with camera phones (and playfully sticking his tongue out at one slim blonde who forgot to turn off her flash), and Bourdain, while intense, never missing a beat; pivoting left and then right, in a controlled blur, fast enough to escape a shutter, but not so fast he wasted any movement, from station to lowboy to the tickets. Was he expediting? I cannot say. He was reading tickets. And, yes, he was cooking. Just for the camera? Again, I cannot say. But long after Todd shot the A roll (main shots) and a second cameraman (Zac?) shot B roll from the corridor leading into the kitchen, Bourdain was working the station.
Several Cosmos later, we were greeted by the sudden appearance of not only Larrieu coming to set my dessert on fire, but Todd – back with a vengeance! And back – for my crêpes Suzette! Ahhh, je comprends! My lovely crêpe has been selected as a stunt crêpe, and it is ready for it’s close-up, Mr. DeMille!
So, naturellement, M’sieur Larrieu is talking up the process and adding big gobs of butter to the crepe pan (because you can never have too much butter, mes enfants), and Mitchell’s silky bananes flambées also drew Todd’s wandering eye:
and there was much soft snuffling of happy wee diners all around. But, of course, could we be smart enough, once, to leave well enough alone? To waft away, replete with the unctuous goodness of flaming desserts and smelling vaguely of gently cooked sugar, and just GO HOME? Of course not. Worried that the Ripert-through-the-glass shots were out of focus (well, so was I), we made a final foray to the glass partition, now mobbed by camera phone-carrying yuppies flash-bombing Ripert, only to come face-to-face with the ubiquitous Todd, gesticulating at us. Was he saying, “Get out of the shot”? No. “I am shooting”? No . . . not quite. “I am shooting you shooting Ripert. Is that OK?” Well . . . sure. You didn’t ask my dessert for a release, but I guess it gave you one:
Great. Now we look like dorks, suckerfishing up like remoras on Ripert’s breath-fogged partition. Shit. Could it get any worse? Yes. Lydia Tenaglia, bounding out of the kitchen, politely asks, “Could we shoot you?” (Yes, I’m sure Ripert and Bourdain are ready to do just that, by now.) “Shoot, as in being a dork shooting you guys through the glass?” “Yes.” “Sure. I’ve already spiraled down to the eleventh circle of dorkdom.” Consider this a release, Lydia.
By now, about as comfortable as lepers in the club Med jacuzzi, the three of us flee and pray for some judicious snipping in the editing room at ZeroPointZero (except for the crêpe, of course. It deserves its air time), just to catch this, posted up on the glass:
Final stats for last night? With a seating capacity of 146 at Les Halles, Team Tony did 315 covers. Stupéfiant? Non. Formidable? Perhaps not. But a good, solid performance, with each bite – whether Ripert’s or Bourdain’s -or NOT – a true delight. It might have been shot for No Reservations, but thanks, Eric. Thanks, Tony. And Joyeux Noël.