“We could go to Mexico, too,” says the show’s star cook who also happens to be the love of my life and is certainly ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed.’
“And the Mediterranean!” adds the producer/director. Easy for him to say. He just lost his mast and sold his boat to an unsuspecting German (if there is such a thing). I think he’s eyeing Poseidon’s Guest Suite.
“So… we can shoot the pilot at Smugglers,” Linda says. “It’s like our backyard.”
"A lot of planning… ” I muse, not meaning to say it out loud.
“Don't forget your wine pairings.” A low blow. She knows that second only to her, wine is my passion so if I’m having any doubts about this adventure (which, I have to admit, I’m not), this would be a clincher.
“We’ve got to really figure out the anchorages; where to place the boat so we have the best views, the perfect backgrounds. That kind of stuff.” I know I was going to need a second cognac. I can just hear the director asking me to stop the boat from rocking because the cameraman’s feeling seasick.
“The viewers. If the food’s rocking and rolling, they’re going to be queasy.”
“But seas move,” I protest. “Even King Canute figured that one out. Can’t you gimbal the cameras?”
“Maybe – but we need some movement. Otherwise we might as well be in a studio.” So how much movement is too much movement, I want to ask, but figured that might be one of those ‘how deep is the ocean?’ questions.
“Guests,” says the star cook. “What are you thinking?”
“Chefs who can play and musicians who can cook! That’d be great. Live music as part of the show.” But all I can think of is how to get them onto the boat, off the boat – and all those damn instruments. (I played an accordion when I was a youth, and had to lug it around.)
"And what kind of music?
“As the sun goes down.”
Oh. Now I have to organize the sunsets, too?
And so it begins, this voyage called ‘Poseidon Cooks!’ And, sure enough, the cameraman asks for a little less swell, the soundman requests a quieter generator, and while there’s a lull in the battle I find myself driving the crew around the bay, looking for ‘B-roll.’ Whatever that is. (Turns out to be all that additional material that brings color and life to a piece; that additional material which studio-bound cooking shows do without. Perhaps that’s why they need cooks who swear at their helpers and throw the utensils around like grumpy babies in an uncomfortable stroller.)
Halfway between Poseidon and the shore I make a violent U-turn. The cameraman be overboard but the soundman grabs him. They shoot me very hurt looks.
“Sorry,” I say. “I forgot to put the wine in the chiller.” I haven’t gotten this old this gracefully by forgetting details like this – show or no show. I go to full throttle, imagining the scene as Linda serves the dish she’s been preparing for three hours, then turns to camera and says.
“Let’s talk about John’s wine pairing,” and I have to admit that the Trimbach is still in its case, at least twenty degrees warmer than any self-respecting Grand Vin d’Alsace would like to be quaffed.
Yes, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it and I’m the first to volunteer.
“Even a food show?”
“Everything,” he says. “Why do you think every great religion tells stories? Morality plays, myths and legends – story, story, story. And it’s our story – Poseidon Cooks!’ story, that’s what makes us different. The stories of the dishes, the ingredients, the voyages we make, the guests. Linda’s story. Your story. Otherwise, what are we – just another few minutes of electronic wallpaper.”
First up, the menus. What’s Linda going to cook? Do we need a trial run? Some sampling and fine tuning? Once she’s set, it’s on to the provisioning, scouring our local markets and stores for what we’ll need – and always doing our best to shop local and organic. But wait a minute, maybe Attilla’s right because there’s nothing better than listening to the market people’s stories. The fish guy. The herb guy. The egg guy – boy, has he got a story. Knows every hen by name and probably her eggs, too. Feeds them more carefully than most people feed their families which, of course, is why his eggs are so delicious and as far removed from a Big Store egg as golf is from contact sports.
By the way, there’s nothing politically correct about our shopping local and organic. It’s quite simple: local and organic almost always tastes better than big-store-bought or factory-processed, and if you’re going to put a lot of time and effort into your cooking – let alone taking everything out to sea and working under sometimes trying conditions - why waste that effort on inferior ingredients?
Provisioning is demanding. There are no stores in most of the places where we voyage to cook.
“Well,” I say, “I’ll say why I chose this one or that one. You know, weight, mouthfeel, flavor…”
“No, no, no,” he says, “I know all that stuff… ” (which, I’ve got to say, he doesn’t) “What are you going to say? What story are you going to tell?” I look at Linda for help. Perhaps she’ll ask him what the Hell he’s talking about but, no, here’s her contribution:
“Just like we talk about where we first cooked this dish… or when Cisco persuaded us that Alaskan Halibut really is tastier and better textured than Californian.” Good Lord, I think, he’s even conned her – but then I recall so many vineyard visits and how the story of the wine… its origins… the history of the cellars and cellarmen – that’s as much a part of the experience as the tasting. It really does add to the enjoyment and I doubt that a dull vintner can make a bright wine.
I go back to listening to Linda and the conversation at the galley counter, Joe describing how saffron’s collected, Nick talking about a trip to Provence and the rosé he discovered with a bucketful of mussels. Before I know what’s happening, I’m talking about Leo and one St. Paddy’s Day, how two Italians invented a perfect cabbage-based accompaniment to corned beef.
I get to thinking: maybe our Attilla is right. And maybe the original would have achieved even more if he’d left the slicing and dicing to the cooks and concentrated on charming the hordes with… story.
That, great food and wine and some good music...