Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tony's Dolce Vita

Tony Bourdain last week aired one of his best "No Reservations" episodes yet. The traveling chef visited Rome for the first time in his life. Explaining to the camera that he forever viewed the Eternal City through the lenses of 1960s Italian cinema, the entire episode, with the exception of some food shots, was shot in black and white.

The result was striking, some of the most visually interesting and beautiful TV I've ever seen. Tony was decked out in Italian chic, casual, stylish slacks and shirt open at the collar, his salt and pepper hair wild, yet controlled, somewhat like a Ferrari rounding a corner at 90 miles an hour. All he needed was a pair of classic black 1960s Ray-Bans and he would have been a latter day Marcello Mastroianni sampling the delights of La Dolce Vita.

And of course there was the food. It looked stupendous, everything from handmade pastas to shrimp barbecued on the beach. I wanted to get in a plane the minute the episode ended.

Tony's show keeps getting better and better. His episode earlier this season looking back 10 years to when Kitchen Confidential first came out was superb. It's a book that inspired me to get more serious about food and eating and whose dining-out rules I have found to be spot on predictors of quality and taste.

It was fascinating to watch Tony go from giddy with his new found fame and fortune to ambivalent to the point of wanting out. In those days, it looked like his future outside the kitchen, if he had one, was in writing. It turned out, somewhat unexpectedly, to be TV. Through it all, he appeared to be pretty much the same guy we saw in 2000 footage slinging steaks and ordering his kitchen brigade into battle.

It occurs to me that Tony is one of the few recent celebrities who has, at least so far, earned his fame and success, steadily improved what he does and kept his integrity intact. In a world where "The Situation" can earn $5 million a year and Kate Gosselin gets rich exploiting her children, that's no small feat.

Of course, it could all be a front. Tomorrow, we could find out that Tony has sold his soul to ADM to hype the goodness of high fructose corn syrup. Let's hope not. Media personalities who actually strive to do more than just make money, who seek to enlighten their audiences instead of pander to their prejudices and preconceived notions are as rare as gold today.

Keep up the good work Tony. I hope you're around for a long time.

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