Bourdain’s Field Notes
LONDON, October 2016—The London (and England) show is another example of my crew and I heading out to do one thing and, due to a sudden change in circumstances, finding ourselves doing something else entirely.
What we wanted and expected to be a happy, carefree, food-centric show became squeezed by the sudden arrival of an elephant in the room.
I love London and have many dear friends there. I thought, what a simple thing to do: make a show about the typical, simple pleasures of old-school British cookery, revisit some cherished favorites, connect with some old friends. A bit of lighthearted fun, some great, traditional food, some nice scenery.
But I woke up the day after arriving in London to a very different country than the one I’d gone to sleep in.
Most Londoners I know, and seemingly everyone I encountered while in London, had gone to sleep that night confident and fully expecting that Brexit, a referendum on whether or not the country should leave the European Union, would be defeated.
I woke up to a London blinking in shock. Stunned.
Within hours, the prime minister announced his resignation, the leadership of both of the main political parties was in disarray, the value of the British pound plummeted to horrifying new lows and the country’s credit rating was downgraded. The future looked very different than the day before.
This was a new phase, reflective of another England than the admittedly rarefied bubble of London. An inward-looking, fearful, angry, even xenophobic England, mostly rural, mostly white; their vote in many ways a mirror of the same feelings of disenfranchisement, frustration, and rage—the sense that no one cares about their disappearing way of life—that we see in Donald Trump’s base.
In times of uncertainty and unpleasantness, when all around me seems to threaten to spin into chaos, it’s nice to have friends. It’s especially nice when those friends can cook.
Fergus Henderson of London’s St. John restaurant is probably the most inspiring chef I know. His “nose to tail” cooking did more to empower chefs everywhere than any other cookbook I know.
Margot Henderson, his wife, is a fantastic chef in her own right and I was overjoyed to finally eat at her lunch-only restaurant, Rochelle Kitchen.
Nigella Lawson is a true and loyal friend, a person of great kindness and dignity, who has always looked after me and my knucklehead colleagues when we have worked together. If you are a friend of Nigella you are lucky indeed, and to have her make me a hangover breakfast was both a privilege and great joy.
Marco Pierre White was the chef we all wanted to be when I was coming up as a young cook and wannabe chef. A legend.
To see him at rest, surrounding himself with beautiful things, in the countryside he has always felt strongly connected to, went a long way towards reassuring me that there are happy endings.
So, I made it through with the help of friends, although the city of London seemed to be undergoing a collective nervous breakdown around me.
What happens next will be instructive.