To explain why I’m looking forward to this, even though I’ve so far had little exposure to Bourdain (I know, I know, robyn_ma, I’ll correct that), I’d like to share an Oregonian article from last summer about the Tasty Travels episode where Rachael Ray talked about Portland. Sort of. (She talked about something that looks vaguely like Portland and a mighty cry of 'Whuh?' sounded out throughout the city...)
Rachael Ray’s Portland Mystery Tour
From the column “Platter” by Karen Brooks, The Oregonian
14 July 2006
“Who is Rachael Ray?” Jason Bokros may be the last person on this food-lovin’ Earth who hasn’t heard of the Food Network juggernaut.
Last winter, The Call came from superstar chef’s “Tasty Travels” show, asking if his Valentine’s restaurant might be featured in Ray’s upcoming segment on Portland. Bokros was stumped.
But the rest of Portland’s food world was buzzing that Ray was coming to town to film Ripe’s Family Supper, where stylish communal dinners attracted national media and local resentment before closing in April. Beyond this, Ray’s Portland hit list was largely a secret until the show aired recently (it repeats on the Food Network in late July).
Valentine’s, an underground food-art-music salon, is the last place you’d expect to find cute-perky Ray. At 36, her goofy-informal style attracts an army of followers and backlashers who love/hate the host, whose enthusiasm is measured by one of three words: “Yum-O!,” “Delish!,” or “HELL-o,” in a voice that sounds like a cross between a parrot and Harvey Keitel. At 36, Bokros is the opposite: quiet, introverted, all about alt-world integrity. He’s a refugee from the upscale world of [local restaurant] Genoa, a guy who chose to serve simple but serious sandwiches at a place where folks jounce to Gypsy bands, soak in strangely compelling art and, recently, watched a homemade film about a prosthetic knee.
Here’s Bokros responding to the TV show’s questionnaire on Valentine’s: “I don’t think it’s a restaurant. I don’t know what the hell it is. But it feels good.”
You can see this wouldn’t be a good fit.
Yet Valentine’s charmed Ray’s people. The restaurant was definitely in the show. The assignment? Make a sandwich and a latte for the camera.
Except for one problem. Valentine’s doesn’t have an espresso machine. They can’t afford one, and besides, Bokros doesn’t want one, to avoid competing with Stumptown around the corner (a point that might have spoken directly to Portland-style politics and camaraderie). Bottom line: coffeepot or bust.
“Tasty Travels” still scheduled a shoot with Ray at Valentine’s. But Ray didn’t show. “We were told she had a family emergency,” co-owner Liz Haley says. But a camera crew arrived on another day. Did Ray get a look at Valentine’s jaggedly real atmosphere and fall out of love?
Valentine’s did make the final cut billed in Ray’s voice-over as a place for lunch and…a latte. Yes, right after seeing the restaurant’s signature brie and sautéed greens sandwich sizzle in a panini press (rating a “Yum-O!”), the camera magically transitioned to milk steaming in an espresso machine.
“It’s surreal,” Bokros says of the virtual latte.
This sleight-of-hand was only part of the strangest Portland restaurant piece ever, as mostly second- and third-tier places were hyped as stand-outs. (You wonder if all cities are this poorly chosen.) Ripe had closed, as producers knew, but the Ripe segment went on anyway, though the food looked terrific. During a shout-out for Portland as "a major food destination," a video montage flashed signs for long-deceased Café de Amis and Laslow’s Northwest. Much of the food itself looked downright scary, including bulging red beet ravioli looking like a vision straight out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
Through it all, Ray swooned and changed outfits more often than Lindsay Lohan. The show hit all the clichés about Portland’s coffee scene, while Ray – forever talking while saying nothing – managed to miss Portland’s best, most defining coffee: Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
So how did Ray come up with her budget-oriented choices? The list included the excellent Pearl Bakery; the cute, kid-centric Peanut Butter & Ellie’s; Old Town Pizza; The Blue Monk on Belmont, more a music than food destination; Grolla, a neighborhood place with a gluten-free spirit; and Hobo’s, where Ray oddly proclaimed the food “legendary.”
“She picks out the restaurants,” production assistant Catherine Oyster says. “Rachael travels so much. It’s places she’s visited in the past. Or word of mouth. She does the research via sources.”
If true, Ray’s radar is as reliable as France in the “cooler heads prevail” department. Portland is experiencing a culinary awakening, full of fresh ideas and creative models that integrate food, community and culture at affordable prices. Diners here eat and think about food in ways that are opening eyes elsewhere. Too bad Ray missed it. HELL-o.
What Bourdain does should be, well, better.