Monday, December 31, 2007

An Autumn Afternoon at Eccolo

This is the first in a handful of posts that will fill in some gaps from last year. Posts that didn't quite happen, thoughts that didn't get expressed. If I was sure there would be 10 of them, I could call them the Top 10 Missing Posts of 2007.

In the third week of September, I headed to 4th street in Berkeley to pick up my son's birthday gift. It was late afternoon, sunny and mild, I was feeling like an escapee. I'd ducked out of work half an hour early. I walked past the patio of Eccolo where Christopher Lee was sitting at a table under the trees, in his chef's whites, with a glass of something. I think he may have even had a towel thrown over one shoulder.

I had preconceived notions about him that this still-life complicated in unexpected ways. My wife worked as a busser at Chez Panisse while Chris Lee had been there. I understand that he established the tradition of serving fried chicken there on Martin Luther King Day. A few years ago, someone told me that his salumi depended on a nitrite crutch.

I can't even tell you what a nitrite crutch is, let alone if the claim is true. Blogs make fragments of description like this public, at least findable, without any journalistic imperative on the part of the author to address their veracity or implications. Mario Batali was getting at this when he wrote that he hates bloggers:
Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact.
An equally one-sided assessment of traditional media would have to address it's proximity to corporate dollars, an almost mechanical objectivity that keeps the discourse in the shallows, and a tendency to reduce human complexity into a handful of quotes. There's something to be said about the currency of personal professional relationships too.

However little it matters, what I felt when I saw Chris Lee that day was that he'd made it about as much as a chef makes it. That the scene was a kind of perfect. I'm not saying I'm right, or that it means anything, but I was happy for him.

Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar.

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