David Simon called his friend Anthony Bourdain in as a consultant last season. He helped us shape some of the kitchen episodes at Desautel's. But even then, it was clear that Simon envisioned Janette spending at least a season in New York, where she would endure some of the tortures Anthony describes so well in his books. Ultimately, it was decided that Anthony would write all of Desautel's scenes in New York and we'd insert them into the scripts by other writers.
Chef friends of mine appreciated last season's kitchen scenes for their authenticity. (They had to appreciate them. All of my contributions to those scenes were based on conversations with these same friends!) If you liked Desautel's restaurant in Season 1, buckle your seat belts because Brulard's is only the beginning of Janette’s excellent adventure in the kitchens of New York. Anthony has shared his inspirations for his scenes here, and in future guest posts.
In Season 1, I reached out to Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne because we were looking for a specifically lethal combination of heavyweight New York chefs to walk into Janette Desautel's dining room without prior warning. Sort of a worst-case scenario mix of chefs designed to strike terror into any kitchen, a group that no chef would want to disappoint. The requirement was for a "Holy F**K! What do we DO? What do we cook for this table?!" moment -- and those guys filled that bill. They all have huge reputations in the industry and beyond, are wildly divergent in styles and also know each other and could realistically be believed to be in town at the same time -- and to drop by Janette's restaurant if a local crony suggested it.
Desautel, if you remember, very wisely "lowballs" them, deciding to feed them humble, home style, cook-friendly dishes -- rather than try to blow them away with expensive ingredients or techniques. Knowing these guys as I do, this would be a wise strategy. This scene was also where I did my first writing of any kind for the show. A few sentences -- but ones I'm inordinately proud of. Tom, Eric, Wylie and Dave, by the way, along with just about every other chef I've spoken to, were already HUGE fans of the show and were delighted to come on board. Chefs tend to like good music and ‘Treme’ bursts with it.
On the Inspiration for Brulard
The whole "listen to your fish" incident in Brulard's kitchen is lifted and adapted from a well known anecdote told by Blue Hill chef Dan Barber. He has described a moment, early in his career working for the brilliant David Bouley, where he was instructed to "talk to your fish." The Brulard character, by the way, is NOT otherwise a portrait or a riff on any one chef. He is a composite of characters and stories, many of them legendary by now among cooks and chefs.
Are there chefs who would, like Brulard, sweep an entire table full of plates and dinners onto the floor? Yes. I have seen it. Many times, and with different chefs. I know Ripert has seen similar behavior when he came up — as have many others.
WHO would work for such a person? The answer is young, ambitious, impressionable cooks and stagieres who are convinced that they are fortunate — lucky as hell, actually — to be working for a chef who they consider to be a genius. They are well aware that in a similar situation in Europe, working for an as-talented chef, they would likely be working for free — or even paying for the privilege. Treatment abroad might be even worse. They believe, absolutely, in the greatness and unique vision and importance of their chef and — though fully aware of his eccentricities and cruelties — are more than willing to endure them for what they have every reason to believe will be a life-changing and even career-making experience. Young cooks KNOW when they work for a David Bouley, a Joel Robuchon, an Albert Roux (or a Marco Pierre White back in the day), that if they survive the experience and impress their chef, that they will hardly need a résumé ever again. The simple fact that they made it through, that they worked for a year for The Great Chef, will speak volumes to the chefs of any other great kitchens they may choose to apply.
It should be pointed out that Brulard's is NOT a normal kitchen. One would expect to see such things only at a very high level — only occasionally these days — and one would be much more likely to encounter them in New York or Europe than in NOLA. Those chefs and cooks who are surprised by the cleanliness and regimentation of some of the kitchens in this season of ‘Treme’ — and bemused, for instance, by the white cloche caps on the cooks — have clearly never worked in a three-star kitchen. They should hardly feel bad about that, as neither have I.
-- Anthony Bourdain