So I was doing the Dilbert thing in my downtown cubicle, when my co-worker, Ilan, e-mailed the link to Erika Engle's column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin last Thursday. Anthony Bourdain is in town, eating his way through Honolulu for his show No Reservations. Great! Then I read the comment from the PR guy about how they were going to steer the infamous, shoot-from-the lip Bourdain to more "positive things." Yikes! Hasn't he ever watched the show? Doesn't he know that you don't steer Bourdain?
I wrote back to Ilan: "I hope Bourdain goes out and finds what he finds, and he skewers whomever deserves to be skewered."
Ilan and I are big fans. We talk about the show all the time outside our cubicles, usually after lunch. My personal favorite is the show Bourdain did on Tahiti. I was struck by the sensitivity and respect he had for the islands. I've done a little travel writing and reading over the years and far too often you come upon a story by someone who visits a faraway, exotic locale and thinks that they somehow discovered it themself. And then they get all offended when they find Western influence and development, as if it has spoiled their little vision of paradise.
Bourdain's show on Tahiti was literally a world away from most of the shows on his Travel Channel. That last passage that he wrote about Gauguin is so mindful of the dreaminess that is the South Pacific, and it knew exactly where the dangerous, unpleasant artist and the gruff, outspoken chef stood in relation to it. Wouldn't it be great if he did the same thing about Hawaii?
Anyway, about 15 minutes after e-mailing Ilan, I got a call from a PR guy: "Anthony Bourdain is in town and he wants to do a segment on Spam, and we thought that you'd be a good guide for him? Are you free?"
"Does Andrew Zimmer shit bug parts?"
When he said Spam, I thought that Bourdain's Hawaii show might be more like the "rotten-fish-in-lye" Iceland show than the idylic Tahiti one. But they wanted Spam, so Spam it was. The next morning the show's producer, Emily, called and asked me for some ideas. They vetoed the HVCB's idea about going to Zippy's and thought about visiting Rainbow's Drive-In. But Rainbow's doesn't sell Spam musubi. I told her about the New Uptown Fountain, a small diner on School Street that originally opened in 1950 and little has change since. They have plenty of Spam dishes and plenty of Hawaii. She liked the idea.
We met Tony Bourdain and his production crew for lunch at the New Uptown Fountain last Saturday. Here are a few pictures that my wife took:
Tony has just arrived. That's Emily, the producer, in the foreground. He's very gracious and professional. At first, I thought he was almost kind of nerdy, but when the cameras started rolling he got right into his bad boy persona.
As soon as he steps in the place, we overhear him say, "Cool, this place is perfect." That's the director who Tony's talking to.
The menu at the New Uptown Fountain is posted above the counter. Here I'm going over what we might be eating.
Action! Here we go...I'm not aware that shooting has started. Tony walks in...
... and he sits down. "Welcome to Kalihi," I say. And we're off.
You can see the entire production crew in this shot — two camera men, the one to the left also doubled as sound; the director is in the middle looking at the other camera man's screen. The producer is standing nearby.
Tony's asking me a question about Spam. It went something like this: Tony: "I don't get it. I went to this big party and met all these fancy chefs and all they wanted to talk about was Spam. What gives?" Dave: "Well, as you probably know, Spam was a wartime food and for much of WWII, Hawaii was in a war zone, so we ate what the sailors and soldiers ate." Tony: "But Dave, come on now, the war is over!"
He was cracking jokes throughout the meal. The director was chuckling during the entire shoot. Tony: "I think one of those umbrella drinks would go really good with this dish." Dave: "I don't think you're going to be able to find an umbrella drink within a five-mile radius of this place." Tony: "I'm going to have to bring a Thermos with me then. I used to have a Hawaii Five-O lunchbox when I was a kid. Remember that?" Dave (trying to think of witty response) : "No."
They've just delivered something I didn't order, a house specialty that was totally crazy but made for good TV. It featured a Spam omlete on two scoops of rice with curry poured all over it and a kim chee garnish. The production guys were excited because the thing was so colorful that it looked radioactive. Dave: "Tony, this is uncharted territory for me, but kim chee makes anything good." Tony: "Kim chee is always good."