By the Non-cook (sommelier, boat driver, engineer and
chief bottle-washer, aka ‘The Skipper’)
“Everything begins with story.” It’s our director/producer speaking, AKA Attila the Hun. I’m thinking, what kind of story? Forced labor as a way of life? Of course, I don’t say that but ask, instead: “Even a food show?”
“Everything,” he says. “Why do you think every great religion tells stories? Morality plays, myths and legends – story, story, story. And it’s our story – Poseidon Cooks!’ story, that’s what makes us different.”
“I thought it was ‘A Cooking Show On A Boat’ that makes us different?”
“Exactly! The stories of the voyages we make while we’re cooking, the harbors and achorages! The histories of the dishes and our variations on them. Anecdotes – you, Linda, our guests and their lives! Otherwise, what are we – just another few minutes of electronic wallpaper.”
Well, he may think it all starts with story but if you ask me it all starts with planning.
First up, the menus and the provisioning. But wait a minute, maybe Attila’s right because there’s nothing better than listening to the market people’s stories. The fish guy. The herb guy. The egg guy – boy, has he got a story! Knows every hen by name and probably her eggs, too. Feeds them more carefully than most people feed their families which, of course, is why his eggs are so delicious and as far removed from a Big Store egg as golf is from a contact sport.
Later, everything’s stowed, everyone’s aboard – camera crew and guests – and we’re under way to the anchorage where we’re shooting the next episode. We turn in early, knowing that there’s a long day ahead. At crack of dawn, I drive the dinghy to the various boats on which crew and guests are staying, and the setting up begins. It’s quick, quiet and efficient and I realize this crew knows exactly what’s doing, even if the cameraman still looks a little pale around the gills. In this uncertain world, there’s something reassuring and even uplifting about watching competent people exercising their skills.
The shoot begins and I listen to what’s going on in front of the camera, Linda, my wife, star cook and star of my life, talking about how we met, how she started cooking, what she cooked as a kid and how meeting my mother changed everything, starting with garlic and olive oil. A story! And even though I know it well, I’m riveted.
“So what are you going to say about the wines?” There’s a break in the action and I was on my way to the engine room, to check the new bilge pumps, but there he is again, in my face, slave driver/interrogator disguised as producer/director.
“Well,” I reply, “I’ll say why I chose this one or that one. You know, weight, mouthfeel, flavor…”
“No, no, no,” he says, “I know all that stuff… ” (which, I’ve got to say, he doesn’t)
“What are you going to say? What stories are you going to tell?” Now I recall so many vineyard visits and how the story of the wine… its origins… the history of the cellars and cellarmen… is as much a part of the experience as the tasting. It really does add to the enjoyment and I doubt that a dull vintner can make a bright wine.
Camera and sound rolls and Linda talks about what she’s cooking, a mussel risotto with pan seared scallops. It’s so much more than simple instruction as she speaks of sustainability and how to keep the mussels alive until it’s time for them to make their ultimate sacrifice. There’s nothing vain or egotistical about her, just a natural charm and a great gift for instruction. She directs the spotlight away from herself and on to Joe, who tells how saffron’s collected and why the process makes it such an expensive spice; one to be treasured and savored. Then Nick talking about a trip to Provence and the rosé he discovered with a bucketful of mussels. Perhaps a rosé will be a good match for the mussels. More stories!
And so the conversation goes, around and around, and all the while the cooking continues, the instruction, the information, but all in this wonderful, embracing, anecdotal context. So, it really isn’t just about the food. Neither is it just about the wine. Or the voyage. Or the anchorage. Or our guests. It’s about all of it, A-Z.
So, now I’m thinking, maybe our Attila is right. And maybe the original Hun would have achieved even more if he’d left the slicing and dicing to the cooks and concentrated on charming the hordes with… story.