(Note: If you think I can be bought with a bottle of Pinot Noir and some nice dinner conversation … you are right? Not a question. Dinner came courtesy of Haoma and Extrovert PR & Marketing.)
One of the best things about Anthony Bourdain was his refusal to be diplomatic. This really set him apart in the food world, where usually the best thing to do when you have nothing nice to say is to say nothing at all. But such was the force of his personality, his charisma, his barefaced intelligence, that people were willing to let him slide for it, even though he had the best job in the world and was therefore a worthy magnet of our jealousy and envy.
Karen sent me a list from insidehook.com detailing all the targets of his social media ire over the years. This includes the movie “Baby Driver” starring Ansel Elgort, whose face never fails to remind me of the guy who rolls his eyes when I complain that the music is on too loud at the cafe near my house. Also, the soundtrack is vastly overrated. So I agree with Bourdain, whose writing was always best — and he was a wonderful writer — when he was raging against something.
But I don’t always agree with him. Here, this list of the edible things he has insulted suggests that he was woefully misguided on matters like hot chicken (too spicy? lol) and Frito pie (which he compared to dog poo), but very much correct on club sandwiches (like Al Qaeda), Kobe sliders (Douche City), house-made ketchup (ditto), and unicorn frappuccinos (barfarama).
Here, my own list of culinary pet peeves would have to include:
- Dry ice. It makes me instantly suspicious of what is underneath all that haze that is obscuring it, like the sunglasses and huge visors that plastic surgery patients always wear after a procedure.
- The movie “The Hundred Foot Journey”. I know it’s not food per se. But every time I think of it I fly into a rage. The idea that a young Indian cook has to prostrate himself before some old French lady in order to become a proper chef still makes me want to throw a vat of dal over Lasse Hallstrom’s head even today. India has no long culinary history? That dates back to before the people who became French had ever heard of pots? Those were not questions.
- Cynicism. Sometimes it’s expected, like when McDonald’s tries to sell cold brew coffee. But sometimes it comes out of left field, in a restaurant where the chef is clearly capitalizing on his name, a bare-bones operation masquerading as something else, clearly designed to make the owners some money, finally, because it’s their time now and kids are expensive, yo. It’s the restaurant equivalent of Rod Stewart’s entire post-1977 career. Not as obvious as frozen pizzas, but not that far away, either. It’s an outpost in Las Vegas where the owner never visits.
So when I go to a restaurant like Haoma — which is not Chinese, but named after a sacred plant in the Zoroastrian religion brought to earth by divine birds — I am struck first by its naked sincerity. The brainchild of former Charcoal chef Deepanker Khosla, Haoma labels itself as an “urban farm”, where the herbs that perfume your dishes and cocktails are grown in profusion in the garden in front of you, and the fish available for your dinner is plucked straight from a barrel next to your window.
You don’t have to worry about not understanding what each dish is, because someone, even Chef Deepanker himself, will be there to stare earnestly into your eyes as he explains exactly what went into your food. No worries if you rudely take photos of your food as he speaks — he’ll wait for you to finish. It’s this kind of obvious care that permeates every bit of the experience; it’s not a marketing gimmick, it’s not a trendy ploy.
After leaving Charcoal, Chef Deepanker said he took a food truck around the country, attempting to make sustainable food with as little waste as possible. After a few months, a friend told him it was time to go back to fine dining. Haoma, set deep into the residential wilds of Sukhumvit 31, was the result. Chef Deepanker, who lives next door, hopes to eventually harvest the root vegetables in his own garden and incorporate them into Haoma’s menu. Helping him in the kitchen is sous-chef Tarun Bhatia, christened “San Pellegrino Young Chef of 2017” by the powers that be at Asia’s Top 50.
The garden is already pretty extensive, providing the sorrel for the caramelized milk bread or the Job’s tears for the bread. The grouper with lettuce cream is the restaurant’s first 0-km dish, featuring ingredients plucked from its own grounds. It could seem precious until you remember how people have gotten sick from eating contaminated spinach or Romaine lettuce, how fish are disappearing from the water, and how pigs and cows are killed, and then you think, This might be how we will have to eat from now on. Purposefully and with an eye to the future, like the ascetic monks in the Zen temple who eat every grain of rice.
And then you remember how uncool it is to be so sincere, and go back to listing all the stuff that you hate.