The tall handsome American takes a seat outside a Parisian cafe. He takes a sip of coffee and looks out at the French city life unfolding before him. With a thoughtful pause, he sums up his experience:
“It’s no accident that the institution, the cafe is so closely associated with the French. What do we have here? We have a cup of coffee, and a ham sandwich. Basically a row of chairs pointing in one direction, and a little table, staring out into the street. What a simple thing. Sit in a chair, and observe. The simplest of life’s pleasures. And yet for most Parisians, or many Parisians, this can be an afternoon’s entertainment and I think this gets right to the kernel of what distinguishes the French.
What are the French famous for? Perfume that smells good, sense of smell. Food that tastes good, sense of taste. Art, architecture, visual sense. OK, there’s really no explanation for their crap pop music, but, you know, three out of four is not bad. These are all matters of the senses, it’s their attitude towards pleasure and sensuality. And food in general, being the best example. In the English-speaking world, there’s always been a certain ambivalence about taking pleasure at the table. There’s been this notion, this puritanical notion, that if you take too much pleasure in your food, that it might somehow lead to bad character. Might lead to harder stuff, like sex for instance. I think the French have always understood that yeah, hell yeah, it does lead to sex. And it should. That residual sense of food being good, food being important, food being worth waiting for and food being worth spending time with. Eating is, and should be, a joyous occasion. As should the use of all your senses.
So, America, perhaps you should try it. Maybe duck out of the office when the boss isn’t looking, or call in sick for that boring meeting, pull up a chair at a local joint. Grab a tasty beverage and eat a ham sandwich, really eat a ham sandwich. You just may find that not only do you love the French again, but you may also love life and ultimately, the world.”
That was the first episode of No Reservations, and that closing speech really hit home to me. I thought I liked food. It appeared what I liked doing was shoving things in my mouth, getting stomach ache and feeling guilty. Rather a strange thing to like. I could eat and eat and eat and if you asked me to describe the taste, I couldn’t tell you. Some foods didn’t even touch the sides.
“…really eat a ham sandwich.”
That episode, entitled Why The French Don’t Suck was to me all about slowing down and noticing. Really using your senses. Taking the time to fully appreciate where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with and what you’re eating. Savour every moment, because every moment is worth savouring. Slow down and enjoy.
Since I started calorie counting, everything I eat has to be worth the ‘spend’. Hoovering up food like it’ll disintegrate before my eyes if I don’t eat it quick enough… That’s no longer an option. It’s no longer appealing. How can eating be a pleasure if I don’t take the time to even notice what I’m putting in my mouth?
Now I slow down and pay attention to flavour and texture. I try to find the words to describe what I’m tasting, but I often fail. It’s brought a whole different kind of pleasure to eating, maybe the correct kind of pleasure rather than the manic “I must eat everything I see in order to feel satisfied” feeling I used to call pleasure.
Just another example of how Anthony Bourdain continues to inspire me, impress me and make me really want to go Paris.
I’m not the only one inspired by Tony. My friend Sarah found her calling in life after watching No Reservations – read her story here.