Saturday, November 3, 2012

Step Up To The Plate (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Step Up to the Plate
This documentary focuses on the legacy of Michel Bras, who has two restaurants, one in  Laguiole  France, and the other in Tokyo, Japan. Both are highly respectedin haute cuisine orbits which transform the making of food into something like abstract art. M. Bras as a kid, was at a loss in thinking about what he wanted to do with his life so he decided to cook with his mother. She made him a chef's uniform as a toddler, thinking he was a natural. "Step Up to the Plate" is about the harmony of haute cuisine not only as a nourishing force but as an art form, akin to music or Surrealism.
M. Bras believes in harmony, using ingredients that are indigenous to the area. He frequently uses sprays of herbs, and elements that might seem ill-placed on thetongue but actually create the Tao of Deliciousness.
At the start of the documentary, Michel ponders getting older and passing the reins to his son, Sebastian. As Michel sorts lettuce under a copper colored sky, he is a bit like the Paul Bowles Antihero, Port Moresby. Bras is up against the march of time and his daily trek to the kitchen and and market is central to his equilibrium and perhaps even his immune system. He sees Time as an enemy. His son Sebastien is a bit of a hot shot, who more than a bit resembles the actor Alain Delon. 
Sebastien recalls childhood spent in the cow stables where he drank fresh milk that was still warm and unpasteurized. His intimacy with the staple recalls something primal and basic, like amniotic fluid at birth. Meanwhile his father looks at the cows with a knowing stare and cries "Moo!" It is as if he, too, knows his days are numbered.
The Bras Family dish is The Gargouillou, a kind of antipasto without meat, featuring every garden herb and flower imaginable. A feast for one's eyes within his /her stomach and very much like edible pyrotechnics. In additon there is also a virtuosic meal- in- an appetizer known as  The Pathway: a dish that can be eaten in four bites:a journey from the savory to the sweet. Sebastien uses a wide variety of eclectic ingredients most of them particular only to Laguiole. There is roasted garlic, stuffed with what looks like a puree of shallots and leeks.  This is combined  with ham and beef, diced to a fine powder, not to mention the all important Laguiole cheese, blackberry jam, and the piece de resistance: a light pudding crepe, the milk-skin, topped with a bread crust which is long, light and thin like the underside of a violin or a musical note that stretches the length of the plate and into infinity.
This is Sebastien's legacy, his personal score of salivary heredity.
Michel and Sebastien  travel to Japan, to attempt to recreate the dish with a distinct organic flavor. Sebastien uses tofu and makes a crust from rice paste. 
He succeeds although Michel is critical:
"I'd like more seasoning," he says. "Perhaps I will add some dulce de leche."
Every singular taste is a sound or note like an haiku in five flavors.
"Step Up to the Plate" has just as much to do with geometry as it does with cuisine. In the hotel restaurants, all elements from the tables and chairs to the wide windows seem arranged for a harmonic purpose, as if in French feng-shui. Or perhaps the expansive space with its gray modular decor is a gastronomic spaceship, fit for a palate yet to be dreamed or tasted. 
Geometry aside, this is about the food most of all and as each squiggling drizzle of puree is splashed across the plate in minimalist slashes, my eyes recall the color field works of Barnett Newman, the thick columns of Robert Motherwell emulated with a slab of tofu, or the landscapes of Miro, achieved by the marrows of broccoli and cauliflower, smiles of red and yellow peppers and orbits of red orach.
Step Up to the Plate" is eye popping and the seasonal earth of France is just as central as Michel Bras in being a prime-mover delivering both appetite and amour. And you can't help feel a sense of foreboding that comes with the passing of time, as shown in one cow's dangerous dead-eyed stare.
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