If there is one bit of wisdom I have acquired over my first four decades of my life, it is that there are many folks who seem to reach their conclusions on a whole range of matters with a limited amount of information, a limited understanding of facts, and a limited amount of analysis. And worse, they have no clue why that is an issue at all. Opinion is one thing. A credible opinion another. And a consistently credible opinion is getting particularly rare to find. It’s the same reason that a tabloid and say a paper like The New York Times are both bearers of news, but they attract different audiences and have wildly different headlines, quality of research, writing, editing, and ultimately, credibility. Layer on top of that the tool called the internet that allows nasty folks to write comments with diction, words and sentiments they probably wouldn’t use in face to face conversation, and well, you occasionally have at least a recipe for a lively and/or heated on-line debate. Take for example this comment on an earlier post I wrote on Anthony Bourdain in Cebu, by “Cherry” (described as a possible “troll” by other readers), just one among nearly 240 mostly positive views on Bourdain’s visit, and referring to me, Marketman:
“Man, you are so full of yourself I don’t even know where to start. I just hope you weren’t as arrogant when you were in the company of Mr. Bourdain, for your sake, imagine the public humiliation. I guess we’ll find out when this episode airs.”
And I did a follow up post that got nearly 100+ comments from what my friends fondly refer to as the “Marketman Army of Supporters…” Hahaha. But this isn’t just a “numbers” game, but I do think it is a CREDIBILITY one to some degree. Well, the No Reservations Philippines episode has aired in North America. And so far, reaction to my few minutes on film as host to Mr. Bourdain in Cebu and at a lechon lunch appears to be pretty positive. And unless I have just been reading the wrong internet chatter, most of the negative comments being unfairly (in my opinion) targeted at Augusto, I haven’t come across anything that suggests I came off as being “arrogant” or that I was now going to hide in a closet escaping “public humiliation.” So Cherry, and all of your ilk, had you said what you wrote to my face, and I knew who you were, IT WOULD BE YOU THAT WOULD COWER IN YOUR OWN SELF-INDUCED PUBLIC HUMILIATION! And no, it is not beyond me to look you in the eye, thumbs in my ears with hands flapping and my tongue sticking out at you. You most definitely win the newly annointed “COPPER FISHPAN AWARD” for 2008, as suggested by a reader. Think of it as the “OSCARS” equivalent on marketmanila.com…
No, but I had a point, from which I took a strangely pleasurable diversion up above. The point is this. Before blurting out strong opinions, at least take the time to understand the situation, to check some facts, to pause and look at all of the possibilities. In other words, consider a more objective opinion rather than a purely subjective one. Or at least understand when you espouse a totally subjective opinion. At least on this blog that is. Yes, “everyone is entitled to their opinion” is a common phrase thrown out there. But frankly, that doesn’t mean I have to publish all of them, nor waste my or my readers time reading the utterly off-the-wall ones, simply crude or offensive ones, slanderous ones, expletive riddled ones, etc. Blogs are free, so set up one of your own and build your own readership base that likes to read what you opine. And I do particularly get riled up when comments under the guise of “opinions” are just so grossly and factually incorrect. So maybe, just maybe, I thought if more folks got a little bit more of the behind the scenes from the Bourdain shoot, they might not be so rash or impulsive about what poor old (or is it rich dashing?) Mr. Bourdain or Augusto should or should not have done to make the mythical “perfect” and “please everybody” episode… So here is Marketman’s take on some behind the scenes goings on.
My first contact with a NR producer came in the form of an email inquiry. I was getting several of these inquiries a month near the end of last year. It didn’t specify what show they were producing or any other details. I responded that I would of course be happy to help anyone who wanted to feature Filipino food for a global audience. After a few emails, the questions got far more difficult to answer briefly. Instead, I was writing several page emails discussing markets, produce, regions, restaurants, chefs, tours, cities, dishes, weather, etc., etc. And apparently, I wasn’t the ONLY one answering these questions because like smart folks do, they asked several people for their recommendations and opinions, then started to craft their story from there. At some point in the communications, and they were extensive, they identified that the show was No Reservations and I had a very long telephone call with the producers to help them understand the local situation and to answer their extensive questions. Even at this point, I only assumed I would be giving them background assistance, not any active role as a host of any kind. Discussions even went to issues like gorgeous beaches and if I recall correctly their answer was something along the lines of “this isn’t a beautiful travel program, we don’t want stereotypical tropical beach shots” and they asked about the locations of the movie “Apocalypse Now” were shot. I jokingly offered I could arrange maybe to have Tony shoot a scene near a Huey helicopter at the Mactan airport and they laughed. He is a war buff and loved the movie Apocalypse Now, but that theme died off somewhere along the way. I guess all I am trying to say is that they did do a lot of homework, a hell of a lot more than other shows (and yes, I helped two others late last year) I ran across.
About 4 weeks before the shoot date, they asked if I would be willing to help Mr. Bourdain on camera, either to tour him around a market and or roast a pig or lechon for him. I agreed ONLY if they allowed me to maintain my anonymity, which they agreed to. Their eventually using my full name on the episode was a glitch, and well, there is nothing I can do about it now. If the show turned out badly, they’d be worried about legal ramifications because if they look at my signed release form, I don’t think it has the name they used on film… but that’s water under the bridge since it seems the show has gotten mostly positive reviews and it’s good for the Philippines overall… :) After agreeing to doing a few lechons they finalized their itinerary and we had specific dates blocked off…
Egads, what had I agreed to? After putting down the phone, a momentary spell of panic kicked in. Then I realized I had 4 weeks to prepare. I believe in luck and serendipity, but I believe more in good old-fashioned planning, preparation, execution, and elimination of anything bad that was potentially within my control. The weather was not something within my control (I prayed for ancestral intervention on that front), but a lot of other things were. What ended up as just a few minutes of film featuring a casual lunch under a kapok tree, on a breezy day on a hill with a view of the nearby hills and sea in the distance, took hundreds of hours of careful planning and preparation. And 99.9% of that effort was completely invisible to anyone watching the film. First off, and many of you will laugh, I realized I had no idea where we would be eating lunch. The location is a business office on a large lot, with a bodega, garage, a couple of bathrooms and a lechonan. Walking around like a cameraman with hands in a rectangular frame, I decided to put the lunch table under a large kapok tree, and decided things needed to be gussied up but still look bucolic, green and natural. So a trip to a nearby nursery, 500 pots of plants later and 200 square meters of carabao grass were laid in less than 24 hours, a near-Imeldific feat, if I may cringe at the comparison myself. Gardeners watered and tended the area for a month and on the day of the shoot, it looked brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, the bones of the location are good, it just needed some make-up. And it would be used again for the lechon eyeball two weeks later.
I was a strategy consultant by profession, so I try not to leave things to chance. With the venue under control, the next issue was the menu. I knew we were having lechon, and several of them. Black native pigs, pink piggery raised pigs. We had them days ahead of the shoot, feeding them only ripe chicos from the chico orchard on the property and other organic fruits and vegetables. But what else? I pored over Doreen Fernandez’s books, I read back into dozens and dozens of my own posts. I settled on a vision for this meal, as any strategy person would do. It was to somehow be as local as possible, and I read about Pigafetta’s account of a meal with Magellan on the island of Cebu with some local chieftain, and this is the chronicle that bound it all together. My meal would try to approximate that same meal some 480 years earlier, but of course updated to the ingredients of today. So from there I mapped out a menu, and crossed off and changed as I learned more about the impending visit. I practiced with puso, ordered native sweet delicacies, found chicharon suppliers, identified fruit wholesalers, ate at several local places, including Talisay’s lechon street. We practiced every dish on the menu. Identified fish scouts on Bantayan island 2 hours away. Tried several bagoong suppliers. We kept practicing the lechons again and again and again. We hunted down lambanog suppliers, artisanal vinegar manufacturers, tuba suppliers. And everyone at the office helping me worked overtime to get things as prepared as possible. We bought 3-4x the volumes of ingredients we needed, just so we could pick the best of the best. I visited the dried fish market twice before the show, asking the names of different fishes, the range of prices, the fermentation states of bagoong. Cleared shooting permits with market managers. The detail work just went on and on. And that’s just the way I like to do things. If you are a regular on this blog, this obsessive behavior should not be a surprise to you. I like to think of it as my personal insurance plan against disaster. While I can’t will disaster away, I can certainly do everything I can possibly think of to mitigate it.
I also practiced sitting at the table, picking out place settings, utensils, sauce plates, glasses, etc. And in the end, things still went awry and unplanned zingers took us for a slight loop. In initial discussions, it was to be a very small group eating at lunch, Mr. Bourdain, myself, and possibly one of the producers. Then it included Mrs. MM and the Teen. Hence, I had only prepared 6 place settings, thinking that was more than enough. Then the day before we shot the segment, they called to ask if Augusto could join us, and of course I agreed. Then on the morning of the shoot, 2 hours into it, Augusto arrived with some 8+ family members previously unannounced. Asked if they were welcome, of course I answered “yes”. What Pinoy host would turn away unplanned guests for lunch? The problem was, our table only seated 6. So a makeshift extension was made, plastic chairs added, and I asked the crew to slaughter another pig so that it was certain we would have more than enough to eat. I am even surprised we found another 8 plates and sets of cutlery, as you must remember, this is an office, not a home. At any rate, the smaller planned lunch was now a large unplanned family gathering, though the cameras seemed to point to just one end of the table. I had never met Augusto’s family before and since I was so busy with the food, I didn’t get much chance to interact with them prior to sitting down at the table.
Tony tasted everything on the menu, with the possible exception of the crabs. And he had a phenomenal amount of lechon skin and lots of ribs. And yes, Tony does not like desserts or sweets by reputation, but he had mangosteens, mangoes, bodbod kabog, biko and a bit of the torta. He had chicharon, peanuts and dried mangoes. He had local beer, tasted tuba and lambanog. We discussed the issue of cuisine developing on separate yet neighboring islands, linguistic issues, how we weren’t really a nation more than a conglomeration of island states several hundred years ago. We discussed the Philippine diaspora around the globe and the fact that the yaya of his young child was Filipina. We joked about how he couldn’t incur the wrath of two people, his spouse and his yaya if he wanted to have a peaceful existence. My wife raised the issue of Les Halles, the restaurant he worked at for years, and at which we had dined a few times, and he went on to describe how to properly pronounce the restaurant’s name “Les Halles, with an aspirated h, almost like it wasn’t there.” My wife did her graduate degree in Paris and is fluent in french so they had that to chat about. He was a bit surprised that I had gone to school in Boston and New York and was now dabbling in pigs. We talked about organic, local, classic preparations and techniques.
Cameras were turned off by 1pm and the entire crew joined us at the table once Augusto and his family went home. We spent another TWO HOURS or more chatting and discussing filipino food and culture in an intelligent, light, uninterrupted manner, just like having guests to a meal. Banter was light, lively, unstilted. We talked about marketmanila, the blog, and reader reactions to foods that conjured up childhood memories. They could have easily left for a 2-3 hour nap/rest before their flights out of Cebu, but instead they hung around munching on what remained on the buffet, having several more drinks and just chilling out. Part of the crew earlier in the day drove 20 minutes away and filmed for nearly an hour from the top of Monterrazas de Cebu, a real-estate development from where the panoramic view of Cebu City was shot (1 second shots shown twice in the final program). It was a wonderful meal and post-meal gathering. If I had to guess by their reactions towards the end of that day, which was also the end of their trip, they had a pretty good 6 days in the Philippines. Now as for how they decided to edit the hundreds of hours of material, I am totally clueless. I do know they completely understand their target audience and market, and it isn’t pinoys in the Philippines. For everything you see on the final program, they tasted 3-5x more dishes. So the bottom line is, so much effort, for just so many seconds… but with a potential global cable footprint of some 180 million plus subscribers, even if only 20% of them watch part of the Philippine episode, that will be 36 million people around the world that will get a glimpse of our food… So for all those folks, mostly Filipinos or Filipino Americans I might add, that had negative or likely uninformed/unfounded/ inaccurate or just plain stupid comments (why no beaches? why didn’t he taste x, how come he didn’t hit a disco, drink x, smile, laugh, get drunk, be more Filipino, eat more upscale, or that he was clearly not happy, unenthusiastic, bored, etc.) on Tony’s site or this one, all I can say is, you need a lot more CREDIBILITY to be anything more than armchair critics who own a computer and know how to press some keys.
Arrrgh, and the shirt still gives me nightmares! All that preparation and I didn’t think about wardrobe, wardrobe… Hahahaha… In about four weeks time, stay tuned for Bobby Chinn in World Cafe Asia Season 2, including a visit to Manila… We did a tour of the Salcedo market and had a merienda buffet with halo-halo bar, right in our own Manila backyard. :)