Category Archives: On Writing

Dr. Gonzo (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Unplugged)

A principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrines to be instilled in the target audience should NOT be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse.” – Noam Chomsky, “Third World, First Threat” 1993.

I was hired by the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper to be a writer in 1993, and I worked in the sports section and also in the entertainment section. I saw a wave coming early on when our chief competition, the San Jose Mercury, launched the Mercury Center via AOL. It was the beginning of the end of the print news business, even if most of us, even the most forward thinking of us, didn’t really know it.

In those days, we got a lot of our stories off of the AP or UPI newswires, which were kind of like telegram cables. The quality of the content of the news had to be high. There were professional standards that must be adhered to. And, as my editors were quick to point out, the people who are in positions of power are our adversary, pure and simple. The media acted as a check in the grand scheme of governmental checks and balances: the executive and the legislative and the judicial branches ALL must be held to account by the media. My favorite practitioner of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, threw in his own style of literary flair to hit on truths bigger than What, Where, When, How and Why. For example, is it not right, or true, or in keeping with the duty of media, to call Ronald Reagan a stinking swine when he blabbed to People Magazine in 1986 that “This generation will likely have to face Armageddon,” or to say, quite simply, that Nixon was a bad drunk?

Yes, Hunter was a lot of things. But, I have to say, Hunter was authentic.

Few writers could boil down the essence of a campaign, a candidate, like Hunter S. Thompson

Few writers capture the essence of a campaign or candidate like Hunter S. Thompson

We were duty-bound and truths like the ones he’d write were important and informative.

Unfortunately, we were doomed. Time and technological advances made the public fall victim to rapidly accelerating media saturation…  and as such, the media’s relevance faded, and it’s duty was no longer to serve people with unbiased and direct information regarding our elected and unelected government officials.

Rather, media became propaganda for whoever paid the best. As such, media became a bad salesman, pitching a broken down lemon of a healthy, thriving, functioning society. And yet, the pitch is effective and accepted as truth.

Here's Donald being contrite for inferring this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn't like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the fake ass show.

Here’s the Donald being contrite for inferring that this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn’t like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the propagandist, fake ass show.

The media do not say things like: “The US always supports democracy, never aggresses against other nations, and always ALWAYS opposes terrorists.” Nor do advertisers explicitly say that the key to happiness and the good life is the unceasing and ever-expanding consumption of purchasable products.

But the message still comes through, loud and clear.

We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning. Contemporary society is dominated by computers and algorithms. There’s hardly a second that we’re not plugged in, in this “civilized” world. As mankind races toward achieving seamless virtual realities and artificial intelligence, it stands to make me wonder whether or not a simulation of reality is actually our new normal, now, and far beyond anyone’s control.

Most of us spend almost all of our time in highly artificial environments, far removed from nature. We move about, from one building to another. We travel in little bubbles: cars, trains, airplanes. Even while we’re in route we’re buried in our mobile, wireless phones, connecting to all of the information out there. Ours is a world of steel, brick, cement and glass, not that of mountain, meadow, tree, and stream.

The last Presidential primaries/general election have concluded, and what struck me most about that crazy show was that Dr. Gonzo is dead. So dead.

The evidence was in the unprecedented dominance of public relations and advertising in media, resulting in disinformation and propaganda, and, most importantly, increasingly brazen strong-arm tactics to make sure, absolutely sure, no matter what, that Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton would face Donald Jackass Trump. It didn’t matter who won. Not to the rich people who determine these things. Neither of them were a threat to current of the $currency$, the status quo would be preserved.

People scream that Russia “influenced” our election via hacks on the DNC (the contents from those hacks was never disputed, only who actually hacked & leaked that info.) People freak out because Russia propagandized and misinformed voters via trolls on Twitter? IS America truly any better?

What about America propagandizing via social, alternative AND mainstream media? Not only in MANY other countries, but even our own?

I could go through a million examples to show this was all pre-decided, pre-destined, but I refuse to list more than a few, because if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s your own damn fault. The most glaring example, to me, was the June 7, 2016, AP story and photo, written and photographed by, you guessed it, the Hillary Clinton campaign several days beforehand and then submitted to… the AP editorial team!… for publication.

Team Hillary, created the image and words that the AP dutifully reported / sold to the public on their behalf.

Team Hillary, created the image and wrote the story that the AP dutifully regurgitated / sold to the public on their behalf, 3 days prior to publication… and when did publication happen? One day before the California Primary.

Or how about this one, from the Hillary email vault:

“I just received confirmation from 60 Minutes that a piece on Julian Assange will air Sunday night,” Philip Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, wrote to Clinton in 2011. “He will be the only person featured. We had made a number of suggestions for outside experts and former diplomats to interview to ‘balance’ the piece. 60 Minutes assures me that they raised a number of questions and concerns we planted with them during the course of the interview. We will be prepared to respond to the narrative Assange presents during the program.” 

Her reply: “Too bad they’re showcasing him. See you tomorrow when we try making lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons!”

I’m left with three questions:

Do interviews even matter? Does the media matter? Is all the world but a stage?

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that the entire world’s perception of what’s truly important and meaningful is getting more and more skewed by what all this media are selling.

I thank God for my nieces and nephew, for reminding me that the future is worth fighting for, as I don’t want them to inhabit a poisoned world with a shallow artifice. I’ll never give up on that.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that I’m a storyteller, and if I’m going to keep telling good stories, I have to be authentic. In order to be authentic, I have to detach, more and more, from the real truth (that people are the victims of deception and exploitation on a massive scale) AND the artificial reality construct of the media, used to control and enslave people.

I have to be free.

And how will I be that which I am?

I think I’ve got to leave the big city, walk amongst the free creatures and plants of this Earth, and remember to self-program, to decide for myself what sort of things I want, and what sort of person I will become.

 

 

Life is Serious. Life is Feast. And The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

When I was 19 years old my friend Matt Workman committed suicide.

We were best friends since the day we met in kindergarten.

Please keep reading. Because the reason that I wrote those last two sentences was not to bum you out. I wrote them to remind you, me, everyone, that, in a time of great fear and potential upheaval, this life – you know, the thing that ALL of us are doing? This life: that is ALL that it is – and it is only just that.

It’s only life.

This guy lived both seriously, fully and fearlessly

This guy lived seriously, fully & fearlessly

To err is human and MAN am I human! So I try my best not to render judgments, either on people I know, or on the homeless dude asking for change, or on people in positions of power, or celebrities, or people in completely different cultures, because I’ll never know why/how they’re in the position they are in. I’m a man now. A real man. I know who I am and what I’ve done. One could make an argument that these are the only two things that I do KNOW.

I value my time, I do not suffer fools, I love my friends and family with all my heart, and I try to do the best I can with my art and my career.

Do I have opinions? Damn right. Do I make judgments? Of course. I already told you, I’m human as fuck. Do I sometimes indulge, either in myself, or in the illicit, or in the taboo? Yup – I’m not just human as fuck, I’m a writer! A writer with a chip on his shoulder and an almost animalistic type of determination to confront the reality of experience, to do things before the bell is rung, compelling the great scorekeeper in the sky to make a tally on the sum of the life of Jefferson Rich.

A German friend once told me: “Ernst ist das leben.” Translated: life is serious. Very German, yes? I misunderstood him at first, I’d thought he said, “Ernst ist das laben.” Translated: life is feast. Very American, yes? This launched us into a great philosophical debate on the banks of the Spree in Berlin.

It was at this exact place where I came to a profound realization: it's only life.

It was at this exact place where I came to a realization: it’s only life.

My friend made the case for “leben”, or serious. I think his argument was rooted in the newest German generation’s unbound feeling of remorse, guilt, anger, and sadness about the Holocaust. Life is all about what you are doing, he argued – you must see something for what it is, and if it is wrong, you must stand up against it. You must, because if you just passively observe, if you just live only for yourself, terrible, unthinkable things can happen.

I couldn’t dismiss what he’d just said. I thought on my friend Matt Workman, and how, he’d ascended from 15 year old high school partier in Santa Cruz to 19 year old major promoter in the rave/underground party scene with massive celebrity connections and making constant trips to LA, traveling all around the world. But he was only 19. And I saw my boy slipping. I’d ask, “are you okay?” He’d answer, “Yeah.” And then I’d let it go. I didn’t want to be his dad, or judge him, but inside, I knew he was dying and today, I do wish I’d just called him on out on his shit, and told him that he was lying to himself. But I knew it was his life to live… and, even though he never slept, he was seriously struggling with his drug use (back then, we called it X) and one day, he cracked, I knew deep inside, that there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.

So life is “laben”, or feast, I argued. And judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. Here I am, thousands of miles from my home, in a city that is an artist’s lucid dream, having a beer and a conversation that is incredible – a conversation that would not be happening if I didn’t believe life is feast, I said. It’s when people become purist, with their uninformed notions of good and evil, right and wrong, I continued, THIS is when life starts to become devalued. It is the puritanical, very serious people I said, that hold life in very low regard, unless it’s life that they can agree with. Look at our countries, I said.

But you just made my point for me! he countered, because people are so flighty with their sense of morality and are so passive, assholes like the Nazis could slaughter millions in the past. And, he said, ominously, something new will assuredly come in the future, most likely in America, because America’s sense of culture and morality was going into the toilet.

My friend warned me that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

My friend warns that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

WHOA! I said, that’s just plain looney, I countered. In a place where liberty reigns, where everyone’s ideas are considered, where self-determination and freedom of expression are held in high regard, yeah, you get your reality show garbage but you also get stuff like Space X, or Obama, and-

-Yeah that’s all naive bullshit, he interrupted. You really think you have liberty? You really think people in your country know how to think critically? Show self-determination? If you have no control over what you want – if you are unable or unwilling to discern what you value – you are a slave to someone else’s passions and you can’t act freely! You think you have any privacy at all? Even with what you think? (Important contextual note: this conversation took place pre-Snowden.) Wake up man. A war is being waged on the American people, and if you, a person who I consider to be one of the greatest, smartest artists in America, if you of all people can’t see it, then we’re ALL in real trouble. Seriously.

I held tight to the crux of my argument. Look, when people get so damn pure, so damn righteous, THAT is when people start rendering judgments about how other people live. And when that happens, what’s next? I mean, what’s so enlightened about that? For example, the white man came to America, used slaves to build up the country, slaughtered Native Americans, because of Manifest Destiny. America has never even started to deal with our addiction to our idea of our own purity, and you see it as we expand our empire. Hell, American soldiers have been in the Middle East for two decades (it was 2010 when we had our conversation) and will remain for God knows how long, all based on this myth of America knows best because America is right and you Muslims, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and we can’t leave you to your own devices, because you’re just going to come kill us. So before talking to you, you ALL must submit, you must bow, and surrender everything you are to us. (Another important contextual note: Isis did not exist when this conversation took place.) America had turned the entire world into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because of our pure, just, American way.

Why wouldn't the entire world want to be as American as a bikini clad babe at a bbq scarfing down a juicy, thick, long... hot dog?

Why wouldn’t the entire world want to be as American  as a bikini clad babe at a bbq opening wide…for that juicy… thick… long… American dream?

Fuck that, we need to live as if life is feast I said, because we never know when it’s going to end. We need to embrace each other, and each others ideas, and refrain from judgment, because as I said, judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. We need to love each other. We need to talk to each other and we need to listen to each other, no matter who you are and DO NOT JUDGE IT!!

My friend laughed at me. Discernment, judgment, THAT IS THE WAY to enlightenment my friend, he countered. If you don’t have discernment, you know what you get? Velveeta instead of Petit Basque, Night Train instead of aged Burgundy, Ghost Dad instead of Ghost, Real Housewives of Wherever instead of The Wire, ugly, stupid, brutal porn instead of stimulating, sexy eroticism.

Okay, that’s a provocative point, but the world goes round based on both sides of the coin. And you NEED both, otherwise, you get that damn purist thing I’m talking about.

Check this out – when we were boys, my friend Matt and I, we would steal copies of his dad’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, his Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and we stashed them in the woods, where no one else was around. We would look at the pictures (and NEVER read the articles) and we would talk about how we’d make love to each of the women contained inside. What moves we’d do. Which women looked like they were great lovers, compared with which looked like they were just okay. We both knew that we wanted to be great lovers when we reached manhood, and we knew we’d need practice in order to become great. But we were young and didn’t have girlfriends yet, you know? So we would eventually go home, with the vision of whichever woman we’d either seen in the photographs, or girls at school, or teachers, or whoever, we’d use those old Casio digital wrist watches, and we’d use the timer to find out how long we could masterbate before we’d ejaculate, and how long it would take us (if at all) to regain our erections, and sometimes we’d make a competition of who could ejaculate the most times in a night. Then, the next time we’d meet up, we’d report back our results. We kept pushing each other to go longer, to go more times. I even made a game for myself, to see how close to a certain time I could get, like 20 minutes, because I wanted to have the ability to control EXACTLY when I would ejaculate. And our drive in doing this was all in the name of the dream that when the day came, and we were with a woman, she would remember regard us as the greatest lover she ever had, every time.

Without discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

Sans discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

So, I said to my friend, was what we did wrong? Was it perverted? Was it evil? Because there are a lot of people who would think that if I told them what we did. Should I have been feeling shame for what we were doing? I didn’t. Why didn’t other people do what we did? Because they judged. And if I’d judged it, I would not have done what I did. Would I have become a great lover? It’s the people who listen to those people who say masturbating is a sin, that say that homosexuality is an abomination, that marriage is only a man and a woman… they’re the ones who are all fucked up, make other people fucked up, and have depraved senses of what’s sexy and erotic… because… why?

Because my friend was right – the big, huge, serious, very serious crimes against humanity keep popping up here, in America, and our moral decay is for real.

AND because I was right – we are more and more convinced of our pure, American ideals.

And it’s this purism that is sweeping the American body politic, our policy decisions, and our voting public that has me so deeply concerned. Whether it’s supporters of Delusional Donald, or Crazy Bernie, or Crooked Hillary, America is forging it’s way into a more pure, extremist, shaky land, ruled by fear, of either the candyass narcissistic billionaire who’d rather live in a gold tower with a Napoleonic complex and authoritarian aspirations, or the well-meaning septuagenarian socialist or a duplicitous, dishonest, equivocating, smart, but entitled pragmatist who shuns accountability and rarely demonstrates empathy.

I am concerned because the noise around our country is sending off vibrations of tumultuous conflict…a great disturbance in The Force…so much fear… so many stories of Mexican people getting shipped away… so many stories of a harsher and harsher American dogma… so much fear… a fear that I’ve not felt….since…

Days after Matt had died. I had a lucid dream, and to this day I think he was responsible. I think he pulled me into Nirvana, or heaven, or whatever. I was Neo before The Matrix existed, flying over greenery as far as the eye could see, being told by angelic types that I would be okay, that the pain of living through the loss of my friend would eventually subside, and the dream ended with a reminder of those old digital Casio wristwatches, and how, when we were little kids, we’d used those watches for a far more innocent use – we’d compete as to who could press the stopwatch buttons the fastest – DEE-DEET… .11 of a second… DE-DEET… .08 of a second…

DE-DEET… That would be my lifetime on Earth compared to the age of my soul. And my fear, ever since, has been pretty easy to check.

Life is serious. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

Life is feast. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

And the only thing we have to fear…

is losing our connection to what it means to be alive.

We have one world, and if there is but one way, and one right...

We’ve one world & if there is but one way & one right…

...it is that we must all love each other, despite the spite, with all of our might.

…it is that we all have the right to love each other, despite the fights and the spite… with all of our might.

I Am a Junkie Who Feels The Bern…

Some people say they have “an addictive personality.” Why do they have to wrap it up in pretty words? Especially when the fact of the matter is, and you might as well just say it, you are a junkie.

A purveyor of junk. A consumer of junk. Whether that junk be porn or drugs or TMZ or whatever — I think we’re all junkies to some degree, and I have to own my junkie-ness…

For me, I was a junkie who was really into reveling in my own insecurities. I’d throw myself into books and films, which then of course soon threw me into sex and drinking/drugs. I sure as hell couldn’t BE Hunter S. Thompson, but I sure as hell could live like him and pretend like I could write like him. And man, I was on the prowl for that sex and those drugs whenever I could get them. That thing never goes away, but today I feel as if I’ve moved on from that stuff.

But the essence of the junkie is too fill up life with something that gets you off, in some sort of way.

I am a junkie. And now my junkie-ness revolves around politics, in particular, presidential elections. The great horse race to see who will lead the free world. I can trace when I became a junkie for this, and it started back 30 years ago probably, and it’s just gotten worse.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I was a big Obama supporter back in 2008. I was early to that party. Heck, I emailed him before he announced that he was running for President. I urged him to run. I made a point to explain why, logically, he could win, that the country WAS ready to elect him.

I was a precinct captain for the campaign, and I was heavily involved in the democratic primary vs. Hillary. God we wanted to beat her so much. And the Democratic establishment combined with her campaign people, they were at first bemused by, and then HATED us after Iowa. We were ruining Hillary’s coronation. We called people. I organized people. We called Iowans and New Hampshire-ans, and Nevadans and Georgians and Kansans like mad. I set up meet ups on “myBarackObama.com”. It was fun and I felt compelled to make a difference. And what a battle it was to win the democratic primary (more than the general election.)

I took his primary loss in California personally, even though I was proud that I delivered the votes in my precinct (which polled +15 for Hillary at the beginning of the primary season, and became a +3 Obama win – largely by me convincing LGBT voters to become volunteers, because Obama was on their side, more so than Hillary – I’m glad that at the very least, Obama followed through and has been the most gay-friendly President ever.)

The 2008 democratic primary was the battle to end all battles. For the soul of America. We were either going to change the world, or The Man (in the form of Hillary) would continue to rule over us. It was change that we could believe in, and while I’m not too sure if even Obama himself is pleased with the overall changes that came as a result of his Presidency, one thing I’m sure of is that Obama’s 2008 campaign was a massive amount of work and we were driven to make Barack Hussein Obama the next President.

AND… Yes, we did. Perhaps the most effective and most important campaign team ever assembled. PROOF that the grassroots can win. And I was on the front lines.

And after that, after he won, I thought I was done. Could it really get better? I mean, it’s really all about the horse race for me. And that was the best one.

The rest? What comes after the election? What’s that? I’m probably what’s wrong with America. Because I’m of the opinion that if you elect someone to be a representative, then it’s their job to represent the people’s best interests, not to tell the people, “okay, well done, now it’s on you to make sure that what you want gets accomplished…” which was basically the crux of Obama’s inaugural speech. I was like, Huh? What about you going and doing your job for us, Barack? You know, us, the people who did such an amazing job getting you elected?

Anyway…. here comes 2016. And as a junkie, I’m going to break it down for all ya’ll.

On the Republican side, 3 serious candidates. Bush, Rubio and Kasich. I’d say Bush is 40%, Rubio 35% and Kasich 25%. Very tight. Whoever wins between Bush and Rubio will most likely make Kasich his VP, and if Kasich wins the nomination, he’ll probably pick Bush (if he’d take it) and if not Bush, then probably Christie. Everyone is all pumped up about Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, but they can’t win. They have zero chance. Yes – ZERO chance. Cruz? Paul? Less than zero chance. Graham, Pataki, and the others? Less of a chance than Cruz or Paul.

Only Bush, Rubio or Kasich give the Republicans a chance at the Presidency, and the party elite know this. Rubio probably offers the best chance to win the general election, a kind of “Republican Obama” that should scare the shit out of the Democrats. It’d be a pretty interesting upset victory, but I think the Republicans are so sick of losing the general election, that I think they’re going to go with Rubio.

On the Democratic side, you’ve got a big favorite: Hillary 2.0. I don’t know. I’m just not excited about this. Still, she’s at least a 2-1 favorite for the nomination. I’d put Bernie Sanders as about a 6-1 shot, and if Biden runs, he’s probably 8-1. After that, I put Martin O’Malley as a 25-1 shot. Not impossible because people will like him, but I think a lot, like everything, has to go just right for O’Malley (even more so than has already happened.) Jim Webb, I’d put him at 60-1, a huge long shot, but if he can impress and inspire the first time he’s seen nationally, far more than the other guys, then who knows? Weirder things have happened (aka Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale.)

Gun to my head, I have to bet on one, then I’m feelin the Bern to win the Demo nomination. I’d put my money on him and his grassroots team. He’s got the money to compete and a message that the Millennial generation wants to hear (they gravitate toward paternal figures, they sort of latch on to them, because a parent will take care of you, and Millennial’s don’t mind someone else taking care of them, in fact they prefer it.) Bern’s as right on the issues as anyone. You could talk to Bern about music, or films, or beer, or football, and you know it’d be a really good conversation. Can you really say this about Hillary? I’m not saying that this SHOULD be the criteria, but this criteria, to a large degree, IS the criteria, right or wrong.

However – Bern’s a socialist, and that means your key battleground states are going to be VERY tough (Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania) for him to win in the general.

So if it’s Bern vs. Rubio, Clinton vs. Rubio, Bern vs. Bush, or Bern vs. Kasich, I’m sorry to say it, I think all of those ways, we’re getting a Republican next. If it’s Clinton vs. Bush or Kasich, then I think the Democrats eke out a win.

And I’m going to lap up all of the stories and debates and poll numbers because, yeah…I’m still not over it. I want to see who wins the big horse race for the keys to the free world. I know it’s all just a bunch of junk, because why?

Because I am a junkie…

 

 

 

 

Order: 1 Hokey, 1 Cringe Inducing, Mistake of a Movie. And 1 Cooking Mafia Echo Chamber Ass Kiss Fest On the Fly! Yes, CHEF.

WARNING: This is just one man’s opinion. That is all that this is.

A few nights ago, Hope and I watched the movie, CHEF, on demand. Both of us are cooks. We’ve worked decades in pro kitchens and restaurants, and been FOH and BOH. We’ve worked every single job, from dishwasher, busser, waiter, host, prep cook, line cook, expediter, caterer, sandwich maker, manager, owner, menu maker, recipe creator, even accountant, etc and so on and so forth. We’d been looking forward to seeing a movie that all the talking heads of the cooking entertainment world said got the details right.

Finally. The movie that gets it right. We’d been stoked to see this for awhile.

Hope and I, five minutes in, were like, holy shit, this is fucking terrible.

I will say this: I give Jon Favreau credit for wanting to get some things right – like how he held his knife, or how to execute a grilled cheese or a Cubano properly, or how some restaurant owners are obtuse dickheads who make no sense, or how Food PR people / Managers / Agents can be just so totally lame.

And pretty much everything else in the movie? Wrong, wronger, WRONGEST. Like the writing. The story. The characters. The dialogue. The acting. And the plethora of cooking details that were so incorrect that literally every single scene in the movie was a train wreck.

I feel like Pete Wells must have felt when he went into Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square.

This movie does not deserve to call itself CHEF. Instead, I’d propose, “Jon Favreau’s Chef Fantasy Fulfillment” Written by, Directed by and Starring, you guessed it, Jon Favreau.

The movie did provide a great deal of laughter. Unintentional laughter. On Bill Simmons’ Unintentional Comedy Ratings Scale, I’d rate this movie a 96 out of 100.

http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/021107

96: The scene from MTV’s “25 Lamest Videos of All-Time” when Vanilla Ice destroyed the set (as Janeane Garofalo and Jon Stewart cowered and Chris Kattan shrieked “No, Vanilla!”) … Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Pumping Iron” … Andrew Shue’s performance on “Melrose Place” … Mike Tyson saying, “I guess I’ll fade into Bolivian” after the Lewis fight … Michael Irvin defending himself at the “Shaq Roast 2” with, “They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money… so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!”

CHEF is at that level of a disaster. From the opening minute.

Let us begin with something that figures prominently in this catastrophe… a tweet:

“‏@Bourdain Apr 30 Trying to think of another Western film that got the pro-cooking details as right as @ChefTheMovie . Can’t. Filled with Inside Baseball.”

BULLSHIT!

Notice that he does not make any mention of whether the movie is actually any good or not. Be attentive to the detail that he says “Western” film. I guess this implies there was an “Eastern” film that gets the pro-cooking details right. Which reminds us that he is worldly. He is. We all know this. And yet this is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that this is a clear example of how the cooking mafia sticks together, even when something is totally dogshit and horrendously unbelievable.

See, his buddy, business partner, and heir apparent Roy Choi put his name on the movie. So, let the ass kissing commence! Would Bourdain say anything different? Would Roy Choi ever be critical of anything Bourdain might say? Who cares if people get the wrong idea? The dopes will still buy the product, right? Because Anthony Bourdain’s opinion has cred. Roy Choi’s opinion has cred. Among lay people. Among cooks. Among cultures far and wide.

But I ain’t buyin it any more guys.

I’ve met Roy Choi a few times. One time was at the LA premiere of the movie SUPERMENSCH, the story of Shep Gordon, who is one of the guys responsible for driving this taste making / celebrity chef creating train that’s steaming it’s way through American culture. I want anyone reading this to know that Roy Choi struck me as a genuinely nice and humble dude, maybe a little bit shy (though maybe everyone seems a little shy next to Shep Gordon.)

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie took a back seat to Shep constantly talking about how Roy’s empire is growing, how Roy’s brand is exploding, how Roy’s the biggest thing in cooking these days, how Roy’s bringing food to the people, how Roy’s got a new book coming out and blah blah blah. Roy, to his credit, was trying to stay humble throughout Shep’s gushing.

So I asked Shep, what about HIS food? What does the culinary luminary Shep Gordon like to cook? What’s his best dish, or signature? Shep seemed a little taken aback. Because, um, who cares? Which led me to remember something…

Everyone in the US, we’re all brands now. Not just entertainers. ALL OF US.

We’re stocks. Some days we’re sold short. Other days we’re bought up like there’s no tomorrow. And brutally, this is how most people in business management see the rest of us. Are we on the rise? Are we marketable? Do we have value?

Shep is as shrewd of a business manager as they make.

Shep’s SUPERMENSCH balance sheet includes training with an uberfamous chef in France. Which I thought was cool. But then, when I ask Shep what he really enjoys cooking, what he’s passionate about creating, he can’t give me an answer? I guarantee that everyone in that theater wanted to know. But, since it wasn’t part of his agenda, because it didn’t fit in the echo chamber of kiss assery that’s going on, no answer would be given.

And that’s when I called bullshit on him in my own mind, and now I call it out on the page. Funny enough, somewhere in the midst of the Q and A, Roy blurted out that Shep makes a mean BBQ Shrimp. I think he knew the question needed to be answered. But it needed to be answered by Shep.

I mean, you’re not passionate enough about cooking that you can’t think on it and say, I really like making a fucking badass roast chicken? Or a badass SOMETHING?

And you’re the guy who’s managing this whole American Food Culture craze?

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie, the ass kiss fest that it is, and the subsequent Q&A love fest that Roy moderated, it all left me thinking, Jesus, has this cooking entertainment industry gotten to the point that everyone is out there just kissing everyone else’s ass, and that’s like, a lot of what they do? Either kissing someone’s ass or getting their ass kissed? Is this part of a chef’s purpose?

Listen, these guys put in hours and hours and hours on the line. They had to. And that alone gets my respect. But what the hell? After that do we just sell out because I guess we all gotta sell out all the way, right?

My friends Rick and Jack knew Shep back in the day. Their nickname for him was Shemp, as in the 3 stooges character. They said he was a sneaky sleeze just like all the music managers back then, and that when the drug shit got too hectic, Shemp was the first guy to run for the hills.

That Shemp couldn’t even tell me what he liked cooking bugged me. That no one else was bothered by this drives me nuts and still burns me up.

I mean, when will the emperor wears no clothes moment come for these guys?

So, Roy Choi approved so much that was so wrong in this movie CHEF. And he not only gets a pass but he gets congratulated? Now that totally pisses me off.

I think something's burning...

Something’s burning guys… It’s your cred.

“Roy said ‘I’ll do it but you have to get the kitchen right. Movies always get it wrong. I’ll do everything you need. I’ll train you, do the menus, look over your scripts, help you in the editing room. Whatever you want. But you have to promise you’ll get the details right.’ I said that’s all I ever want to do. That’s the way I work. That’s exactly what I had in mind as well.” – Jon Favreau

Either Jon Favreau is embellishing, or Roy Choi phoned it in. Either way, I don’t trust anything that any of these people say anymore after this movie. And you shouldn’t either. And this ain’t about begrudging some other guy for his success.

It’s about calling out these “luminaries” as the cash grabber stashers they are. And they’re all in league. And they’re trying to get you to buy their brand. Period.

First scene in the movie: “Chef” Carl Caspar, the executive chef of Hatfield’s, or, whatever they called the restaurant (it was shot in Hatfield’s.) He’s doin a little something I like to call, meezing off a shit ton of shit. And did I mention he’s holding the knife correctly and his knife skills look legit? Great. So far so good?

Two problems here in the first minute! First, how many times have I seen the Executive Chef of a place doing all the prep, by himself, in the early off hours? Never. Not once. As in NEVER. Second problem, he goes outside, to leave for the farmer’s market (which is like an um… okayyyyy… kind of decision on the day of your place’s most important service. Still, I was willing to give it a pass if he was going to his truffle guy or his boar guy or his rabbit guy or his shark fin guy or something like that… but no, it’s for ramps or radishes or some shit that he could easily order!)  then he knocks on his sous’ car window to wake him.

See, his sous crashed in the restaurant’s lot and passed out there after he drank too much the night before. How responsible. Sort of believable even. Then I thought, how many restaurants in LA have their own parking lots? Not many. Hm. Okay. Let that go Jefferson. It’s a detail that doesn’t matter. But then, I’m thinking of my Big Nights, the pressure packed day and night that came along with some critic coming in, or some VIPs who might be coming in, or a camera crew might be shooting a segment or whatever as it were, and, in this movie, it’s the morning of the most important service his restaurant has ever done, and his sous is so hungover that he looks like he might barf in the food?

Maybe my cooking family tree was uptight. I’ll admit that. But I know if I’d done this kind of shit, it might get my ass fired, or, at the very least, I’d piss off the chef. How’s his sous going to taste anything for the next few hours? Dunno. But none of this bothers “Chef” Carl even a little. Doesn’t make him anxious. Nothing. I pause the movie.

I ask Hope a bunch of questions. I decide it’s okay it’s just a movie. BUT WAIT! They said they were gonna get it right. So, no, it’s not okay.

Do they think this part of the script works because he and his sous have gone to war before? Alright. I guess.

I take the movie off of pause.

“Chef” Carl then goes to the farmer’s market with his son. The kid who plays his son was the best actor in the movie, and with that terrible script, the kid still managed to be sort of believable, even if the relationship he has with his father is not. The kid wants kettle corn. The “chef” dad wants him to have fruit. Awkward and weird moments ensue from there. The kid says something about wanting to go to New Orleans. This reminds me of my first trip there, when I was 13. I tell Hope that this movie is definitely going to take these guys to New Orleans, and the kid will definitely eat a beignet (which happened of course.) Then, “Chef” Carl ends up getting a sausage hoagie and walking around with the kid for awhile like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Good thing he did all that prep in the morning. By himself. Anyway.

Back to the restaurant we go. Sous chef dude Bobby Cannavale is now totally fine. Maybe someone “brought him water.” Jon Leguizamo looks and acts the part of a line cook, reminds me a lot of my buddy Adriano, who I worked on the line with a few years back. The movie should’ve had Adriano starring. Or Leguizamo. It might have given the movie a chance.

Uh oh. Wait a minute. Where are the Mexicans? There’s not one Mexican person in the back of the house? Seriously, you wanted to get the details of a kitchen (in LA!) right, and there are no Mexicans in the kitchen?

What was that stuff about getting the details right?

Oh yeah, I forgot, you were bullshitting us.

Where are the nicknames?! COME ON! Someone calls him Jefe? Jefecito?

Are you fucking kidding me? My name is Jeff and NO ONE in any kitchen I’ve worked in would EVER call me, or any white guy, Jefe.

Joto? Absolutely. Pelon? That was my nickname in 2 kitchens. Way? Way. Puta? Limpio? Culo? Ano? Uno?

I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on.

Si Mon!

Oh man. Where are you Roy? It’s getting worse: supposedly, this chef made his name in Miami, but it’s made abundantly clear he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. RIGHT! Try speaking no Spanish in a kitchen in Miami or LA and see what happens. Imposible! Pinche toro! Mierda de caballo! Hijo de puuuuuta!

Scarlett Johansson is the hot hostess. This character is like that decorative garnish that you can’t eat. Totally unnecessary. And the moment when he cooks her pasta. Embarrassing for everyone involved. By everyone, I mean, all of humanity. She seriously seems like she’s going to orgasm as she watches him make PASTA. As she eats PASTA. It’s laugh out loud funny that it’s sooo forced and bad! 100 out of 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Rating scale.

If only we could all cook pasta like "Chef" Carl Caspar...

If only we all cooked pasta like “Chef” Carl Caspar…

Sofia Vergara’s character does what exactly? She’s his ex, she’s a socialite? Their relationship makes no sense whatsoever.

Apparently the “chef” and the restaurant owner haven’t really talked over the menu for the night. Huh? Hold on a second. It’s the most important service in the restaurant’s history and the menu has not been discussed? Until the day of service? Dude! Where are you Roy? How could this be missed?

A famous food blogger, like Oliver Pratt, has as much power as this guy supposedly does? Really? I can’t even give you the name of more than 3 food bloggers who matter.

Oh my God. “Chef” Carl has never even heard of Twitter? Twitter is the whole reason that the Kogi Truck blew up. I guess this guy is the anti-Roy Choi?

Now it’s just getting looney. “Chef” Carl decides the day after the bad review that he’s going to make the menu he really wanted to make the day the famous food blogger came to town. Restaurant owner be damned. And wouldn’t you know it, after a wholly unbelievable twitter flame war misunderstanding, the famous food blogger agrees to re-review the restaurant. Nice of him. BUT of course the mean restaurant owner won’t budge because the clientele expects the menu to be exactly the same. Every day. Ad infinitum. So, the bad review, by the most famous food blogger in food, who says the restaurant’s food was boring, this means nothing to the restaurant owner. And I’ve seen this kind of argument a thousand times. Never have I seen it happen in front of an entire crew.

“Chef” Carl couldn’t make new menu items that sound like the old stuff?

“Chef” Carl couldn’t negotiate even one new menu item with this owner?

All of this leads “Chef” Carl to do something that I have never seen an Executive Chef do. He quits minutes before a service. He quits. Yes, line cooks do it all the time. I think I’ve even seen a Sous do it. Have I seen Chef’s quit during a service? Totally. But an Executive Chef quitting minutes BEFORE? I guess it could happen, but I’ve never seen it, just like I have never seen a car explode, though I suppose one could.

So “Chef” Carl goes home and he makes the menu he really wanted to make anyway, in a mad fit. I’m actually back on board. I’m thinking, cool, this guy’s going to go out on the floor and bring this reviewer guy the food he really wanted to make him. Or he’ll send the reviewer guy pictures of it. This movie has hope.

But no! He makes the food, and then? Who knows what happened to the actual food! Did he throw it away? Who knows? What we do know is “Chef” Carl goes back to the restaurant, he doesn’t bring the food, he goes on a rant about how to make a molten cake, how the bad review hurts, and blah blah blah.

I could go on about more things the movie got wrong. Like the fact that this guy’s food truck is making Cubanos from town to town. Yeah? So how is he sourcing his bread? I mean, if you’ve ever done sandwiches, you know that the bread is the biggest key. This movie doesn’t even bother with the question of the bread. People follow the truck everywhere, they’re totally slammed, the 10 year old kid has people waving money at him, his dad throws him on the line and he’s in the hopper but yet, the kid’s totally fine and they all have a dandy time! No sweat!

Such a load of bullshit. I’m over it. I’m over this whole make believe thing. The details weren’t right.

Roy didn’t give two shits about the details. Maybe he gave one shit. Maybe. Or maybe those guys just hung out and had a good time and made food together and he let Favreau play line cook for a day. But the details, that inside baseball that was better than any Western movie? They suffered so greatly that the superfamous food blogger guy is going to bankroll “Chef” Carl’s next restaurant at the end of the movie, cynically deciding that the derisiveness of their relationship will generate hundreds and hundreds of covers a night. Apparently foodblogging makes people millionaires these days.

“Throughout the cooks language and camaraderie is exactly right and should make anyone want to be a cook, because cooks are almost unfailingly the best people to hang with. Period. As Jon Leguizamo makes ebulliently clear in his great performance. Other great details the movie gets right. Cornstarch. Guy cooks know and it works. See the movie if you want more.” – Michael Ruhlman

So Ruhlman takes the piss out of all of it a little bit. Good for him. Who knows what he really thinks about the movie. He could be sarcastic the whole way or just for part of it. I have no idea. I do know Ruhlman’s cookbooks are awesome and helpful. I’m surprised that Favreau didn’t give him credit for The Elements of Cooking, which Favreau probably referenced. If he didn’t, he should’ve.

But anyway who gives a shit about cred? Who slaves over details? A chef does. A writer does. A filmmaker does.

But mostly, a chef does.

So I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off, and I’m still waiting for the movie that gets it right.