Photo by Keith Farris/CIA
The trip began hopefully but slowly turned strange toward, and I don't know that it was entirely Bourdain's fault (as it typically is). Other forces had to be at work.
I was thrilled to be returning to the Hudson Valley to be a part of another No Reservations episode. The Hudson Valley is the place where my life changed in an extraordinary way. Also, it's a place of great natural beauty and the food grown and raised there is fantastic. The crew had already begun shooting by the time I arrived but my first stop with Bourdain was the Culinary Institute of America, which I wrote a book about and which is Bourdain's alma mater (he graduated more than thirty years ago, thirty).
We were handed snappy chef coats on which our names were emblazoned and set up in Chef Pardus's Asian kitchen, prepping and preparing a stir-fried squid dish. To our mutual relief, neither of us embarrassed ourselves at the wok—though the students in Pardus's class had our backs the whole time in the event that we made a mess of things.
We had awesome wheels again, a 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible, suicide doors and all, must have weighed three tons and got at best five miles to the gallon, but this was a car with genuine character.
But really what set the tone of my days there was the Mohonk Mountain House, a vast sprawling resort where the crew was staying, the biggest wood structure I've seen in a long time. Tony had heard rumors it was the resort Stephen King had in mind when writing The Shining, even seemed a little creeped out by it, wondering if the crew could fill an elevator with blood for one of the scenes. The family that has owned it from its 19th-century beginnings is named Smiley. Soon Tony was taking to spending inordinate amounts of time in the spa while the crew filled the hours shooting B-roll (even this article in the Times Herald Record, notes the spa business). He was munching pain killers like breath mints and began to obsess about his cuticles.
The guy's an odd creature with his own inner demons, surely, so I was just rolling with it hoping things didn't get worse (even when he started with Red Rum Red Rum whenever we were in the elevator alone together, trying to make it sound like a joke, but chuckling nervously).
Things got genuinely creepy for me for me, though, when a note was slipped under my door, rousing me from my nap. Tony was inviting me to high tea on the upstairs porch overlooking the lake. We had high tea together. Our conversation over cucumber sandwiches and 140-year-old china was strained, at best. It got worse afterward when he suggested we go for a little boat ride after tea. Was he going Victorian on me? Would he bring a parasol? Was he going to propose? Dump me in the lake with a pair of cement clogs? It's not just his kid he talks about now, it's his kitty cat as well. Was his fame making him go all Michael Jackson on me? I had no idea.
I honestly think it was Pardus's Asian pork belly and the promise of Hudson Whiskey waiting for us in Pardus's backyard for the final meal of the shoot that kept Tony focused on the road ahead. It did turn out to be a long late and delicious meal, until the fog rolled in off the river. Last I saw him, Tony was a silhouette, staggering into the misty Hudson Valley night, mumbling, insisting he was heading back up the mountain on foot.
I hear he's in Louisville today for a speaking gig. I trust safely. If you see him, don't bring up the cuticle business, especially not if he's slurring, and not if you're near an open window—he's sensitive about it.