When David and I visit Gascony with Charles Neal each Spring, there's a reason we spend so much time with Charles's brother-in-law, Bernard Daubin. He's hilarious, over-the-top, outspoken, he knows a lot about Armagnac, and he's always got a drink his hand. Bernard is the epitome of la vie de gascogne. He's not only a world-renowned chef (featured in famous hardback books about cooking, like the one above); he's also a man who appreciates both sides of the spectrum. He likes to eat and drink, and he likes to eat and drink nice things, but he cares more about the actual eating and drinking than anything else. We can't get enough of him because he reminds us of everything that's right about gustatory pleasure. Visiting his restaurant is like reseting your mind and body back to a time when food and booze were things you consumed rather than Instagramed.
There are people out there who like to eat, but don't really know anything about food. And there are people out there who like to talk about fancy food, but obviously don't know how to enjoy a meal. Ditto with booze. Everyone's talking about what they want to drink, moping about what they can't have or what they can't get, when there's a world full of great products available at their fingertips right now; at this very moment. Bernard's restaurant in Montreal du Gers makes this realization shockingly clear; it's a combination of two wonderful phenomena: simple, but amazing food, served with a serious, yet simultaneously unpretentious attitude. He'll talk your ear off about how he raises his pork and how dedicated he is to natural methods, but all while pouring you glass after glass of inexpensive, local wine served with bowls of fresh razor clams. He wants you to understand his food and to appreciate it, but ultimately he wants to do this so that you'll eat it (not to impress you).
Does he care about the good stuff? The big names? The fancy labels? The prestigious estates? Sure, to the extent that any of us do. When David and I dug out a bottle of 2001 Raveneau Chablis, Bernard was over the moon about drinking a glass with us because he appreciated the opportunity and the experience. He immediately ran back to the kitchen and broke out the oysters to pair with it. True, his restaurant is more about simple dishes and simple wines, but that doesn't mean he won't splurge every now and again. I love that about people; when they can recognize both the high and low pleasures of the greater spectrum. I thought he might shit all over the Raveneau because it was an expensive prestige bottle, but he was seriously pumped. Charles, on the other hand, was a bit more annoyed that we weren't drinking one of his portfolio wines, hence his reaction.
When you dine at Chez Bernard, you really get more than traditional, flavorful, wonderfully-authentic, Gascogne cuisine. It's more a lesson in how to live, rather than how to eat and drink. It's about enjoying what you have to the fullest, whether it's a bottle of cheap Beaujolais and a plate of almonds, a glass of champagne and a bit of caviar, or a 100 year old bottle of Armagnac and a conversation about the local history of distillation. It's about letting the moment dictate the moment, enjoying what's in front of us, and not giving a flying fuck about whether some giant foreign booze corporation has removed another age statement from their latest overpriced Scotch label. Hanging out with Bernard helps me to better do what I already love doing: to eat and drink good shit with people who actually appreciate the good shit and actually want to consume it and enjoy it, rather than prove something to the world. Cheap stuff. Expensive stuff. Everyday stuff. Rare stuff. All of it. In all forms. The best and the basic, from top to bottom, because we love the ceremony.
It seems crazy to think that doing something so simple would be so difficult these days. But I guess that's what happens when simple things, like eating and drinking, become more than just present participles.