Sunday, August 28, 2016

Former journeyman MX racer reinvents himself as (fraudulent?) food star

The latest issue of the famed New Yorker magazine features a long feature story on a former motocross racer named Damon Baehrel, who operates a small restaurant in upstate New York.

Baehrel – who is now in his early fifties – was an aspiring motocross racer in the 1980s, although there’s no indication that he was fast enough to turn that into a living. He worked in restaurants and then operated a successful gourmet catering business.

Baehrel's now in his early 50s. He lives on a few-acre farm in upstate New York. He clearly is a master forager, but the carrying capacity of such a property is not consistent with his claim to preparing thousands of meals per year from ingredients foraged on his own land. Which begs the question, "Why create such an elaborate lie?"
But about 15 years ago, he began an elaborate reinvention. He built a small restaurant in basement of his farmhouse, where – if you can believe this – he prepares some of the world’s finest dining using virtually only ingredients he forages from his own property.

His food’s been sampled by many highly-regarded food writers and bloggers. Prices currently run over $400 per person per meal (and do not include wine, although diners are welcome to bring their own.) The food is real, delicious (so I read), and fantastically inventive. This 16-seat restaurant is frequently seen on lists of the world’s best and most exclusive restaurants.

It’s the only one on the list where, apparently, absolutely all the cooking is done by one person.

If you can believe Damon Baehrel, there’s a five-year wait for reservations.

Where the story gets weird is, Baehrel creates real food that he serves in the context of a fictional business. He claims to have served all kinds of celebrities who have, in fact, never been there. Nor is it even remotely possible that he could prepare the number of meals he says he’s serving by himself, in the facility at his disposal, or with ingredients foraged off a few acres.

From the New Yorker: In 2002, Baehrel said, he shut down the restaurant for renovations and got back into competitive motocross, entering races around New England. “I made some money,” he said.
Is it just me, or is it unlikely anyone's making money in Vet 30+ C class races?
In fact, it’s more likely that virtually the only people he serves are restaurant reviewers and influential food bloggers. Why he would go to such elaborate lengths to create a mostly-fictitious restaurant business is another part of Damon Baehrel’s mystery.

It seems pretty clear that the food he makes can stand on its own, but maybe food critics would not give him the attention he clearly craves, if he didn’t create an exclusivity myth to wrap around his story.

Maybe at some level he’s a compulsive liar who can’t let his food do the talking for him. If so, he luckily or brilliantly concocted a myth that food writers desperately wanted to believe was true. That's why it took so long for someone like Paumgarten to do the very simple math involved in proving that the ex-motocrosser-turned-genius-chef's claim that he's serving (tens of) thousands of meals a year is false.

Or was there supposed to be some other end game? If there was Nick Paumgarten’s brilliant profile of the chef has probably curdled the plan.

Although he told the New Yorker writer that he raced professionally around the U.S. in the '80s, the only place anyone can confirm Baehrel raced back then is here. If any readers remember him as an '80s-era pro, please let me know, eh?

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