Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Restraint: Not a Roberts trait

 A couple of days ago, Roadracing World broke the sad story of 1978-‘80 500GP champion Kenny Roberts seeking a restraining order against his own son, Kurtis.

If you want to read the entire filing by KR’s lawyer, you can do so here. I found it depressing – and I don’t even like Kenny Roberts (although I have utmost respect for his contribution to American motorcycle racing history.)

A few weeks ago, during the Republican National Convention, the media fawned all over Donald Trump’s kids. Mike Pence spun the acceptance of Donald Jr. and Ivanka as, “You can’t fake good kids.”

I’m more inclined to believe Dan Savage (the “Savage Love” columnist) who told Bill Maher, “If you want to elect the person who raised those kids, you need to vote for the nanny.” But the thing is, if you are the kind of person who wants to give a parent credit for good kids, you have to also be ready to blame them for bad kids.

The rap on Kurtis Roberts was, he was fast but reckless – to the point of being unpopular with his peers. The 2000 AMA 600 Supersport championship was a barnburner, pitting Roberts against the strongest 600 field of all time. Eric Bostrom, Jamie Hacking, Miguel Duhamel, Nicky Hayden, Doug Chandler… Seriously, if you could put the current MotoAmerica Supersport field in a time machine and send them back 16 years, there’s not rider among ‘em who could dream of a podium. Roberts won that season on the strength of a last lap, last race pass on both Hacking and Bostrom in Willow Springs’ Turn 8, that both Hacking and Bostrom thought put their lives at risk. Roberts opened the next season with a Dale Earnhardt style pass on John Hopkins. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t being invited to anyone else’s motorhome for a beer and burger on Sunday evenings in those years.

Suffice to say, the almond didn’t fall far from the tree. Roberts pรจre always struck me as a hyper-talented douchebag.

The Roberts Ranch, courtesy of Google. Roberts tried to sell the property about ten years ago but couldn't get his price. Since then, he's planted thousands of almond trees. Maybe he figures he knows something about nuts.
So what? What interests me about this is philosophical, not voyeuristic; this isn’t a post about schadenfreude.

People who become motorcycle racers, or even just fans of racing, admire riders for their on-track prowess. And that should be enough. But it’s human nature for us to assume or at least hope that their riding skill is just the tip of an iceberg. We want to believe they’re smart; ultimately we want to believe that their skill is the result of moral superiority.

There’s nothing about this that’s unique to motorcycle racing. Ryan Lochte proved that out of the swimming pool he’s just another entitled douchebag. And don’t get me started on Michael Vick.

That, sports fans, is why we’re particularly disappointed when one of our heros turns out to have a full complement of failings. In fact, some motorcycle racers have a golden wrist and, besides that, pretty much nothing but failings.

Even so, the thought of a sick, angry Kenny Roberts needing a restraining order against his (heavily armed) youngest son (who has evident anger issues)… it’s all a bit of Shakespeare, relocated into the Central Valley.

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?