My personal commitment to the Froggish arts is nothing when compared to the two-line backstory of Uttam Lama, chef at the five-month-old Tibet’s Restaurant in Louisville.
Uttam spent fourteen years as the chef at a Tibetan monastery.
While there, he cooked for the Dali Lama.
For culinary street cred, Uttam has it over just about anyone working today. Not only does he have the whole “I spent fourteen years at a Tibetan monastery” thing (an admission generally followed in American culture by something like “… and now have returned to kick your ass with my Leaping Buddha kung-fu!” or “…just like Bill Murray in that movie The Razor’s Edge”), but cooking for His Holiness, the 14th Dali Lama? To quote another Bill Murray character, groundskeeper Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, who once caddied for the 12th Dali Lama in Tibet: “So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.”
But total consciousness on your deathbed does not necessarily translate to cooking skills while alive. I imagined it could be rough finding experienced, talented chefs to run kitchens in Tibet, so there was always the possibility that this Uttam character was simply the only guy the monks could get -- a local boy, familiar with the cuisine, comfortable with working thousands of feet above sea level. And in Tibet, the monasteries could be like B&Bs in New England, always boasting of their relationship with George Washington, with every damn one of them sporting a plaque or a scroll or something: The Dali Lama Ate Here…
There was only one way to find out: I had to make the trek to Louisville.
Yeah, it’s all about the Bill Murray jokes this week at Bite Me World HQ, which are a light-hearted way to introduce the seriously talented Tibetan chef serving up thenthuk and thukpa at Tibet’s Restaurant, which I review this week. Also in Café, there’s news of Sparrow’s closure and duelling James Beard House dinners being organized out of Denver. And in Second Helping, I put the boot to a small, Japanese fast-food joint – after giving it chance after chance for six months.
Tomorrow, you can read all about it in the new issue of Westword – or just return to this website, which will have a From the Gut bonus: my long-winded blog essay about one man’s love/hate relationship with the French, as played out across the beaches of Costa Rica. –- Jason Sheehan
Fun stuff. And all available this week on a newsstand (or computer) near you…