Alsace

Celebrating Bourdain, Life, and Food

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On June 8, 2018 the world learned of the untimely and unfortunate death of American chef and travel host Anthony Bourdain in the otherwise picturesque Alsatian village of Kaysersberg. Bourdain was on-site filming an episode of his hit show Parts Unknown. Understanding the region and its food shines a light on who Bourdain was and why he would come to this small village on the Route des Vin d’Alsace, spending his last days doing what he loved, exploring a region through its food with great friends. This was Bourdain’s principled approach to food. Food for the chef was a means to an end – a way to understand and interact with people and geographical issues. In the highly geopolitical borderlands of Alsace, Kaysersberg literally means the Kaiser’s village. Inherently it has a heavy Germanic influence and an identify that more or less mixes with French. Its architecture is visually German; its wine is primarily white; its castle is called Schlossberg. While peaceful since World War II, it is an understatement to say that a village like Kaysersberg has a mixed identity. Bourdain was staying at the 5 Michelin Star hotel Le Chambard on the eastern end of town with its 2-Star Michelin Restaurant, La Table d’Oliver Nasti. The region features four other Michelin 1-star restaurants that would have been frequented by Bourdain and longtime friend Eric Ripert. But it would have been the wines and local foods of Colmar and Strasbourg that really drew the chef’s appetite for life. Perhaps strolling through Colmar’s Place de l‘Ancienne market and sampling regional specialties like choucroute garnie, the epitome of a shared German-French heritage that is comprised of cabbage, sausage, and ham. Anthony Bourdain left a legacy of loving food, travel, and most of all people. So when we are in Kaysersberg, these elements come together and we raise a glass to remember the man who left us too soon. Rest in peace Chef.

The Tour’s Legendary First “Climb”

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The Ballon d’Alsace may no longer be among the Tour’s high-altitude highlights, but at 1,247 meters (4,091 feet) high, it is considered the Tour de France’s first “mountain climb” way back in 1905. Located in the Vosges Mountains, the Ballon is more typically featured these days on route to the Planche des Belle Filles. True historians of the Tour will tell you, however, that the Col de la Republique in the Massif Central was included earlier in the Tour. But this defeats the purpose and historical importance of the Ballon. For one, the Ballon d’Alsace is no joke. It is 11 kilometers long with an average gradient of 6.3% (maximum gradient is 13.2%). The statistics for both climbs are generally the same, but the revolutionary aspect of the 1905 Tour de France was the inclusion of mountains – plural. The main difference between the Ballon d’Alsace and the Col de la Republique, was that the latter essentially was an anomaly along the route from Lyon to Marseilles. The Ballon on the other hand occurred on a 299-kilometer stage from Nancy to Besancon embedded amongst a myriad of other spikes in the topography. These may not have been as imposing as the Ballon d’Alsace at the time, but collectively they worked to make Stage 2, and the 1905 Tour overall, an obstacle worth fearing. Of course, there were ulterior motives for race Director Henri Desgrange. He was interested in increasing the marketing value of his Tour while also diverting public and media attention from cheating scandals of the year before. Evidently it worked – and the Ballon d’Alsace lives on in Tour legend. Where the 1905 peloton was allowed to change bikes in order to climb its slope, the 2019 peloton will have little difficulty. For modern spectators and lovers of the Tour de France, it still offers a slice of a bygone era.

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