My Path to Bizarre Foods
At the beginning of every new season, I always like to take a moment and answer the most FAQs and one always rises to the top of the inbox: Yes, I have always been an open-minded eater, but I think some explanation is needed.
I had parents who believed in the power of travel to inform, challenge, educate and illuminate, but mostly we liked to eat. As a 9-year-old, I ate with my dad at Botin in Madrid, following his lead and trying the angulas, the risotto nera, the roasted pigeon and the milk-fed baby piglet. Our food and travel lives kept growing, and when I started cooking professionally after college, and then operating restaurants in NYC, it was the stories behind the food that drove a lot of my passion. Black bean spare ribs were a delicious item to run at our restaurant, but it was even better when teamed with the story of eating that dish in Beijing for the first time (and how I got the recipe…a bottle of whisky is always welcome as a gift/bribe in any kitchen!). I worked the risotto station at a restaurant called La Colonna, very fancy Italian joint that was quite the chic place to be back in 1984, and knowing what risotto was supposed to taste like, and having some perspective about the restraint and technique that was required to execute those dishes helped me immensely.
In the late 90s, I began branch out beyond the kitchen– cooking while telling a story on local TV. It became so popular I decided to spread out a bit, and I started cooking on some national cable shows (Rebecca’s Garden and Tip-ical Mary Ellen) and got a job at the local Fox station, the local radio station and the monthly that I still write for, Minneapolis St Paul Magazine. I pushed a lot of tape at networks over the years and finally found a production partner who wanted to do a show called Chew on This. It was essentially the show you watch now called Bizarre Foods except a little edgier. It took us three years to sell that show to Travel Channel and finally five and half years ago, we started shooting our first pilot. I am still that kid, parachuting into Spain, looking for a good meal, with a good story. From where I sit, a good story in one from the fringe, and often times the foods that are shocking to some are most indicative of what a culture is saying about themselves, where it’s going or where it came from. The people, not just the food. Eating whole goat, stewed skin on, guts and all, with the Himba in Namibia (stay tuned for that episode!) says so much about their pastoral tradition, and how they eat it and who gets what piece tells you all you need to know about their social structure.
Food is the best lens through which to view a people and a culture. And I think you can learn more by sharing a meal with someone than you can wandering down the aisle in some museum. This season of Bizarre Foods is our best ever, and I can’t wait til the 18th. Syria to Namibia, Finland to San Francisco, it’s a brand new 22-pack that everyone will love. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.