Fiona Fernandez: Travel for aromas
Anthony Bourdain had cracked the template when it came to telling us stories about food and travel on the same plate and page
Sometimes, one needs to see or experience the worst of a kind, to truly treasure the best. It's one of those kick-in-the-shins kinds of hard-hitting reality bites that leave an impression for long.
Roughly a decade ago, during a round of channel-surfing on the telly, we ended up snatching 15 minutes of a travel-meets-food show on a desi channel. Don't ask us why and how we landed there. Back then, choices were far and few so let's just leave it at the fact that we had to pick between this and re-runs of a slapstick comedy that had stopped being funny for ages. The host of this highly publicised show, clearly a novice, complete with a freshly rehearsed American accent, had probably never entered the kitchen.
We watched, in utter disbelief, as this model-type wannabe tried her best to juggle between appearing to seem keen on the backdoor exploits of a chic bistro in Marais, Paris and also play intrepid guide to blend with residents and tourists around her. It was a disaster. She was a complete odds with the dual role; her outfit and make-up seemed be more critical to her [we wonder why and how the camera continued to film and how the moments made it to the final edit!]. At the end of the day, we got our laughs, albeit from an unintentional source.
Shortly after this debacle, like a godsend, we stumbled upon another show that was hosted by American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. It was perfect timing. We had wrapped up reading his wildly popular bestseller Kitchen Confidential, and loved it.
It was raw, wicked and outright frank. For junta like us, sitting in faraway Bombay, it felt as if we were staring into a whole new world of restaurants. That night, we watched, glued to our sets as his series, No Reservations, took us to Chile. It was as if we had our own guide to dish us unique anecdotes about the culinary and cultural histories of the South American country. He was on a roll, ensuring that language, diversity and borders didn't come in the way of his joyride. He mingled with locals, managed to enter their homes [with a sensitivity that was applause-worthy], shook a leg with tribesman, and of course, gave us a taste of the nation's rich beef, pork, seafood and vegetarian traditions from sooty kitchens and classic fine-dines. All in all, he had displayed the perfect art of a TV storyteller. It blew our mind.
And yes, made us add Chile to the endless bucket list. As is common knowledge by now, he had visited India on several occasions. The vada pav bowled him over, and he, a hardcore non-vegetarian, had admitted in several interviews and shows that he could warm up to the idea of vegetarianism if it were prepared that way it is in India.
Such was the power of Bourdain's impact on people sitting thousands of miles away with no connect whatsoever to his world. Since that engaging night of telly viewing, we tried our best to catch his shows. It was fascinating and educational, packaged with the smells, sights and aromas of people and places. In his other hit series, Parts Unknown, he continued to share this passion for food as told by the people who made it, from lands unheard and unknown to the rest of the world.
The world will be poorer without this gifted storyteller, for he bound people together by food and travel and also because he didn't hesitate to take us to the parts unknown.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana Send your feedback to email@example.com
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