Have you ever seen the movie “Office Space“? There is a great exchange in that movie that I always got a kick out of, mostly because I can recall having had that conversation with friends and co-workers. Peter says, “Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.”
In response to this, the best named character in movie history, Michael Bolton, says, “No, you’re working at Initech because that question is bull[SALT!] to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there’d be no janitors, because no one would clean [SALT!] up if they had a million dollars.”
It’s both a goofy and brilliant comedic scene, but it’s idea carries some weight! If money wasn’t an issue, would you be doing what you’re doing for work? More importantly, though, if you could do something about it, would you?
Simon Majumdar, writer and TV personality, has been there and has done that. His book, “Eat My Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything“, is a story about taking action and living out a dream. He left a cushy job, saw his life savings dwindle away as he did exactly what he had once dreamed of doing: Going everywhere, and eating everything. It was a risk. But, the reward has been an exciting new career.
I had a chance to interview Simon. We chatted a bit about where his love of food began, what being a judge and critic of food is like, and his favorite food memory du jour.
Foodie Journal: So you spent the majority of your career in publishing. What was it about food and the culinary world that made you decide that it was worth spending almost all your life savings to go out and experience it?
Simon Majumdar: It was more of an obsession than anything else. Food has always been the way that I and my family have defined our life and our relationships, so if I was going to go and discover the world, it was always going to be through its food. Had I been a musician, I am sure I would have found people to make music with, but food is my thing and it always will be. What people sometimes don’t realize is that this journey was not me aiming to create a new career, but a determination that I wanted to “Go Everywhere, Eat everything” while I had the chance. I am still on that journey now and the TV and books, etc, while fun are really just a way of making that happen. I continue to travel and, by the end of this year alone I have been to Jamaica, Panama, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, India, Maldives, Nicaragua and The Philippines in search of great food.
FJ: You’ve been able to find success beyond writing, getting involved with The Food Network in a variety of capacities. Had that success not come about, do you think you’d have regrets? Or was it worth it regardless of the final outcome?
SM: As I said before, a new career was not the motivation factor for my journey, nor is it the motivation for me working in TV or writing about food. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing it and I take my job very seriously. However, when I set out on my journey, I had NO idea that any of this would happen and was quite prepared to deal with the consequences of returning from my trip broke and without prospects. In fact, I found the idea quite liberating. I was just very, very fortunate to be given the opportunity to do what I do and I will always be grateful for that to everyone who made it happen.
FJ: One of the aspects of your career now has become that of judge on food competition shows, for example like the upcoming season of Next Iron Chef. Is it ever daunting at all to have to critique and pass judgment on some of the most talented chefs in America? Was there ever a time when you felt a bit reticent to share negative comments with a particular chef?
SM: If you have seen me on ICA and Next Iron Chef, you will know that I am rarely reticent to express an opinion. However, I hope that I am always balanced in what I say and can speak from experience, having eaten all over the world.
Good chefs can make mistakes and my job is to relay to them and the audience why a dish doesn’t work because of flaws in execution or indeed concept. By the same token, if a dish is superb, as it so often is, I am the first to say so and to congratulate the chef.
FJ: Did you always feel confident in your palate and your thoughts and opinions on food, or did that come AFTER you began to travel and really explore the culinary world?
SM: Judging on TV is not just about palate, but also about the ability to express opinions in a way that both the chef and the viewer at home can relate to and vicariously understand whether you think a dish works or doesn’t. There are people with better palates out there than me, I know, but they may not be as good at expressing their feelings towards a dish. Palates definitely do improve with experience and I am always learning new tastes and textures as I travel. Any food writer or chef who says they are not continually learning is never going to be very good at their job in my opinion.
FJ: As someone who doesn’t work in a professional kitchen, how do you go about staying on top of culinary trends?
SM: That’s really just about research. I try to stay on the lookout. If I hear a culinary term I don’t know, I immediately look it up. If I taste a dish I have never encountered before, I research its origins and look for the best recipes. I read very widely, both current cookery books, but also historical books about the great chefs (I have just finished a good biography called “Cooking For Kings” about the first of all celebrity chefs, Antonin Careme) and I am always talking about food to everyone I know.
I am also very lucky to work with some of the most knowledgeable people in the food business, such as Alton Brown, and just being around people who are so intellectually curious is a great way to keep ahead of the game.
FJ: You’ve had many adventures in the food world, so I’m assuming that I’m giving you the impossible task here, but is there a particular food memory or experience that stands out above others in your mind that really speaks to your love of food?
SM: It changes every day and every time I am asked. However, right now, I am having very fond memories of a week spent on Islay, Scotland making the famously peaty whisky of the region. Every time I take a sip of Scotch from that Island, I am transported back to that week and just how magical it was to see one of my favourite products created. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different answer.
Simon is setting out on a new adventure, one you can help him to accomplish! He’s starting out on a journey to American Citizenship, and as a part of that he wants to discover the real America through the food experiences we all love and cherish. Check out his new project, “Fed, White & Blue” over at his website and find out how you can play a part!