Eat My Globe: An interview with Simon Majumdar

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.

Simon Majumdar

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!

Advertisements

20 years together deserves a trip to remember – Part 2

The Jersey Kid has resurfaced, sending along a new post regarding his anniversary trip to Italy. One of my favorite aspects of this particular write up is that it touches on the childhood food trauma idea I wrote about a couple of weeks ago (We shall overcome!). Enjoy the reminiscings of Sorrento and the Isle of Capri.

Why did it take me so long to write again about my food experiences in Italy?  Beautiful scenery. Tremendous food. My wife of 20 years (don’t I have to include that?). Wine, and my daily limoncello intake could have been responsible.  But really, who feels like typing on an iPad when you have all these other options to keep you occupied?

My last post mentioned that I would likely be biased towards positive experiences in Italy, especially considering the circumstances and the location. Why anyone would want to walk in to a situation not open-minded enough to expect positive experiences is beyond me.  In doing so, would one really be having an experience, or just another in a series of food experiments, designed to chart sensory reactions?  I suppose I need to provide examples.  Ok, here goes…

Sorrento

The restaurant in Sorrento, Italy was right over the water.  Not on the water. Over the water (the restaurant was on a pier).  My wife and I had peppered mussels (not from P.E.I) while watching the sun go down over the Bay of Naples.  I am smiling as I type this up.  Why?  The food was ok and in fact, I don’t really remember the name of the restaurant. But, the view and location: tremendous.  The experience: wonderful. The chance that would have been the case had I walked in the door focusing just on food rather than the whole experience is minimal.

The Isle of Capri

We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant, Edode.  This was recommended to us by our waiter at another restaurant in Sorrento.  He gave us the name of his friend, a fellow waiter, at Edode.  We arrived, were seated by the window to people watch (always good for experiences!) and we mentioned that they came recommended and that we wanted to meet Tonino.  Please start the experience meter.  We explained to Tonino what we were in the mood for and asked for recommendations.

A digression: when I was young, my mother scarred me emotionally with eggplant.  She accomplished this by serving some type of baked, cubed eggplant thing with croutons. It was quite simply, the worst tasting thing in the world. I would beg my father to say he didn’t like it so we wouldn’t have it again. I was made to sit at the kitchen table until I finished every bite.  There was no chicken finger option in my house growing up.  This meal was so bad that I have steadfastly refused to eat eggplant since those troubling meals.  In fact, I once was served eggplant parm and, thinking it was chicken parm (I never claimed to be bright), loved it!  As I dug in, the hostess asked how I liked her eggplant parm?  Just hearing that it was eggplant started the gag reflex.  Excuse me while I suck my thumb and rock back and forth for a bit…

Why am I boring you with that sordid tale of abuse by eggplant?  Tonino started us off with, yup, you guessed it, eggplant.  It… was… delightful!  Eggplant thinly sliced layered with buffalo mozzarella and freshly crushed tomatoes.  Wow!  Is THIS how eggplant should taste?  My wife, after I had to pick her up off of the floor from the shock of my pleasure, was giddy knowing that eggplant could be placed back on the menu at our house.  With one bite, the strong memory of my childhood was replaced.  Food can do that.  We remember the awful meals, and the wonderful ones.  We can recall the smells and tastes for years.  As more years go by, the tastes we remember become stronger, for good or bad, depending on the experience.  That eggplant on Capri tastes better every day.

– Jersey Kid

The Jersey Kid has a few more awesome experiences to share, so keep an eye out. More coming soon!

20 years together deserves a trip to remember

So my good friends, the Jersey Kid (a.k.a. Brent) and his wife, are celebrating 20 years of marriage. Now, let’s face it. In the world we live in, are there many people who hit this plateau any more? Without a doubt it’s a life event that is worth marking in a special way, and they did it right: a romantic getaway to Italy.

Here I present the Jersey Kid’s post regarding their first few days in Italia!

Florence

There are not too many places that lend themselves to Foodie’s desire to emphasize food experiences over a simple review. His direction makes sense since great meals are built on so much more than ingredients. A perfect day at the beach turns even the most average beer into a ‘top ten’. So, I imagined most of my food experiences in Italy to be biased towards the memorable.

Our first night in Florence, we ate at a wonderful restaurant called Vini e Vecchi. It is a small osteria located just off of the Piazza Della Signoria. Just a 30 second walk from copies of famous and breathtaking sculptures, the Uffizi Gallery (where we saw Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’), and the Ponte Vecchio was a memorable food experience. There is only room for about 16 people in this establishment. While you have your own table, you are situated close enough to others that the meal soon becomes a shared experience. Pesto ravioli, rabbit over pappardelle, osso buco, pheasant and a shaved artichoke appetizer were phenomenal. Throw in the house wine and you are in your happy place.

Why was it a great experience? Feeling like you stumbled on a gem of a restaurant (Though I didn’t. Thanks, Trip Advisor!), watching party after party turned away while we ate and smiled and drank and ate and smiled some more. Asking our waiter in an amusing combination of English, spanish, Portuguese and Italian what he recommended and being told, “is ok, I surprise you”. Seeing my wife’ smile as she tried each dish. Learning that our table mates are an Englishman who married his Italian bride many years ago and watching as their son treats them to dinner. All of that alone makes for amazing food experiences, but add to the mix knowing I’m having the first of many great meals in Italy with my wife of 20 years. How can you go wrong?

That’s all for now. We are on a train heading south to the Amalfi Coast. Even the dried up crackers we have been given will be recalled as ‘top ten’ crackers when we talk of the breathtaking countryside that is filling up our window. Italy! Arrivederci!

– Jersey Kid

Food Experiences: The Napa Valley

I am an East Coast boy through and through. But, I have to admit, there are some things to appreciate when it comes to the Wild West. Up there would have to be the wine regions of California, in particular Napa Valley.

Invariably, when someone hears the words Napa Valley the first thing that comes to mind for most people is wine, and rightfully so. You will find few spots in the United States that have the climate or terrain to grow the kind of grapes necessary to produce such a fantastic variety of wines. For me, it brings to mind a few things in particular. First, and most obvious, excellent wine. Second, some excellent food. As I stated before, while I certainly don’t mind wine or alcohol in general, I really am all about the food. Napa Valley does not disappoint in this regard. Finally, it brings to mind one simple word: Loser. I’ll get to that in a moment. :)

Wineries

The primary reason for our visit to Napa Valley last spring was to do what most do when visiting Napa Valley: To drink some wine. We made it to two wineries in particular that stood out. The first was Rutherford Hill. Our group of six had a private tour of the wine cellar where we tasted six or seven excellent wines. My preference was for the medium-bodied malbec. Most people think of Argentina when it comes to malbecs, but this was a particularly impressive one. After the tour and tasting, we had a boxed lunch at one of the picnic tables overlooking the valley. Un-believable view. Truly a worthy winery to visit.

Our second winery was Rubicon. This place was truly amazing. Rubicon is owned by Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame. Not only does this man know how to make films, his winery produces some of the best wine I’ve ever had the pleasure to imbibe. We had a private wine tasting along with the chateau ambassador, Harold Francis. A nicer, more entertaining gentleman, you will not meet. Our tasting was followed by a walk around the estate, and then finally a visit to the wine cellar. Since our visit to Rubicon, the Coppola’s have managed to acquire the Inglenook trademark (the original name when the estate was first established in 1879). The winery is now known as Inglenook .

Now mind you, one of those in our traveling party (The Foodie Journal’s own Jersey Kid) has an “in” when it comes to wineries. The experiences we had were above and beyond a typical wine tasting and tour. That being said, both of these wineries are deserving of visits.

Loser!

I know I mentioned this as the third thing I think of, but as this story is directly associated to wineries, I thought it fitting to tell now. We visited a third winery, which I unfortunately can’t remember the name of. While that would infer that I was in a state that wouldn’t allow me to remember, that wasn’t the case. The most memorable moment of this particular visit, though, was the following.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to this final winery. So we found a small area with some tables and chairs to take some rest. Near us was a a knee-high stone wall, next to a grassy area. One of the ladies in our party, seeing the sun shining on the grass, thought it would be a great spot to lay down and enjoy a little sunbathing. We’re all sitting quietly. Suddenly we hear, out of nowhere, “Look her! She couldn’t handle it. LOSER!”

I looked up to see the man stumbling away from us, his wife (or caretaker?) coming to his aid, as he could barely keep his feet. We laughed and laughed.

The moral of the story? A) We were all feeling just fine (most definitely better than THAT guy), and B) people in glass houses… should probably stop talking when they no longer can form complete sentences. :)

Hope he managed to find his way back to the gutter.

Eatery

For dinner, we decided to go to Terra in St. Helena. This place was outstanding. I also liked the simple fact that there was a selection. Granted it is a prix fixe menu. You get a specific number of courses for a preset amount of money. But, they still offered you selection. You could select any of the dishes from either their “savory” or “sweet” menus. The menu has since changed, but my selections at the time heavily involved both foie gras and bone marrow.

Overall, it was an AMAZING day, start to finish. I hope to make it back to Napa again soon. Next stop for dinner will be somewhere in Yountville. French Laundry anyone?

UPDATE: I was reminded by the Jersey Kid (via the comments below), that the third winery was Mondavi. No slight meant to them in any way. Rutherford Hill and Inglenook simply went above and beyond expectations, making them easier to remember. I also would like to extend a very warm thanks to Neb Lukic of Southern Wine and Spirits as well. It was an amazing day!

Tell us about some of YOUR food experience in the comments. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook!

Back at it…

I’m sad to look at this blog now and realize that its been so LONG since my last blog post. To the three of you that follow my blog, I sincerely apologize. ;)

In all seriousness though, things have changed considerably in my life. The most significant of which is that I am now the proud papa of a 3-month old baby girl! So to say “priorities have changed” would be an understatement.

Having a daughter to raise now has actually had an impact on what I find to be important. Aside from the obvious (caring for her spiritual and physical well-being), I want her to be able to look back one day and say, “You know what? I had great childhood.” Thinking on that has just served to remind me of how I grew up and how food impacted my life. Yes, I needed sustenance. But, lets face it. I don’t look back and think about how the food I ate as a child helped me to grow and survive. I look back and think about the food I ate as a child and think of my mother.

My mother was, and is, a phenomenal cook. When discussions arise about food and home-cooking, its not long before my mom’s name is thrown in to the mix. I would venture a guess that cooking is one of her favorite things to do, even more so when its for her family. When we get together as a family, which unfortunately isn’t very often these days considering that we live in different parts of the country, she goes over board. In total there are 11 of us. That includes both my parents, my two brothers and their families, and myself, my wife and the baby. So how does that add up to 7 different dishes on the table? The answer is simple, really. We all have favorite dishes, and if she knows what your favorite dish is then that’s what will be on the table when you sit down to break bread.

It goes back to the whole reason for this site. Sometimes, you have to live to eat. Yes, survival and well-being have to play a part. You do need to eat to be able to live. But, where I’m from, food isn’t just about putting something in your belly. It’s about memories. It’s about comfort and joy. Food is about love.

Some people out there don’t really care much about food. I don’t quite get that. Maybe their mothers (or fathers) weren’t very good cooks. But, I’m thankful that my mom was a good cook and that I have those memories. From this point on, along with my wife (who is an amazing cook as well), I look forward to making those kinds of memories with my daughter.