Yesterday, Extreme Cuisine host Jeff Corwin told Secretary Confidential he had homemade pasta fagioli for dinner — pasta, white beans, red beans, fava beans and broth — along with crusty bread and a glass of red wine. Pretty tame, right? Tonight, tune in and join in on a much different culinary experience as Jeff and crew debut a run of all-new episodes of Extreme Cuisine. We caught up with Jeff to find out where he’s been — like Greece and Morocco — and what’s been on his plate, including one bony dish of fish.
SC: Tell me about the prep that goes into the show and how you choose where to visit?
JC: We do a ton of research. I approach these shows not only as foodie but as a biologist, as a scientist and as an anthropologist [for Jeff’s bio, click here]. I reach into all of these different satchels to harvest information. I want to know where the dish originates from, what makes the dish unique, what sort of environmental connection there is. I’m looking to not only push myself but push the audience. Basically, we chose each location based on the stories, the food and the people. What I want the audience to do is leave their cultural biases behind and jump in the fryer with me. My hope is that they really see how food is the glue that binds culture.
SC: This season takes you not only abroad but to spots in the United States that we never knew could be so exotic. What surprises have you found?
JC: Incredible surprises! That’s the whole thing — Extreme Cuisine isn’t just in India or Thailand. It can be in Louisiana. There, we met Mr. Conny, who is 83 years old and lives without electricity on the Chasile River. And he goes out and fishes for catfish. We cooked them the traditional way, the way his mother and grandmother cooked them. We’re there to tell his story. Or being in Washington and going with the Grande Ronde tribal community as they climb 100-foot waterfalls going after eels. They cook them in a traditional manner that’s been done for hundreds of years.
SC: Have you ever seriously hesitated on downing the food?
JC: No, not really. We were not going to eat food for the sake of grossing people out. We didn’t want to “Fear Factor” it. The big filter for me was to make sure it was an ethical meal, a sustainable meal and a meal that had some root in renewability. I also, realize that if I have any cultural prejudices against food that’s my problem. I had to leave them on the burner and take a chance. And you have to trust yourself and the people you’re with. When you walk through a marketplace and see a dog licking at your ankles and you don’t see any running water and you think, “This meal is raw!” Then you have to think, “I’m in line with 40 other people; they must know what they are doing so hopefully it will all work out.” And so far it has. Flavors don’t bother me; as long as things fall within my ethical filter it doesn’t bother me.
SC: You travel extensively. Where would you most like to bring your fans?
JC: I have many places in the world where I want to take the Food Network audience. I want to take them to a Boma in Kenya with the Maasai, where you see how the Masai live and eat. We’ll work our way to those places. Another place where I really want to take them is to India. I’ve been there before but what’s neat about this series is I get to approach the visits from a gastronomic epicurious angle. The show’s a cultural kaleidoscope — every region has something unique to offer.
With an open mind and mouth, Jeff Corwin is traversing through land near and far on radical culinary adventures. Check him out tonight on Extreme Cuisine. And let me know where you’d like to see Jeff go!
Eat Well- Secretary Confidential