There is no dearth of epicures on telly. Telly abounds with such savants - both local and gora - who traverse the culinary landscape with elan, even as they feed their faces. Others cook and eat too. And they are ones who bring joy to my face. My six-year old son has only two favourites on telly. He can watch ACP Pradyuman, Abhijeet and Daya endlessly in the acclaimed ‘CID’ on Sony or watch cooking programmes.
Restive as he is, I am always surprised how he sits at rapt attention to watch these diverse programmes. His fascination for cooking programmes surprises me for he is not a great eater, but he relishes anything new that is shown on the cooking shows. In fact, sometimes he even tells me to take him to some of the places shown or simply wants to taste some of the stuff that is being cooked or eaten. I guess even as some of these epicures go on their culinary journeys, they open a window of opportunity in some of us. A window, which allows our taste buds to take over and wander in the hallways of foodland.
Thanks to him, I, too, have started watching some of these shows. Mayur and Rocky, for instance, with their light hearted banter and joviality in ‘Highway on My Plate’ are a showstopper, for they cut far and wide in search of the simple, but edible meal across the length and breadth of this diverse land sampling different cuisine and delights.
Last week, everything seemed to converge for some strange reason in Darjeeling. On NDTV India, Vinod Dua in ‘Zaika India Ka’ landed in Darjeeling as did Mayur and Rocky. But they went to different outlets and sampled different foods. While Dua tried a beef noodle soup in Blue Pine and then tasted a smorgasbord of lemon tart, jam tart, scones, rum chocolates and something singular called Death by Chocolate in Glenary, the equivalent of the fabled Flury's in Kolkata, Mayur and Rocky landed slapbang in the middle of Hot Stimulating Café, where they tried hot steaming momos and a local preparation called Bamboo beer, made of wheat, millet and fermented with yeast. The troika of Dua, Mayur and Rocky were obviously enjoying every minute of this amazing palate. Dua has his own patented style as he walks the mean streets of food in different settings. One of the Indian telly's most famous faces, it is good to see him going strong after so many years.
It is when these programmes take you to distant lands and make you try the local flavours that it gets interesting. City-based epicures have beaten restaurants to death. Their reviews are boring and smack of a dangerous malaise, which afflicts modern day food writers - one of a nexus between the eater and server of food. In fact, restaurants seeking their tryst with publicity lavish food and hospitality on these writers. Whereas these programmes are radically different from the beaten trail.
Mayur and Rocky travel down dusty national highways in NDTV Good Times, eating pretty much everything and anything. I remember an episode where they traveled in Arunachal sampling all the chow that could be thrown at them. And they did it with a wondrous smile. A genuine smile, puzzled with the rough beauty of the North Eastern outdoors. Though I wonder what the food must be doing to their digestive system? Or their gall bladders? Mayur and Rocky are definitely my personal favourites, and there are episodes that reverberate in the corridors of my memory recesses.
Lately, they have started going abroad. A recent episode saw them parked in Sri Lanka, trying sweets in Kandy at sweetmeat shop called Bombay Sweet Mahal. From Khawa Dawa on NH2 in Durgapur to fish sandesh and chum chum in the same town, the sturdy looking duo recently did ‘Jai Hind’, where they visited Army camps across the frontier, playing 'soldier soldier' and eating their grub. What makes them delightful as a pair is that while one is a vegan, the other eats practically everything that walks or crawls.
But there is also Kunal Vijaykar, aka the Foodie, who has his own style as he goes out in search of something delectable. Recently, he landed in Matheran, where I saw him chomping on grilled Bar-B-Q chicken with chips and sausages. Boy, was he enjoying that? Vijaykar's gastronomic adventures are a treat; him eating succulent Kolhapuri mutton pieces is something one cannot forget in a hurry. Vijaykar, like Mayur and Rocky, walks the walk and talks the talk, shifting from location to location in search of the golden fleece of food.
Kunal brings his very own flavour to the programme on Times Now. The portly Vijaykar looks like a foodie, unlike Aditya Bal on ‘Chak Le India’, again on NDTV Good Times. Bal is lean and tall. He normally divides his programme ‘Chak Le India’ into two equal halves - the first has him traveling to different destinations and sampling the local flavours, while the second has him cooking dishes in his studio kitchen. Both make for interesting watching. Bal surely punches above his weight, for not only can he tuck in a lot, his cooking is simple, instructive and easy to clone. From Sarafa Galli and 56 Dhukkan in Indore, sipping Shahi Shikanji, to the streets of Chennai in search of the magical dosa, tasting Chettinad cuisine in Ponnuswamy to the rail coach restaurant, Shaan-e-Bhopal, Bal brings a certain chutzpah to the chore. Not only does he enjoy eating out and discovering new tastes, but as I said, his cooking is clean and simple. Bal has another show on the same channel – ‘Lean is In’, where, along with Devanshi Garg, he looks at calorie conscious healthy eating.
I must also mention the man who has a beatific smile plastered on his face -Bikramjit Ray – with his ‘Secret Kitchen’ on CNN-IBN. The smile tells you that this man loves his job. And he brings a certain sincerity to the job, even if he lacks pizzazz. There was one episode where he got Chef William to cook a stuffed lamb full of rice and dry fruits Arabic style at a top of the line and hip Delhi restaurant Zest. Another time, he surprised a lady chef by getting her husband to cook for her at home.
Actually, NDTV Good Times, which has been architected on the lines of Discovery Travel & Living, grows on you. Okay, not the entire channel, but some of the shows do. There are other cooking and foodie shows as well on the channel - Nikhil Chib in ‘Chef and his Better Half’, ‘Cooking isn't Rocket Science’ with Manju Malhi, another one on ‘Italian Khana’ with Ritu Dalmia, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Tikkas’ with Marut Sikka; but none of them hold your attention for long. Probably because they don't bring that edge of the outdoors to the show.
Discovery Travel & Living, of course, has its own icons - Nigella Lawson in ‘Nigella Feasts’, cooking up aromatic lamb meatballs or a spicy beef chilli or a Kylie Kwong Chinese special; ‘Floyd's India’, which has old Keith Floyd doing what he does best, pottering about with portable stoves and a camera crew, cooking in the open air, chewing the fat and what have you. Or even an Anjum Anand with ‘Indian Food Made Easy’.
You can watch them all, but the man who is simply peerless is the irreverent and untamed Anthony Bourdain with his ‘No Reservations’. I just love the guy, he is a smooth operator. This American author of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ fame and chef brings a killer panache to foodie shows. Bourdain did one episode in Udaipur, where he tasted Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and yes, he licked his chops when nadru or lotus stem was served to him. Bottomline - the best food shows on telly are the ones where the anchors or hosts can cook themselves. More than that, you cannot talk down to the viewer, you have to be able to engage him, draw him into watching you, maybe even seduce him to partake whatever is being cooked with great precision. Foodies need to have a peculiar flair, a signature style, a deep rooted understanding of culinary delights and above all, a faculty and taste bud, which allows them to soak in the flavours, aromas, colours and senses.
(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.
The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)