Sunday I took off for a two-week shoot in Spain and Morocco, taping two new episodes of Bizarre Foods, my new series for the Travel Channel. There are five of us in our U.S. contingent, including Shannon Keenan, the high-powered producer (she shot Talk Soup, Wild On . . ., The Bachelor, etc.) taking care of overseeing the project for Tremendous Entertainment, the Minnetonka-based production company charged with keeping me in line. Tremendous CEO Colleen Needles Steward is along for the trip, we have a PA and a shooter here as well, and two Spanish TV and film producers (Eloy and Maria) are acting as fixers for the week, keeping wheels greased, scouting locations, translating, and the like.
Our first stop today was at La Broche, one of Spain's greatest restaurants, which is saying a lot since some of the most exciting and creative cooking in the world is taking place right here on the Iberian Peninsula. Sergi Arola, La B's owner/chef, is one of Ferran Adria's acolytes and his food shows it, but he's a little more grounded than the molecular gastronomy king of kings whom he worked with for years, and who we shoot with on Thursday. Arola made four dishes for me today: Seared red prawns on olive gnocchi with almond milk, tagliolini with morel–sea larvae–parmesan cream and topped with a sous vide egg yolk, roasted sardines with black trumpet mushrooms, and a dish he called roast beef.
The roast beef turned out to be a thin circle of blood sausage on a disk of olive oil–fried crouton, topped with ribbons of seared beef, a tangle of aromatic herb salad with baby fennel, and a scoop of foie gras ice cream to round the whole plate off . . .let me simply say it was a heck of a start to an incredible culinary adventure. We have stopped in tapas bars and jamoneria all day long to grab shots of angulas (baby eels), pescadillas (baby sardines), salchichon, Iberico dry-cured hams, chorizo, lomo, octopus, and a thousand other edible delights. Check out all the amazing pork products at the Museo del Jamon
if you are ever in Madrid.
The Spanish are my kind of folk, and here in Madrid, the restaurants outnumber every Madrilleno by about three to one. They eat every few hours in Madrid; each business or social conversation is an excuse for snacking—my kind of culture, to say the least. Apparently my last episode of Bizarre Foods of Asia has been airing constantly on Travel Channel's European sister stations because all day long we have met groups of tourists from other countries who have seen the program recently, including a bunch of Welsh ladies from Cardiff who cheered me on in the Plaza Mayor as I searched relentlessly for bull's balls, but it appears to be my Don Quixote moment so far, no criadillas . . .yet!
And yes, the whole country is football (soccer) crazy with the World Cup beginning shortly . . .there are several hours already devoted each day and evening to the event, and that's a week before it starts! Also, every person I meet from another country who speaks English asks me why we tolerate a president who behaves, talks, and governs the way ours does. In forty years of traveling internationally I have never felt as culturally and civically neutered as I have on this trip. America, for the first time in my life, is a laughingstock on many levels, the brunt of much anger on many others. When three ladies from Wales are making Bush jokes, you know you're in trouble.