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What is the vilest thing you’ve ever eaten—apart from sheep testicles in Morocco, ants’ eggs in Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit seal hunt, and a whole cobra—beating heart, blood, bile, meat and all—in Vietnam?
The fermented shark in Iceland was really, really unpleasant. They take shark meat and rot it underground for six months. I didn’t like that. Uzbekistan was not my favourite culinary destination either. But the best (or worst)example is the live octopus in Korea. It grabs hold of your tongue and tries to cling to the side of your mouth as you’re chewing it. That was a little challenging.
Where would you draw the line? What would you never eat?
I’m having fun. How bad can it be? I’m lucky to be in a place. If people tell me something is good in their country, I’m going to try it. I’m not looking to shock anybody. If I show up in Vietnam and they say,“Well, you have to try the cobra heart,” I think, why not.
On your India trip, you chomped your way through the streets of Mumbai and Calcutta and savoured royal Rajasthan? What made the biggest impact?
Well, I think my favourite place was the Halal Market in Mumbai, just fantastic street food. I also had minced meat and eggs fried up in chapati bread and brains. This is a good street for food. Vada-pav or what I call the Bombay Burger doesn’t sound all that promising in theory, but that’s the best thing I have ever eaten. It tastes delicious and there is no meat in here at all. And, of course, I enjoyed the paan.
Which Indian culinary bastion would you like to storm next?
Kerala, or South India. The whole region has been spoken of very highly by chefs. And, I like spice!
You once said, “I don’t know why people pay me to write this shit.” What’s your next book/project?
I’m working on my fourth crime novel now and in the middle of shooting a fourth season of No Reservations.
If the world had space for two superchefs, who would the other be, apart from you?
I was never a great chef. I don’t see myself like Gordon Ramsay or Thomas Keller. I mean, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m lucky.
Your most perfect meal to date?
The perfect meal? I’ve had so many. If I’ve learned anything, you can’t look for it. The perfect meal finds you. It’s usually something very simple like a bowl of pho in Vietnam or a plate of roasted bone marrow in London. It’s always something very simple. It’s not so much what is being cooked as who is cooking it and under what circumstances. Context is so important to the perfect meal. I think a Bombay Burger is just as likely to be a perfect meal as a meal at the best restaurant in Paris.
And, back in New York—home comforts?
I’m almost never in my kitchen in New York at the restaurant and on the few days when I’m back in New York, I’m as likely to call out for pizza as anything else. When I get back to New York, I’m tired. I’m lazy. I have just a few days. As a diversion, I write about myself and what happens to me all the time.
This interview was published in the September 2007 issue of the Outlook Traveller magazine.
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