There are a lot of competitive cooking shows out there. A lot. But even we are kind of looking forward to tonight's debut of Bravo's Around The World In 80 Plates hosted by culinary gurus Curtis Stone and Cat Cora. Each week the show drops chefs in a different international locale where they are immersed in the local cuisine and then challenged to impress the locals with their interpretations. We caught up with Stone and Cora to talk about dodging monkeys in the marketplace and their favorite moments of the journey, both on camera and off.
What surprised you most about how some chefs worked without certain ingredients and how they were able to adapt?
Curtis Stone: Do you know what? When I’m asked to develop recipes which, you know, we do on a daily basis it’s almost so much easier for us when someone says we want you to do a recipe with sea bass. You know, and straight away your mind goes to sea bass and you start playing. And then we put some other parameters around that whether it’s springtime and, you know, so there are the other ingredients you can use.
And I actually found it really interesting watching the contestants be told sometimes they got this exceptional ingredient which, you know, made it much more obvious for them in terms of their thinking. And other times they were told they couldn’t use an ingredient. Like in London the contestant that didn’t win the exceptional ingredient couldn’t use potatoes in their recipe. So then of course, you know, that makes cooking fish and chips and steak and kidney pie with mash pretty difficult. But we were surprised quite often. Sometimes their creativity really came through and we were blown away by what they did.
Since all the chefs come with different degrees of experience what was the biggest challenge for them in adapting to various cultures?
Cat Cora: Well I definitely think because they did come with so many varied, you know, ranges of skill and I think it was really trying to figure out, who was going to lead, what the strategy was going to be and, multitasking.
But also there was a language barrier in a lot of countries. There were a few that could speak multiple languages and there were many that couldn’t. So I mean those were definitely some of the roadblocks that they ran into.
And some of the street smart chefs had some of the skills to get through the cities a little quicker. You could tell the difference between some of the chefs who were trained kind of in the school of hard knocks and had more street smarts when it came to some of the tasks versus, some of the more formally trained chefs. And I think really it came down to strategy really. We had a guy (Nookie) who is a chef for the Red Sox. So this guy is from the streets and he definitely was able to maneuver a lot. And, you know, and we had several contestants like that. So that was really interesting to see and watch throughout the show.
What was your favorite destination on the trip?
Cat Cora: That’s a hard one. I mean, I think for me I mean I definitely - I’m in love with the Thai people and the Thai food and Thailand and, you know, I’ve said that over and over although Morocco was pretty amazing as well.
Curtis Stone: We had a lot of fun in Thailand Cat, let’s be honest. You know, it’s one of those...
Cat Cora: And it’s a really fun place to go out in and have a good time.
Curtis Stone: we were, you know, eating this incredible food. That was a pretty special place. I loved Buenos Aires as well just for the culture and the beauty and it was a real eye opener for me, Buenos Aires and the way they cook. They cook Asador style which is like these guys that have been cooking on these grill pits for their entire life and they’re just so skilled.
It was really special.
If you could be eating anything anywhere in the world right now what would it be?
Cat Cora: Right now I’d love to be sitting on a Greek island somewhere because of being Greek American and eating, a great octopus salad and - a grilled octopus salad and some fantastic lamb. Or sipping a little Ouzo.
Curtis Stone: I don’t know - I’d go back to Bologna in a heartbeat Cat and eat that truffle salad that we had late night at that place. That little trattoria with the poached egg and the white truffles.
Cat Cora: I would have to say that would be pretty tempting too. But, you know, Morocco that was pretty fun with the belly dancers and, you know, the Moroccan food being passed around.
A place you’d like to see on the show that you didn’t get the chance this season?
Curtis Stone: Well I really want to go to Japan. It’s the one place that I’ve never been to and they just have such a rich food culture. And I had my fingers crossed for it. You know, as you can imagine we - there’s just so many great culinary destinations throughout the world and there’s so much diversity.
Cat Cora: I’m with you on that. I think that would be amazing. Yeah.
As hosts did you get to taste the dishes that the chefs prepared or was that a job left to the judges?
Curtis Stone: Hell yeah.
Cat Cora: Oh yeah. We ate.
Curtis Stone:I wouldn’t have signed up for it if they didn’t let us eat it.
Cat Cora: We tasted everything. Nothing slipped past us.
Winning the exceptional ingredient was supposed to be an advantage for competitors but did you find any cases where it ever worked against the chefs in some way?
Curtis Stone: We found times when they - the contestants didn’t use it properly. And, you know, this is a frantic show where you have things thrown at you left and right. And sometimes it takes a minute of stop, checking, thinking and moving forward.
And occasionally we had the contestants where they were given an exceptional ingredient and they were like oh, okay well just - we’re not exactly sure how to do it so let’s just put it to the side and they didn’t actually utilize it. So a couple of times we were super surprised.
What’s your opinion on the healthiest cuisines and do you have any favorite dishes from those?
Cat Cora: For me growing up as a Greek American I think the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest, with the fresh produce, lots of nuts, vegetables, fruits, fresh fish, lean meats, things like that, yogurt. Lots of really great olive oils, I mean artichokes, things like that, olives, things that we grew up with.To me that’s an extremely wonderful diet and cuisine and very healthy.
Curtis Stone: All that good food. Yeah. The Mediterranean is beautiful, healthy food. You know, Asian food is very healthy as well. It's interesting how people depict healthy. I sort of think the more fresh, naturally grown ingredients the better. You know, and that sort of constitutes health for me. And when you look at what they cook with in Southeast Asia, we’re talking about Thailand so let’s choose that. They use all sorts of fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and fish and different proteins. So those green papaya salads and like the curries are so good for you.
I love that green papaya salads are just fantastic and we ate some beautiful ones while were in Thailand. I love those red curries and green curries that they make. You know, you hear those mortar and pestles.
You walk through the streets in Thailand and you hear those mortar and pestles like an annual sort of daily kind of ritual. There’s the clunking of the ginger and ylang-ylang and chili peppers and, all of those delicious spices that they sort of grind up. And then they incorporate that through both their stir fries and all their curries and a little bit of light coconut milk. And the curries feel very light in Thailand, you know. So those jungle curries are great with a spicy peppercorn. It’s so good.
Do you have any favorite healthy cooking techniques that are your go-to, like adding spices to dishes instead of using more fat?
Cat Cora: I think for me I add a lot of citrus to my food and I think that flavors it. And it’s that’s to me what makes it a little healthy - it makes it healthier, lower in fat, lower in calories. It adds lots of flavor. Spices of course. But, citrus is definitely kind of my go-to, you know, to season and really to really make those flavors, make that food come alive, the flavors come alive. And I think that’s for me what I love.
Curtis Stone: I love grilling. Grilling is an incredible way to keep healthy. And you can marinade both with a dry rub and also wet marinades. You can marinade with a little bit of olive oil and some citrus and fresh herbs all of that sort of stuff. You add flavor to whatever it is that you’re grilling and then the grilling process of course if anything, removes fat from what it is that you’re cooking itself. That’s a really healthy way to cook too.
Any strategies or tips for people who are traveling and wanting to explore new dishes and try new foods?
Curtis Stone: I think a really good place to start is a local market because you can wander around the market and get a feel for the culture. You get to read a lot of - you see a lot of ingredients with the names of the ingredients just above it, you know, with the price so then you can sort of associate - especially if you don’t speak the language you can associate certain ingredients. You’re like okay tomatoes, I know that and I’d be able to look out for that when I’m in a restaurant. And also to speak to some of those street vendors and ask them where their favorite places to eat are. You know, you start off with some street food and then, you know, find out what the locals think. That’s always the best way to go.
Cat Cora:Yeah. I’d have to agree. I always talk to the locals, you know, whether it’s a local driver or someone who’s a guide. The hotel concierge is kind of my last choice especially in a lot of foreign countries just because they tend to send, you know, tourists to tourist destinations. So it’s really talking to people on the street, it’s really where I go first. And I agree with Curtis. It’s just looking around and seeing, you know, if you keep seeing something over and over and it’s familiar whether you keep seeing it popping up and that, you know, that’s something you should probably, you know, that seems like it’s typical local food.
Which country may have presented the biggest challenge to both the contestants and you guys?
Curtis Stone: Strangely I think London presented the really big challenge.
Cat Cora: I think London, the very first show was really a big challenge for them. As the first show, they’re trying to find their footing and, the gastro pubs and this new style of food that’s happening in London, it’s a little bit new to us, is - it was challenging for them. And the different ingredients.
Curtis Stone: But then, you know, I think back to Morocco, Cat when the guys were in Marrakesh and they were trying to run through the market and, you know, there...
Cat Cora: Yeah. That was pretty rough because yeah, the market...
Curtis Stone: The monkeys.
Cat Cora: Yeah.
Curtis Stone: And snakes. And, you know, people hitting them.
Cat Cora: Cobras and yeah, that was - I don’t know. That might have been the most challenging. Trying to dodge cobras and monkeys that jump on your head is while you’re trying to grab spices is a little bit - that might be a little more challenging than trying to figure out how to make kidney pie.
Any funny travel mishaps or lessons to share?
Curtis Stone: There was one moment when Cat and I spent the afternoon together and we were hanging out with elephants. We went to an elephant refuge and we cared for the elephants for the day. These were elephants that were once used in a mining industry.
And then we were driving home and we saw this tiger sanctuary so we decided to stop and me being male and a bit of a hippy when it comes to animals I thought of thought that these poor tigers in a cage.
And we got convinced by the guy that was there that they were really well cared for and they’d been born in captivity so they couldn’t be around in the wild and all of that sort of thing.
And you could actually go in and get your photo taken with these tigers, these huge cats, you know.
Cat Cora: Huge.
Curtis Stone: But there was also baby tigers and seemingly you could play with them. So after a little bit of debate Cat and I decided that we’ll pay for the ticket and we’ll go in and we’ll meet these little cats and then go onto the big cats.
And as soon as we got into the pen with these little tigers the - one of them took a real liking to my foot which...
Cat Cora: Because they smelled the elephant.
Curtis Stone: Which you wouldn’t think is too frightening but then at the time you’re like well this thing is sort of about the size of a pitbull terrier and its teeth are twice as big. I was so scared.
Cat Cora: Curtis was like oh my god.
Curtis Stone: It was a very funny moment.
Cat Cora: Yeah. Don’t go and ride elephants and then go in the tiger pit because they’re enemies.