Monday, May 9, 2011

On his best behaviour

From inside the dining area on the boat, Gordon Ramsey (center) introduces Luu Meng (right) and Sopheak (left) to one of the Princesses
Tonight on Channel 4 in the UK, episode 1 of the 2nd series of Gordon's Great Escape will be screened. The official blurb reads like this:
Gordon visits Cambodia, eating fried tarantula and preparing a traditional banquet for the royal family. Cambodia is a country still ravaged from the ruthless rule of the Khmer Rouge and recovering from the terrible famines inflicted on the population. Travelling thousands of miles across the country, Gordon samples a host of surreal, unusual and delicious foods including local delicacies fried tarantula, stuffed frog and raw baby duck eggs. His thirst for adventure leads him to hunt, cook and eat the deadly anthropoid; catch frogs in snake infested waters; witness a traditional tribal wedding feast; and visit Phnom Penh, where the Friends Cookery School is re-establishing the country's traditional cuisine. Gordon is eager to learn how to cook perfect pork and pumpkin curry, and meets gifted student Sopheak, whose promise is so exceptional that Gordon invites him to join him in preparing a traditional banquet for Cambodia's royal family.
In fact it all happened last April but I was sworn to secrecy until the programme was screened. Hanuman were the fixers and ground-handlers for the show and I was added as a late extra to the final shots that you see on the boat on the Mekong River, where Gordon and Cambodia's own celebrity chef Luu Meng had a cook-off for members of the royal family, alongwith a young man by the name of Sopheak, who Gordon spotted at Friends Restaurant and took him along for the ride. He has a few adventures throughout the Kingdom and between you and me, he was on his best behaviour throughout, a real gent to everyone. There's also a book about his adventures in 4 countries in Southeast Asia for the television series with recipes and in an interview for SeenIt, he gave the following answers, amongst others:
Did you sample any of the food on the roadside stalls?
Yes I went up and down the stalls. They are like little umbrellas, nothing glamorous. It could be a duck egg foetus 3-4 weeks old, like a duck head and feathers. It is known for being bought by young men to advance their sexual spirits – I suppose it was like a sort of egg Viagra – and that was somewhat weird. I went on a hunt for tarantulas, I went into the desert and found them and forgot all about the fear factor and grabbed them and took off their fangs and blanched them and deep fat fried them. It is not the kind of finger food you would expect to see in Claridge’s, but it looked like some sort of chicken wing that was full of grease and tasted of nothing. This is how the country survived. They had no option but to hide in the countryside and eat bugs. Every garden has this big net with a fluorescent tube and all the bugs fly into them and they empty it the next morning and fry them – same thing with the tarantula where they pack them up with protein and eat them on a daily basis for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What about the characters you met? Were there any stand out people?
Yes, I met some very talented individuals. There was a catering school set up for street kids, they were rounded up and taught how to cook, and they then cooked for street kids in return. I cooked for the members of the royal family and the young kids were so good that I demanded that they cook with me.
You really enjoyed this experience, didn’t you?
Take a trip out there because it was a dream for me. No-one was looking for sympathy, and the whole place had this vibe of a hard-working culture, a culture which, in the case of Cambodia, was deprived of freedom for so many years and had to become so self-sufficient beyond belief.
Gordom Ramsey at a roadside cafe with Vutha, his driver on the shoot

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