Imagine being a chef charged with creating a meal of local cuisine for a group of guests. Now imagine you’re not familiar with the city and the cuisine, have no idea where to get the ingredients and the guests might not get along.
That’s the stress and the challenge chef Michael Voltaggio faced on Travel Channel’s Sunday series “Breaking Borders,” in which he goes to sites of international conflict such as Jerusalem or Northern Ireland to prepare meals for guests of opposing viewpoints.
“I had to decompress after we shot each episode,” he tells Zap2it with a laugh.
Voltaggio’s process begins when he arrives four days prior to the dinner. He would interview guests, find out which local restaurants and dishes they like, go there, sample them and make notes.
“Then I just sort of get lost in the markets …,” Voltaggio explains. “So there are moments when I taste something somewhere and a light goes off in my head and I get an idea. And so I keep writing these ideas down throughout the week, and then the day of the dinner I actually go shopping for the food and I try and gather all of those notes and thoughts and put them together and hopefully communicate that back to the guests in each dish that I prepare. … For me, the food is my opportunity to share my experiences with everyone and I tell my story through the food that I cook.”
The dinner is served and consumed, opposing viewpoints are exchanged and hopefully everyone comes away more enlightened. For Voltaggio’s part, he heard no negative reviews of his work.
“It’s the comments and the compliments that came out of their mouths,” he says. “That’s when it hit home that I was cooking food for a much bigger reason. Not necessarily for people who are just entitled to eat or want to eat but in some cases needed to eat or needed to sit down to a good meal and have a conversation.”