I’m not a food celebrity fan girl. Maybe because I don’t have cable. Maybe because of the angry chef persona (ie Gordon Ramsay). I AM, however, a fan girl of funny. I met Simon Majumdar at a cooking competition at Willamette Valley Vineyards. He entertained a roomful of diners with a story about a tailored suit that eventually devolved into a shocking confession about his “winkle.” Simon Majumdar is funny.
Simon is a Food Network regular, playing the role of critic on shows like The New Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen.
He came to Oregon on tour promoting his latest book. Fed, White and Blue, Finding America with my Fork is Simon’s account of eating his way across the United States to decide whether to apply for citizenship.
Just as Simon did not fit my preconceived notions of a food celebrity, his book tour has not been as glamorous as one might expect. He and his wife Sybil have depended on the kindness of strangers. Strangers who have become what Simon calls his “extended American family.”
The couple have slept on floors and in pink rooms normally inhabited by little girls. Although they did get to stay at the Capitol Hotel in Little Rock – a place I know well.
It isn’t luxury they are seeking, but relationship. “We didn’t want to sit in bookstores. We wanted to get out and meet people.” They were eager to go to “book clubs, schools, church groups, libraries, farmers markets, local food festivals, farms, breweries, tailgate parties… with ten people or a hundred people.” So their journey has included visits to a hog farm in Mississippi, a pub in Georgia, and luckily Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon.
Simon was invited by Oregon based cooking contest queen Kim Banick, author of The Prize of Cooking. They had met only once at the World Food Championship but when Kim invited them to “the most beautiful place on the planet” they loaded up and made the drive. Yes, they drove. The tour “bus” is a rented SUV and a U Haul full of cooking equipment and books.
A cooking competition at Willamette Valley Vineyards among four local culinarians was arranged with Simon as judge. Simon and Sybil were generously offered a guest suite at Willamette Valley Vineyards. This winery has the sexiest tasting room I have ever visited so I can only imagine their suites. Simon and Sybil opted to stay with Kim instead stating, “We don’t want to be alone. We want to spend time with you and your family.” Kim explains that the very first thing they did upon arrival was go into her kitchen, groceries and knife set in hand, to prepare Indian food for their hosts.
Simon’s perspective on the important things in life is not skewed toward the material. His LA apartment is small. He drives a 5 year old car that “has seen better days.” When people visit he makes a simple roast chicken – because nothing in the world smells ‘homier’ than a roasting chicken. He and Sybil place value on spending time together, travelling, and meeting new friends..
There is a reason. Simon once lived the high life in a London flat that could rival the iconic apartment from the television show Fraiser. His mom passed from leukemia, his book publishing company failed, and he stood on the balcony of that grand apartment ready to jump. Then he smelled the cooking from his Lebanese neighbors below and “got more hungry than suicidal.” He stumbled upon a list of things he wanted to accomplish before turning 40 and discovered he had completed each item. At the bottom of the list were four words, “Go Everywhere, Eat Everything.” And so he did.
He met Sybil at a party in Brazil. Simon tells the story of a dinner date early in the courtship. “When I reached for the last piece of chicken she grabbed my hand and said ‘If you take that chicken I will cut you.’” Simon decided then and there he would marry her.
This must be why a humorous yet snarky food critic with a reputation for being “villainous” on air has made friends all over the world. He told these stories to a room of at least 100 people, between courses and food critique, and at the end there was a connection. I felt like I knew him a little bit.
He jokes, “I don’t know why no one ever invites me for a home cooked meal.” I think I would.
A full description of the night’s festivities, dishes, and wines appears in the Oregon Wine Press. Now for some completely gratuitous full frontal foodity. I am such a tease.
|Dungeness, Mango, Avocado Salad|
|Griffin Marinated Smoked Beef Carpaccio|
|Dark Chocolate Cherry Moon|