Jeff Corwin talks “Extreme Cuisine”


by Karl J. Paloucek

Explorer, environmentalist and television host Jeff Corwin switches tacks in his new series, Extreme Cuisine With Jeff Corwin, premiering Sept. 17 on Food Network (HD): Instead of protecting wildlife species, he’s eating them. Traveling around the globe, from Morocco to Peru, Thailand to New England, Corwin connects with the people in each locale on one of the universal points that we all have in common — food. “We look at food differently in Western culture, sometimes — specifically in American culture,” Corwin explains. “We often eat fast, we often eat in large quantities, and we sort of get stuck on our own little radar screens. And basically, I want the viewer to just jump in the fry pan, take a chance and see what people eat around the world.”

For Corwin, the series marks a refreshing change from his usual explorations of habitat, both in terms of the finished program and in the process of its making. Even just entering a country can be a different experience. “Sometimes you’re filming things and there are these issues with conservation, or there’s a polarizing political issue,” he says, and the reaction isn’t very welcoming. “‘You’re here to film our rainforest disappearing, aren’t you? And you want a visa?’” — this is the sort of strong-arm reaction he’s used to facing. “But when you say, ‘Yeah, we want to go film how you celebrate life with food,’ the doors just open. … Everybody loves food.”

And as an environmentalist who has traveled and seen much of the heavy downside of human behavior over the years, Corwin says that taping this series has really helped to change his outlook. “It’s really refreshed my faith in my species to see the generosity that people have,” he explains. “You go to this high-end restaurant in New York City and you sit down for a plate of ceviche for $30, and it’s this miniscule little dollop of ceviche. Here, we go out and the ceviche is a dollar, and it’s so fresh, it’s still twitching. And that’s what’s been so remarkable about this experience. Oftentimes, there’s a humbleness in the origin of these foods. But the people who are eating it — some of these people have very limited means, and for them, the ultimate expression of generosity and friendship is to say, ‘I’m going to share with you the food that I worked so hard for, to make for my family. … You’ve come here, you’ve opened yourself up and we’re going to feed you.’ And that’s what’s really been so wonderful.”

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