World of Cooking is a half-hour series which focuses on the creation of meals in cultural contexts.
Most cooking shows today operate in a faux kitchen and feature a personality chef. World of Cooking, however, takes a novel approach, bringing the viewer to where the dish originates, into the city and home of the meal maker.
In the province of Khovsgol in north central Mongolia, for example, Otgon, 45, runs the family yurt while her husband, Tömör, is off on a three day hunting trip. Her four daughters, Solongo, 16, 14 year old twins, Delger and Ijil, and even four year old Emujin help with the daily chores of milking the cows, driving them to pasture, herding and milking horses, and making the wheat noodles that will become a main ingredient in dish known as guriltai shöl, or noodle soup.
World of Cooking gives the viewer a multi-faceted look at cooking. We not only learn how this meal is created, how one daughter kneads the dough and cuts it into noodle-sized strips while another slices bits of mutton from the bone.
But we also learn about the cultural context of the meal and the semi-nomadic lifestyle of this family. We see the idyllic beauty of the landscape as Solongo punts her makeshift raft across a river at dawn. Family members collect wood at the lakeshore to fuel the stove. And the water from the lake, soon to be broth, they boil on the stove, which stands in the middle of the home and is central to yurt living.
In Jinsanling, one of the world’s most famous landmarks, the Great Wall of China, wends its way through the layered hills northeast of Beijing. In one of the wall’s many towers, Wu Jin Feng, 56, sells drinks, T-shirts and other souvenirs to passing tourists. Like people everywhere, she is trying to make a buck.
At the base of the wall, in the village of Hua Lau Gou, Wu's family runs a small farm. She and her niece, Wei Ran, prepare several dishes, such as braised chicken with celery, all eaten with mifan, plain white rice. We witness Wu slicing the celery, stoking the outdoor stove, picking coriander from the garden. We see Wu slush slop to her sows.
We learn of Wu’s desire to keep up with her neighbors, who have built a modern home next door. And we watch as Wu breaks down in tears as she tells of her son, a university graduate, who is unable to find work.
In Lhasa, pilgrims to the Buddhist Jokhang Temple perform a kora, a circumambulation of the holy edifice as penance for their sins. Others prostrate themselves innumerable times at the temple’s doors. The Pokara Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, rises majestically on a butte from the valley floor while Chinese militia patrol the streets.
In his brother’s restaurant, Phurbu creates the dish known as Tibetan hotpot. He and his assistants slice some ingredients: lettuce, carrots, potatoes, yak tongue. Phurbu adds other edibles to the circular pot: meatballs, shrimp, seaweed, angel hair noodles. One helper heats coal on a flame outside the kitchen and places the glowing briquettes into the hole in the center of the pot.
Phurbu tells us of his life. His dreams for his four year old son? Que sera sera. The 2008 uprising? Too dangerous to go outside. His biggest regret? Never having attended school. He is illiterate.
These episodes are typical of the planned series. Each episode shows how a meal is prepared in its cultural context. Also, I want the viewer to get to know to a certain degree the person holding the cleaver and the problems each faces in putting food on the table.
World of Cooking juxtaposes superficial differences found in cooking with underlying similarities. One person may make bread by adding tea. The other won’t use salt. The next, for lack of an oven, bakes the dough in a pot on the stove. But we all know the necessity of baking bread.
World of Cooking lets viewers marvel at the variety found in food and its preparation, while at the same time allowing them to see themselves in the normal people featured in each episode.
On my current trip I have completed the production work for the three episodes outlined above, as well as filming in a Nepalese village and a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand.
If you would like to collaborate with World of Cooking, or would like further information, please contact me.