You all know Simon Majumdar… the author, food authority, and television personality with a British accent, no hair, and a lot of cheek who sat in the third judge’s seat for many seasons of Food Network’s mega-popular (and now cancelled) Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef series. He now serves as a frequent judge on Food Network’s (even more popular) Cutthroat Kitchen with series host Alton Brown and is often found behind the judge’s table on Beat Bobby Flay and other Food Network competition shows.
Sooo-I’ve never met Simon. Like most of you, I thought I knew what he is like from his on-camera persona. Like Mr. Brown, Simon is tough. He’s a master of words and quick with a cutting compliment or witty retort as he shreds or exalts contestants’ culinary efforts. He's often called the toughest critic on Food Network. I first started hearing about him around the time I finished Food Network Star. Mutual friends would praise him so enthusiastically, I couldn’t wait for our paths to cross but it never happened.
After we finally spoke on the phone, I can tell you that Simon Majumdar is not unlike the person you see on television but he’s also extremely kind, generous, and tremendously interesting. That might be an understatement. He’s been called “the Indiana Jones of the foodie set” because he literally has traveled everywhere you can imagine and some places you can’t. Before embarking on his world journey, Simon was in publishing in London for over 20 years and one day decided that he needed a life change. Using almost all of his savings, he trekked the globe, eating the food, learning about the cultures, and finding new friends wherever he stopped. Simon’s first book, the critically acclaimed Eat My Globe, was inspired by his “Go Everywhere. Eat Everything” philosophy and that journey around the world as he started a new life. He says “in the end, this journey was not just about the experiences of food and travel, but also a journey into myself and a lesson about the next chapter in my life.”
I love the fact that he just up and decided to change his life one day and actually did it. He’s eaten his way around the globe for more years than I have and is currently on a book tour around the United States promoting his third book: FED, WHITE & BLUE: Finding America with My Fork. (About $20 on Amazon.com)
In the past five years, he’s moved to America, gotten married, landed on television, become one of the biggest stars in food today, and published another couple of books. Oh, and he’s also become a U.S. citizen, too. Not too shabby, Mr. M. Do you ever sleep?
Simon and his lovely bride Sybil are making their way South for events and books signings and will be in my home state of Alabama next week. Please look up his event schedule and try to show them some Southern hospitality if they are coming to a city near you and tell him I sent you. Get the schedule…
Want to know even more about Simon? He answered my 20-Questions quiz and here’s what he said:
TWENTY QUESTIONS FOR SIMON MAJUMDAR
Where you’re from and current city of residence: My mom was British and my father is Indian. I’m originally from Winchester, England but was raised South Yorkshire. I lived in London for 25 years and I currently call Los Angeles home. I moved to the U.S. in 2010 to be with my fiancée, Sybil, who is now my wife. I’m now a U. S. citizen; that happened last year.
Where you’d love to live someday: My family has a holiday home in Southern Spain- outside Andalusia… I’d love to live there. Or perhaps Croatia… somewhere along the Istrian Coast for the quality of the food, the people, the great wine, and extraordinary scenery. The forests, in particular.
Your family includes: My wife Sybil. And my father and brother.
Why were you drawn to food? Food is a family obsession. My family always talked about food and discussed it. Even now, Jeremy, my brother and my Dad will send me photos of what they are eating. Jeremy and I ran one of the first food blogs in the U.K. We contributed to Chowhound, among others and were named to the Top 100 Food People in London list. At 43, I left my job and used my savings to tour the world, eating along the way. I got a quote for the book from Anthony Bourdain. Shortly after that, I got a call from Food Network to screen test but I never thought I was actually going to get it. So Sybil and I got married and two days into the honeymoon I got a call saying they wanted me as a judge on Iron Chef.
Do you have someone you consider a mentor? In food television, it is Alton Brown. Lucky, my first gig was on Iron Chef beside Alton. I still learn something new from him on Cutthroat Kitchen- every episode. While not a mentor exactly, there are some people I look to as models of how to behave and conduct myself in this industry. Bobby Flay, for example. After I am on his show I always receive a handwritten note from Bobby. Not some auto-generated thing, a very special personal note from him. He’s extremely busy but makes time to personally let me know my time is appreciated. It is lessons like that I learn from the ones who do it right. I watch how certain people treat the crew and the staff on set and I strive to be hugely polite and greatly appreciative. I am a huge believer in treating people nice when you don’t have to. That’s the right way to behave.
What was your big break? Certainly the Food Network call about Iron Chef was my first big break. I did the screen test but never expected it to happen. When it did, I was almost immediately on the show and did every episode for three years. I’ve done more than 100 episodes on Food Network.
What was your favorite episode or memorable bite from Iron Chef? There are two that really stand out for me. Battle Ground Meat: Bobby Flay vs. Viet Pham. Bobby did a hamburger. We were all thinking, really, Bobby? You’re serving us a hamburger on Iron Chef? But it was that great. It takes guts to bring out a hamburger on Iron Chef and only Bobby would be able to pull it off. He lost the battle but that hamburger was memorable.
Another extremely simple and yet memorable dish was by Amanda Frietag in the Semi-final for Next Iron Chef: Redemption in Las Vegas. There were only three chefs left: Amanda, Alex Guarnaschelli and Nate Appleman. They were each assigned an ingredient… Nate had haddock, Alex had sea urchin and Amanda had chicken. Amanda did a simple roasted chicken with seared lemons. It was perfectly cooked. After one bite, we sent her through to the final. It had the perfect texture of skin, acidity from the lemons, and just enough herbs and garlic. Get Chef Freitag’s recipe for Lusty Lemon Chicken…
And by the way, your Alabama chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club is one of the finest chefs in America. His meal against Bobby Flay was also among my all-time favorites.
What is your favorite quote? I have a new one I like from author Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice” which I find to be so true. Once you’ve been somewhere, it changes your preconceived perceptions. My standard quote that I’ve always liked is from a 14th century book of Christian mythical devotions called Revelations of Divine Love. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It is the romantic equivalent to British saying that has become so popular: “Keep Calm and Carry On” which is very British.
Best advice you ever got? Nothing to do with food but it goes back to what we were discussing earlier. My grandfather said: “If you ever go out with a girl and she’s nice to you but not nice to the waiter then she’s not a nice girl.”
What is your favorite recipe or thing to cook? The recipe that is my family favorite is called Life Saving Dahl. It is like our version of chicken soup; so good and just comforting. I add a handful of wilted spinach or other greens at the end.
Latest accomplishment? This latest book. It is available everywhere books are sold but we’re on a tour across the U.S.A. right now. Check out the dates and locations on our events page. Please come out and meet us- it is a movement rather than a tour.
Best advice, tool, or equipment for the home cook? The Best tool? A good blender. You don’t need much but that and a couple of good knives. Invest in three good quality knives: a chef or santoku, a pairing, and a boning knife. You don’t need the whole knife block assortment.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time? My favorite is the book that changed chefs to rock Gods in England. “White Heat” by Marco Pierre White published 25 years ago. A friend of mine published it. Every professional chef owns this book. This was the first book with a cooking point of view and also first cookbook outside of the home cooking genre like Joy of Cooking. Chefs as personalities would not be where they are without this book.
Your ultimate dinner party guest list would include these four:
David Niven, recounting stories like he did.
Alton Brown. Obviously.
Cicero: Of ancient history; a man who eased his way through riotous times of ancient Rome as a great orator. Look at political speeches of 20th-21st century; they all owe so much to Cicero. As a student of history, I’d love to see Ancient Rome through his eyes.
Frank Zappa: Zappa had zero tolerance for fools. All of these men have one thing in common. They have no filter, no formed opinions, and are very capable of expressing what they believe.
And if you had to cook for them, what would you make? Roast Chicken family style- I’d love to hear AB say “hey Cicero, can you pass the potatoes”
What are you listening to right now? I am a huge music fan. I get on Spotify and keep flipping… Obviously a fan of Zappa. Also John Cale and Velvet Underground. I like all of the West Coast rock from the 60’s. One of my favorite tunes is “We’re Only in it For the Money” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Alton and I both have an appreciation for Steely Dan. (As does this writer.)
What’s your favorite non-cooking television show? The Blacklist. James Spader.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Where to you want to go you haven’t been yet and why? In modern times, I’d like to go to Israel and the Middle East. I’ve never been. If I could travel back to ancient times, I would want to visit the Ancient Library of the City of Alexandria. It was the largest and probably the greatest library ever amassed. It is thought only 30 percent of the books written are still in existence. Sad but fascinating. The majority of the books ever written are lost to humanity. Books from the middle ages…. Lost. Books were privilege of the rich. Destroyed by age or never rewritten. We only know about them through references.
Tell us one last thing we don’t already know about you…. My original intention was to become an Episcopalian priest. I went to university and studied for a bachelor of divinity but was sent in a different direction. I am still fascinated it. I am a “studious” person- but found in the end that my study of religion was less spiritual than it was educational. I am fascinated by the historical point of view.
Any last comments?
Attention, Alabama friends! Find Simon in Fairhope and Mobile, Alabama this Friday and Saturday, May 1-2. Visit his website for more details.
May 1: Season’s in the Sun Farm Day Market. 12:30 pm. Mobile, Alabama.
May 2: Cooking Demo at the Fairhope Inn. 12 Noon. Mobile, Alabama.
May 2: Taste of the Farm Annual Fundraising Dinner. 4:30 pm. Mobile, Alabama.