8:30pm Thursday, February 10 on TV One
TV ONE’s award-winning travel series Intrepid Journeys sees one third of the MasterChef New Zealand judging panel, Simon Gault, shipped off for another out-of-this world travel experience this week.
Celebrity chef Simon Gault has a nose for finding good nosh but while tackling his Intrepid Journey to Iran and Northern Turkey Gault did make an attempt to keep out of the kitchen: “Doing an Intrepid Journey, to me, is about discovering new things, but by default I end up migrating to food again. I can’t help it unfortunately for my waistline,” he chuckles.
Gault’s trip coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, pronounced as ‘Ramazan’ locally, where the faithful do not eat or drink during daylight hours. For a lover of food the practice is at best curious and at worst torture.
“Ramadan to me is just crazy. I don’t get it. But it’s a completely different culture and I fully respect what they’re doing. It’s something that I would struggle to deal with,” he admits.
Surviving on the Turkish daily diet of kebabs meant the food was not the highlight of the trip but while Gault was trying to digest the local staple he did go hunting for one of the world’s true delicacies – fresh caviar from the Caspian Sea.
The Caspian Sea is actually the world’s largest inland lake stretching from Iran to Russia and caviar is the roe of the Sturgeon that live in its waters. “It tastes of the sea. Sort of pops in your mouth,” Gault says of the famed fish eggs.
Iranian caviar is supposedly the best in the world but it is almost impossible to get fresh as it is a lucrative export trade tightly controlled by the government. However that news did not put Gault off what turned into a 14 day treasure hunt to find some.
Travelling through Iran was a culture shock for Gault – from email and mobile phones not working – and alcohol being illegal – through to women being forced to cover their head with a scarf and body from neck to knee in a loose shift called a hijab.
It’s against local custom for women to spend time in the company of men they are not related to unless chaperoned by a male relative and while men go out to socialise, women tend to stay at home. “I find that hard. Like, if we did that in New Zealand we’d all be single, for sure. I’m in their country and I don’t really want to comment on their rules. But the people are fantastic. Incredibly friendly. They’re a nice bunch of people,” says Gault.
Despite the cultural differences, Iran did get under Gault’s skin. “I would come back in ten to fifteen years to see whether the girls are still wearing headscarfs, whether you can actually buy a Steinlager. I’m hoping so.”
Missed an episode of Intrepid Journeys ? Full episodes are available online. Go to tvnz.co.nz and click the ‘Ondemand’ button