Gourmet gambles

Gourmet gambles

Barry C Chung talks to Bob Blumer about the rewards - and risks - of taking extreme culinary challenges

Bob Blumer, the host of Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, has scoured the earth looking for the most bizarre epicurean challenges to test his will and delight his palette. He lives by the maxim 'the bigger risk, the bigger the reward'. In the show, Blumer has five days to master an exotic culinary skill, often with disastrous - yet ultimately rewarding - results.

At the end of each episode, his new skills are put on display as he is pitted against masters of each speciality. For Blumer, winning a challenge is gratifying, but the show is more about the experiences he has and the interesting people he meets along the way.

Sunday Young Post spoke to Blumer to find out more about his unique culinary challenges.

Sunday Young Post: What can we expect in Season Four?

Bob Blumer: In Season Four, we really pushed the envelope. In one episode, I had to stuff raw stinging nettles down my throat for an hour amidst a gaggle of insanely drunk mad dogs and Englishmen.

I also learned how to husk coconuts with my bare hands, milk a goat and peel mounds of potatoes - all in a matter of seconds.

And the season ended with a loud crash in Montreal when a metre-high chocolate hat I constructed was paraded down a catwalk by a 14-year-old ballerina.

SYP: How has the show changed since it began?

B: These days we take bigger risks, some of which lead to disastrous results, like almost drowning in pursuit of sea urchins. At the same time, we also understand that some challenges are more about the journey and the characters I encounter. For example, in Season One we didn't enter cooking competitions because we didn't think they involved enough punishment.

But the gumbo[a type of stew]-making episode in Season Four is one of my favourites because taking on professional cooks in a competition to make the best version of a local delicacy is a truly daunting experience.

SYP: Which is your favourite episode from Season Four? Why?

B: Going back to Montreal and training to be a bagel roller at the same legendary bakery where my Dad shopped for bagels when I was a kid was a special thrill for me. And making the cut made the experience even sweeter.

SYP: Can you describe your Season Two experience of preparing fugu, a poisonous Japanese fish, and later having to sample your own work?

B: In a word: terrifying. Japanese chefs have to train for three years before they are licensed to detoxify fugu. I had only five days. In the end, the chefs training me wanted me to prepare a farm-raised fish. But in the spirit of the show, I insisted on a wild fugu. After tasting the sashimi, I said it was "delicious", but that's because I was just happy to be alive. To be honest, to my western palate, I found the fish to be a bit bland. Next time, I think I'll stick with Peking duck.

SYP: What's the most satisfying and memorable meal you've ever had?

B: I have had the privilege of eating many fabulous meals. But one that stands out is the meal that was specially prepared for me after I cycled 115 kilometres of the Alpe d'Huez leg of the Tour de France in an episode of Glutton.

After successfully scaling the legendary mountain, I was presented with a 5,000 calorie multi-course French feast - equalling all the calories I had burned on my ride.

SYP: How would you best describe yourself? Are you a tea or coffee person? Are you a noodle or rice person?

B: I get extremely frustrated by bland food and dishes that are made with good ingredients, but finished in a way that doesn't capitalise on their flavour potential. I watch what I eat, but will eat anything that is worth the calories.

I am a tea person. I never leave home without a small caviar tin full of my own whole leaf Earl Grey tea and a stack of disposable Japanese teabags.

And I am definitely a noodle man. In fact, learning how to hand-pull noodles in Hong Kong - and skipping over the noodles I pulled - was one of my favourite Glutton moments.

SYP: What is your favourite Chinese dish, and favourite dim sum?

B: That's a tough question. I love Szechuan cuisine, but there are so many dishes. And as for dim sum, where do I start?! I did an episode of Glutton in Season Four where I learned how to make xiaolong bao dumplings, so I had a torrid love affair with them for a week. And then there's congee.

Season Four premieres on August 4 on Discovery Travel & Living at 10pm

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