Reviews (and general trumpet-blowing)
We’ve been nominated for lots of awards and won various prizes for books and TV series, from Best TV Series at the Bologna international FIlm Festival to Best Information book at the School Library Association Awards. Other highlights include nominations for best Childrens Factual Series at the Broadcast Awards, two nominations for best broadcast in the Fortnum & Mason Food Awards, lots and lots of nominations for the Guild of Food Writers Awards. The press seem to like our work too. Here’s a small selection...
COOKING IN THE DANGER ZONE (BBC2)
‘An insane idea, but a fascinating film’ Daily Telegraph
‘Terrific reportage: thoughtful, unpatronising and gently provocative’ Guardian
‘A kind of antidote to the mundanity of the rest of culinary TV’
Mail on Sunday
‘Deceptively sharp, very funny and gently inquisitive’
‘The insight into modern Afghan life is fascinating’
‘Who said that the life of a TV presenter was glamorous?’ Evening Standard
“An inspired idea, and Stefan Gates was the ideal person to do it. He is articulate, intrepid and sympathetic, and - unlike many foodies on TV - he doesn’t show off..’ Times
Mail on Sunday
The irony is that as ridiculous as this programme sounds, it turns out to be very good indeed, so much so that it even works as kind of antidote to the mundanity of the rest of culinary TV. Each week, Stefan Gates, one of the few TV cooks not yet bloated with his own self-worth - travels to the world’s trouble spots to discover what people eat and how they go about getting it. If you have ever tired of Jamie Oliver sourcing ingredients from cheery locals, then watching Stefan navigate raw sewage and ammunition dumps in search of a square meal is, figuratively speaking, a breath of fresh air.
Rather than simply being a cheap picnic in someone else’s misery, Cooking in the Danger Zone manages to successfully blend the political and social realities of its locations with the nitty gritty of its subjects’ nutritional needs. Having made kebabs in Afghanistan and taken stock of a Korean dog farm, this week he pitches up in Uganda for what turns out to be the most interesting programme in the series so far.
Although Uganda is one of the most fertile places on earth, civil unrest means that millions of its people are confined to refugee camps. Its to these places that Stefan goes to find out how you cook for a family of 11 on rations that make up just 63% of the minimum amount of food recommended for basic sustenance and survival.
What could be grotesque and patronising turns out to be informative and occasionally shocking. It say something about our relationship with the media that its easier to absorb information about world poverty from a cookery programme than it is from the news, but that’s what this show does so well. The need for and the ability to appreciate food unites us all, and these excursions into the extremes of cuisine highlight what we have in common with people whose lives appear to be utterly different from our own.
For such a diffident-looking chap, the food fanatic Stefan Gates has been very bold in this excellent travel series. He concludes by visiting Burma, easily the most hazardous “danger zone” yet, smuggling himself into the jungle where the Karen people are a fighting vicious guerilla war with the Burmese army. He discovers that having mined the fields of the local villages, the soldiers must catch what animals they can. Let’s just say it’s another episode that will not thrill the World Wildlife Foundation
‘At first glance, a cookery programme set in Afghanistan might seem akin to a Syrian version of What Not to Wear - unlikely, and bordering on the tasteless. But what the makers of Cooking in the Danger Zone have understood is that in developing countries, food is politics. “in Afghanistan, half the children are said to be malnourished,” said TV cook Stefan Gates, as Sabra, a widow with six kids prepares her meal with her World Food Programme rations of lentils, wheat and oil (no rice). “we are often hungry,” she said as her children tore through their food. Meanwhile, guests staying in Kabul’s first five-star hotel certainly didn’t go short. “Those prawns have to be flown in,” said that maitre d’ as fancy food was wheeled through to the nameless “ambassadors and investors”. Stefan observed that the $300 it cost per night was the annual wage of your average Afghani. But then, it was the only place where you didn’t feel he might bet randomly killed. After visiting a tank graveyard full of rusting Soviet military detritus (including Scud missiles), Stefan noted it was blown up the very next day and two people killed. Even when he retreated to the hills to prepare kebabs using meat and testicles from the fames Afghan fat-tailed sheep, you could see the army helicopters humming by. The suffering and violence was pervasive, but what of the future? “I want my daughters to go to school,” said Sabra, a desire so humble that it was heartbreaking. An insane idea, but a fascinating film.
Abi Grant. Telegraph
‘This series was an absolute joy when it debuted on BBC4, and it deserves the opportunity of a BBC2 run. It’s rooted in a concept which could have gone horribly wrong - getting food writer Stefan Gates to visit assorted troublespots and heckholes, and explain them through their cuisine. However, Gates proves a deceptively sharp, very funny and gently inquisitive voyager, and this is wonderful documentary television. Tonight, Gates visits the dog-munchers of Korea and the whale, walrus and seal-scoffing Inuit of northern Canada. Viewers may disenjoy the footage of seal-hunting and dog-farming.’ AM.
Looking at troubled parts of the world through something as basic as the food that people eat was an inspired idea, and Stefan Gates was the ideal person to do it. He is articulate, intrepid and sympathetic, and - unlike many foodies on TV - he doesn’t show off. Tonight Gates is in war-torn Uganda where at least there are glimmers of hope. ‘Despite the constant reminders that every aspect of life is still affected by the ongoing violence,’ he says, ‘nothing quite beats eating grilled testicles in the spring sunshine at the foothills of the Hindu Kush.’
Part three of Stefan Gates’ excellent culinary tour of the world’s trouble spots. This week, the chef visits northern Uganda, where a brutal war has raged between Uganda’s military and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a ragbag militia of rapists and child-snatchers led by a fundamentalist Christian. Gates’ fpcus on the universal preoccupation of food - in this part of Uganda, this involves a depressing anount of bringing ingenuity to bear on aid rations - helps to humanise and explain a conflict which otherwise might well glaze the eyes of the casual viewer. Terrific, again.
Stefan Gates is an engaging, thoughtful and unassuming presenter who has fascinating stories to tell. In tonight’s episode, he visits the exclusion zone in Chernobyl, where you can’t eat a meal without getting it checked first with a Geiger counter. BBC Health and Safety guidelines forbid him to eat anything – which he ignores – although he does at least have the good sense to check out the mushrooms he picked with the mayor, which turn out to contain eight times the accepted levels of radiation. In the same programme, he travels to Tonga in the Pacific. Thanks to the local enthusiasm for suckling pig, vast tubs of corned beef and coconut milk with everything, it has the most overweight population in the world.
This excellent series continues with Stefan Gates in Venezuela the day after the radical Hugo Chavez was re-elected president, First on the menu is a confusing post-election press conference, washed down with a riot and seasoned with tear gas and gunfire. Chavez channels oil into assisting the poor, and the presenter visits one of the 6,000 state-funded soup kitchens that feed one million a day.
In the final episode of this absorbing series, Stefan Gates steals into the perilous eastern jungles of Burma, where he patrols with the Karen rebels and finds out how their crops have been devastated by the Burmese army
Critic's Choice: The promotional image shows reporter Stefan Gates painted head to toe in an imitation of a tiger's face: this is clearly no ordinary food documentary...Gates throws himself headfirst into everything from drivin grickshaws to dressing up for the parade. His passion is contagious and you'll be hard-pressed not to want to trazvel out there and do the same thing. A vibrant poortrait of a notable cultural tradition and the food doesn't look too bad either.
Watch this...unmissable television.
Independent on Sunday
Gates hurls himself gleefull into the party and is able to communicate the elation and joy of the event...if you want a blast of exuberance and colour, this is for you.
Stefan's opening programme, in India, is lively. visually rich and well-conceived, combining a spectacular wedding in Rajasthan with a festival in Kerala where Gates gamelt dances in a tiger costume.
Having given us several excellent culiary tours of the globe's troublespots, gastro-adventurer Stefan Gates now experiences communal feasts and celebrations...Gates makes for an amiable, inquisitive guide, even when being shaved and painted with household gloss for the mass tiger dance of Puli Kali
Some ideas are so good yoiu wonder why no-one has thought of them before. Example: Feasts
The London Paper
Total TV Guide
Sunday Times 27th Nov 2005
Top five food book
'Witty and weird...this extraordinary "cookbook", stuffed with esoteric foodie facts, contains a surprising quantity of workable recipes, but the principal pleasure is to be derived from Gates's witty writing, which had me laughing out loud.'
Daily Express 20th Oct 2005
'Huge fun, extremely informative and featuring the oddest selection of recipes you are ever likely to see (I never knew, incidentally, that woodlice tasted like shrimps), Stefan Gates' new book is in the best tradition of British experimental gastronomy.'
Pete & Geoff Virgin Radio 20th Oct 2005
‘A brilliant, brilliant book.’
‘Brilliant. Deranged, but Brilliant.’
Publishing News July 2005
Chose the book as a November highlight and said:
‘With the avalanche of chef books launching this autumn, Gates and his irreverent look at culinary matters presents welcome relief from all that serious cooking, It's a splendid read.’
The Guardian 1st Oct 2005
Stefan Gates once asked me round to watch him cook with aftershave. I declined. 'Cooking with aftershave was not a good idea,' he said next day. Stef is, definitely, a one. We co-presented BBC2's Full On Food (I remember him eating fugu, the world's most poisonous puffer fish), but after the first series he left to write a book. Gastronaut (BBC Books, £14.99) is typical Stef. This book tells you how to stage a bacchanalian orgy in your front room. And how to cook with gold.
E NUMBERS: AN EDIBLE ADVENTURE (BBC)
Pick of the day: It's fascinating to watch someone deconstruct and challenge an orthodoxy.
Watch this...unmissable television
Independent on Sunday
So interesting it could have been twice as long
Popular science at its most educational and entertaining.
Mail on Sunday
Pick of the day - fascinating stories are hidden behind the various E numbers.