A world of tastes

By Nici Wickes

Viva's eating out editor Nici Wickes takes us on a personal tour behind the scenes of her new TV cooking/travel show, World Kitchen.

Viva's eating out editor Nici Wickes says part of cooking is about persevering when things go wrong. Photo / Supplied
Viva's eating out editor Nici Wickes says part of cooking is about persevering when things go wrong. Photo / Supplied

The first cooking show I tuned into was Hudson and Halls in the late 70s. I remember being glued to the TV screen as they had their onscreen spats, showed us how to recover (or not) from cooking disasters and made it all look like such fun.

As a teenager I was intrigued by how the show was put together.

In World Kitchen we travel to different countries - from India to Mexico, Japan to Jamaica - where we pick up cooking tips from the locals, and then bring it back to the kitchen to show viewers how to make it themselves.

So what goes on in making these cooking shows? Here are the questions I am asked most often, and perhaps my answers will de-mystify the process.

What is the most difficult part of the job when presenting a cooking show?
Cooking while talking at the same time. It takes multi-tasking to a whole new level.

When filming the cooking segments, what happens when things don't work out?
The first thing I had to learn was to keep on going until the director calls "cut".

The reason for this is that sometimes this material can be entertaining and very real - we all make mistakes in the kitchen. It might be fun or informative to see how (or if!) I get out of the situation. One of my food philosophies is to persevere when things go wrong. You can usually bring things back and don't need to start from scratch. We want to encourage people to cook and know it's okay to make mistakes.

Do you "doctor" the food on the show to make it look extra good?
All the food is real and I cook it all on set. It's important for us that what you see on the show is what you'll get at home. When we've finished filming you should see the crew - they devour the food like a swarm of hungry locusts.

How do you decide which countries to visit for the on the road segments?
We look for countries that have an exciting food culture and one that will translate well to viewers back in New Zealand. Our running joke has become that we try to go places where Anthony Bourdain hasn't been yet. For a while there, every time we landed somewhere the locals would tell us that his crew had just been and it was driving us crazy. He became our nemesis!

How do you find the people you meet and interview?
Once we've decided on destinations we put the word out among friends and family to contact us with their international friends. We like to use real locals, not trained in TV, so we can show a genuine experience.

Have you ever had a real disaster on the road?
As we were leaving India on this recent trip, we got to the last gate at the airport in Delhi and the officials claimed Clayton, our main cameraman, didn't have the right paperwork to leave the country. No amount of talking could change the situation. We had to leave without him, not knowing if he'd catch up with us in time for shooting to start in Hong Kong. He didn't make it. He was stuck in Delhi for 10 days trying to sort it. Meanwhile we were frantically trying to find and hire a cameraman in Hong Kong to continue filming. We made it, but it was definitely a less than ideal scenario.

What about the best thing that's happened on the road?
One of the luckiest moments we had was also in India. We had wanted to film inside one of the large Sikh temples in Delhi during one of their mass lunch sessions, where thousands of people are fed. By the time we landed in Delhi we still hadn't had confirmation and had almost given up. As a last-ditch attempt, our local guide and I rocked up to the administrative centre where we were granted a meeting with one of the head administrators. I couldn't understand what was being said and I just kept smiling and nodding. The tone didn't sounding very hopeful but, all of a sudden, instructions were given to type up a letter granting us permission to film the next day! We grabbed that letter and all but ran out of there to tell the rest of the crew. Filming at the temple will be one of my everlasting memories and I have saved the letter just in case we need to use it again one day.

Crazy moments?
We've had a few. One that springs to mind was arriving in Delhi late one night to start filming for the next two days to discover that all over CNN they were warning of an imminent terrorist attack in Delhi in the next two days - our shoot days - and warning people not to visit the city. Too late. We carried on anyway. Another memory was standing round a pit oven, three hours' drive into the mountains of Jamaica, gnawing on freshly barbecued jerk chicken with a bunch of Jamaicans and film crew and thinking to myself "How did I get here?"

How many other crew are around when you're on the road filming?
We travel with a small crew (three plus me) and minimal equipment. It works well because it means we are less likely to disrupt the natural flow of locals going about their business. It did take some getting used to having to explore, eat and cook as though there weren't cameras pointed at me, a sound guy listening to my every word and a director watching it all. It certainly doesn't pay to be self-conscious.

Is there much film shot that doesn't make it to air?
For the travel part of World Kitchen we travel to our destination then shoot for two days solidly. We always come back with much more than we can fit into a 30-minute show so only the best stuff makes it. For the kitchen segment, we take one day to film each episode.

What doesn't make it to air?
Thankfully, I have no control over what stays in and what gets canned, that's the director's job. Martha Jeffries (director of World Kitchen) taught me a new phrase the other day when I asked her how she decides. She said "Sometimes you have to kill your babies". It's when you really love something but you just can't fit it in the show and regardless of how attached you are, it has to go to make room for something just as good or better.

What have you learned along the way?
People are so generous in this world of ours. The time and effort the people we meet put into to sharing their homes, knowledge and food is incredible. The less they have, the more they share.

World Kitchen screens on Sundays at 5.30pm on TV3.

- NZ Herald

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