I’d like to start off by just having you tell us a little bit about yourself… Specifically, what is your background and how did you become interested in food and travel?
I grew up in a household that was obsessed with food. My childhood memories all start with the aroma of Sunday gravy and often continue with my 5 foot tall Italian grandmother chasing me out of the kitchen with a hot spoon. Lovingly, of course, and to everyone’s amusement. Perhaps I asked too many questions, but nonetheless it inspired my enduring relationship with food.
After grad school, to suspend reality, I moved to China. I told everyone I knew it was to teach English, but I don’t think I fooled anyone. I moved to China to eat. I supported this most delectable habit by teaching, but in reality, teaching was a way to pass the time between meals. I spent a delicious year traversing food stalls, banquet halls, farm houses and shockingly scrumptious holes in the wall. When I couldn’t push the inevitable any longer, I headed back to the states to start chipping away at my student loans, but made a promise to myself to return to China frequently. It’s been a successful pact.
In part to assuage my own guilt for yammering on about China, I diversified my travel tendencies and broadened my scope. Though the one rule I put on my planning was that the destination had to be delicious. It was always a mission to find the best fill-in-the-blank: the best falafel in Jordan, the best stewed bananas in Tanzania, the best wild boar ragu in Italy, the best sushi in Japan, etc. I’ve eaten very, very well.
What exactly is Sauced In Translation and how did the concept come about?
Mid career, I decided culinary school was worth a go. Did I want to be a chef? I had no idea, but I had to find out. Academically, I did quite well, got classically trained, but the compelling part wasn’t how to start a restaurant, it was learning about history and how food ways migrated across borders and over oceans.
I took this experience, added it to my propensity toward traveling by gut and Sauced in Translation was born! I figured I’ve eaten so damn well across the globe and all that my homeland has given back so far has been cheeseburgers and fried chicken. We can do better and the show is an attempt at feeding smiling faces across cultures with classic American fare. It’s like diplomacy through cookery.
The challenge I’ve given myself is that the dish I share needs to make sense in the local culinary landscape. So, I eat a ton of local flavors, shop at hyper-localized green markets, and then put together an American recipe that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. One really great example of this was cooking a southwestern style chili con carne in Sichuan, China, the home of spicy hot stuff!
What role do you believe food plays in the maintenance of healthy lifestyle?
I look at food and lifestyle in two pretty different ways. First, I consider food to be the connective tissue that holds us all together. Across nations, cultures, languages and even politics, though values may vary a great deal, one thing that rings true across the globe is an awesome meal. Breaking bread together simply defines a relationship. In my opinion, everything else is an afterthought. That’s pretty darned healthy.
Second, where nutrition and balance are important in the long game, I don’t believe that one should deem themselves to have an unhealthy lifestyle if they do something silly to their body in the short game. I tend to think of the acts of consuming as a set of separate events and a lifestyle as a sum of these events. Some events are more or less “healthy” than others. One event may have you tossing back whisky and double battered deep fried things. One event may be apple picking with your kids, noshing along the way. They may even occur on the same day. One pretty awesome day. Healthy? Check.
What role does food play in the maintenance of your own personal health? Do you consider yourself to be a healthy eater?
Sure, I’m a healthy eater. Food should make you happy and food should be fun. I’m pretty happy and I have a lot of fun. That doesn’t necessarily mean I eat a lot of food all of the time. The choices I make around food are generally pretty responsible, and like anyone, I move in waves. For example, my wife and I will decide one day that we want to eat like Mediterranean farmers. So, for the few weeks that follow, we’re diving into olives, red wine, arugula and fish. Ah, wonderful.
Also, like everyone else, I have my vices. I don’t eat a lot of desserts. But, when I do, I’ll eat 16 cookies without thinking twice. Unlike everyone else, however, I don’t think I need to counter this problem immediately by going for a run. I don’t run. Maybe if I am being chased.
Remember, I’m into the long game of lifestyle choices. So, if I make a rather questionable choice in what I eat or drink, I’ll wring myself out over time and do some good things. As long as I’m having fun with it, everything will work out just fine.
I recently wrote a blog where I mentioned laughter as a fun and easy way to exercise your brain…What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while filming Sauced In Translation?
That’s a terrific question. Where do I begin? We laugh a lot whenever we shoot. Life is a long comedy with very few dull points. This makes “funniest” pretty tough to nail down. Let me try…
Language can be a funny thing. I speak some Mandarin Chinese. I do not consider myself fluent by any stretch of the imagination, though I take some pride in being chatty with “Food Chinese”, which leads me to a particularly funny culinary oops while we were shooting in Harbin, China. We, of course, ate enough in Harbin to decide that a soup, more specifically a chowder would be really appropriate to make for the locals. We go shopping and have a hard time deciding which of the gorgeous river fish to use in the chowder. We come across the most beautiful fish, with scales that looked like a rainbow and flesh that was luscious and dark. This would be a perfect, buttery, flaky, fresh component of the dish. My Chinese being what it is, the name of the fish eluded me, and my guide’s pronunciation of the name of the fish didn’t set off any alarms. But, as it turns out, we made a wonderful chowder out of a well fed, well overgrown, goldfish. And it was delicious.
One of the things that we like to openly acknowledge at evōx is that none of us are perfect. It is our belief that we all have room for development and growth and consider ourselves to be continual works in progress both as individuals and as a company. Is there a particular area of your life where you are currently working on to improve your own personal development?
Did I mention I made soup out of a goldfish? I’m trying to cook fewer house pets these days. OK, for real, I’m trying to read more. That’s my improvement plan. We live in a world that embraces short attention spans. I’m certainly a victim. I read a headline on Google News and I feel like I’ve been informed. You know what I mean? So, as tough as it’s been, I’m turning pages before I go to sleep at night instead of turning on the television (unless, I’m watching evōx. Then it stays on).
I’m reading a book right now about a dude who walked across China from Shanghai to Tibet. He is, or was a journalist with pretty great Chinese skills, and he walked from town to town just chatting with locals about the lifestyle in the contemporary countryside. What a vast and interesting country, China. Opinions abound about lifestyle, family, farming, food and religion. Stuff you’d have to read to believe. So, I am.
Do you exercise? If so, is it difficult to keep up with your exercise while you are traveling so much? What are some things you do while on the road to keep your physical activity up?
This is an easy one. I walk. I walk a lot. When I say I walk a lot, I mean that I’m constantly walking. Everywhere. So, as you can imagine, when I’m traveling for the hell of it or traveling to shoot the show, there’s no interrupting my exercise. In fact, I exercise more when I’m on travel. I prefer to walk from shoot location A to B rather than cab or bus. It’s a funny thing to most people out in the world, walking over distances. “It’s too far! You should catch a bus!” I was in Kazakhstan teaching a course and had a day off. I wanted to go to see a famous mosque. I had seen photos and it’s gorgeous. I set out in the morning and it happened to be far across town, maybe 6 or 7 miles. I had everyone from a commuter to a horseman stop to ask me if I knew where I was going and if I wanted a lift. I asked them time and again, how will I see your beautiful country if I don’t walk and maybe get a little lost?
Oh, and walking helps to make room for the next meal :)
What does a healthy meal for Howie Southworth look like?
It changes every week. I made paella last Saturday night. That was pretty outstanding. If I’m eating rice + fish + red or green vegetables, with a lot of garlic and olive oil, I’m fairly excited. I tend to eat more fish, seafood, and vegetables than anything else, which I perceive as healthy. I do like pork, though. Where I may use it as flavoring, it is seldom in the starring role. I don’t eat a lot of beef, beyond really good burgers. I like really good burgers. I had mentioned the Mediterranean farmer diet we did a few months ago for about two weeks. That was an awesome two weeks. Pretty healthy!
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say this again. Healthy for me means happy. It makes me happy to eat delicious food. The foods that I either cook myself or eat at a restaurant just so happen to also be well balanced and nutritious. That said, I’m extremely happy when I find truly spectacular French fries, too.
The evōxMove community is really focused on furthering our physical and mental wellness. How will watching Sauced In Translation support in these efforts?
Sauced is all about blowing your mind! Seriously though, I like to think of the show as a fun diversion from the typical travel and/or cooking show. It’s simply mind-expanding. I look for those gems when I’m writing the skeleton of the shoot. Its soul is defined by the commonalities in the world that we don’t see every day and do not have access to without watching a show like Sauced.
For example, how many folks know that Russian laborers built a major city in China? How many of those people know that in Harbin, they left behind an affinity for sourdough bread baked in a wood oven? What about the local popularity of German-style smoked sausage left behind by Jews fleeing persecution only to find peace in China? Until I started to do my research, I also had no idea!
Finish this sentence: Living a healthy and active lifestyle means…
Being happy, cooking, eating, living in motion, making others laugh. Oh, and playing Mega Run on my iPhone.
Scenario: You invite me over to your place for dinner; however, I’m running a marathon in the morning. I’m a good friend, plus I know you’re a great cook, so regardless of my early time to rise I accept. You’re a good friend as well and want me to perform at my very best in my race tomorrow. What are you cooking for dinner?
There is only one answer. Pasta and fish, dressed simply with a good olive oil and lemon juice. I would keep things simple and early in the evening. This way, you carbo load and get your protein on, streamline your efforts to keep your body moving in a single direction. You don’t want to introduce anything new before you run, and you also don’t want to do anything very exciting. Pasta fills that need in so many ways. Delicious, yet not very exciting.
You and I can have a banana later in the night, after we play several hours of Scrabble. I’ll be drinking wine. You’ll be jealous.
What’s one fun fact about a food (your choice) that our readers may not know that you think they might find interesting?
I’m encyclopedic when it comes to food trivia. I’ll give you a little taste. The food in Sichuan is associated with Spicy foods. In fact, it defines them for the rest of the world. Yet, we have Catholic missionaries to thank for introducing the chile pepper to Sichuan a couple of hundred years ago. Bang. Want more? The Japanese adore tempura. Where did they learn it? More missionaries! This time is was Portuguese Jesuits in Nagasaki in the 1500s! Bang.
Still intrigued? Chop Suey. American? Chinese-American? Chinese? It’s arguable that what was once thought of as a Chinese import, then debunked as a Chinese-American invention is now coming around full circle. It turns out that “Za Zui” in Mandarin means to assemble miscellany. Not a dish, per se, literally means extra stuff. So, when a Qing Dynasty diplomat visited the US in the late 1800s, and patronized a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, the chef was embarrassed that he had little in the way of ingredients to serve this VIP. Li Hongzhang suggested to the chef to use what he had and be impressive. Wa La. Chop suey, or “Za Zui” was born. You’re welcome.
To watch the premiere episode of Sauced In Translation on evōx Television click here.