The Washington Post

Face Time: Jeff Corwin


FOR HIS EMMY-WINNING wildlife adventure shows, Jeff Corwin has snuggled with black bears, waded with restless alligators and been whipped around by a playful elephant. Which might explain why the Food Network tapped the amiable, up-for-anything TV host for its newest show, “Extreme Cuisine With Jeff Corwin” (Thu., 9 p.m.).

» EXPRESS: Your new show has you churning fermented sheep’s cheese in Greece and diving for sea cucumbers in Washington state.
» CORWIN: It’s really been an epicurean journey that has taken us from Morocco to the U.K. to the Pacific Northwest. What we discovered is that, while each location is unique, there really is a common thread of these stories. Food is the glue that binds culture, that celebrates community and, often, is a way to share the history of the region.

» EXPRESS: What do you hope viewers learn from your experiences — other than the world’s got some wacky food?
» CORWIN: What inspired me is the idea of, “Where does your food come from?” I remember speaking with one of my daughter’s friends, and her impression of where food came from is from the refrigerator. I said, “Well, where does the refrigerator get it?” and the answer was, “My mom gets it from the grocery store.” We want to get people thinking out of the icebox and more about the big picture.

» EXPRESS: You want people to know what they’re putting in their mouths.
» CORWIN: So much of our lives involves food, and yet we’re not attached to it. We grab a box from the supermarket, and empty out something that looks like wild rice and a little packet of seasonings. But what does real wild rice look like? We actually went out and collected it in the bayou.

» EXPRESS: Unlike other food shows, you’re not just about the entree.
» CORWIN: The arc of our story follows the start, middle and end of a food experience. Maybe that starts with the plow in the field, or by reaching under a chicken, or baiting a hook.

» EXPRESS: Is there anything you won’t eat?
» CORWIN: I’m willing to try just about anything. A few things have turned my stomach, but not necessarily what you would think. Like, going to that street stand where everyone is lined up around the block to get to a cow’s head taco. They use every bit of the cow — the snout, the tongue, the eyes, the brain. It’s really the textures, not the flavors, that get you.

» EXPRESS: That sounds pretty intense.
» CORWIN: Well, on the surface, people might think it’s garish. But, really, what is more garish? To pick what you like from the cow and turn the rest into dog food or fertilizer? Or is there something great about a cow that grew up eating the grass in the backyard, and the community that raised it ate all of it, and cherished the snout as much as the tenderloin?

» EXPRESS: Did your experience with animals help with the food show filming?
» CORWIN: If you’ve ever worked with a veterinarian in Thailand to help disimpact an elephant, which involves a garden hose, 2 gallons of mineral oil and a very long glove — well, if you can get through that, you can get through almost anything.

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