Q&A: Simon Majumdar!
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Simon Majumdar, the author, chef, and all-around nice guy, was cool enough to help me out with this most recent Q&A, and I'm pretty stoked about it. You've probably seen him on Iron Chef America or Cutthroat Kitchen, and his most recent book, Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork is available for purchase on Amazon, and make sure to go to his website, http://www.simonmajumdar.com, and sign up for his newsletter!
Now, you grew up in the U.K., correct? I honestly don't know much about the U.K., other than what I've seen on Downton Abbey, which I'm sure is 100% accurate, as well as what I've studied in college, which was basically "U.K. = industrial revolution; coal, and iron... oh, and the food sucks." Does the food actually taste like iron ore and/or coal, or is that just some BS propaganda us American kids were fed growing up? Seriously, growing up, we were basically taught that everything British was tasteless and drab. Surely not, right?! Also, was Mrs. Patmore as awesome to Brits as she was to Americans? I've honestly considered getting a Mrs. Patmore pin-up style tattoo. I mean that. Don't talk me out of it!
British food deserved its bad reputation until about the mid-1980s. Blame Hitler, two world wars, and twenty years of rationing. Before WWI, it was actually rather good, if hardly haute cuisine. Now, it is much improved and London in particular ranks with any great food city in the world.
Admittedly I have yet to read your latest book, Fed, White, and Blue, but I will be putting that on my birthday wishlist (which is next month, for you 34 fans out there). In the book, you explore the US by eating and drinking your way across the nation; what were your favorite and least favorite foods? Have you tried Taylor Ham? Sorry, I ask everyone (my Mom is from New Jersey).
I have tried Taylor Ham (on an egg sandwich in Egg Harbor, appropriately enough). I have many favorites, including lobster rolls in Maine and BBQ in Texas. As for least favorites, you’ll have to read the book.
What, exactly, is Yorkshire pudding? And can you explain why there is such a disconnect between what Americans and Brits consider pudding? Obviously, when I hear "pudding," I get excited and think of chocolate Snack Packs or whatever. But y'all's pudding... I don't even know what it is.
Yorkshire pudding is similar to a US popover. It was originally cooked underneath a roasting joint of beef in the drippings. Its original purpose was to be served before the meal to fill people up when meat was scarce and expensive as for pudding. The sweet custard-like version is an American invention. The word ‘Pudding” comes from the Latin word “boletus,” which was a sausage cooked in a casing. Most puddings were savory (blood pudding is an example), but sweet versions were developed later (Christmas Pudding), and pudding is now another word for dessert in England.
You're a judge on Iron Chef: America. Were you a fan of the original? I was absolutely obsessed with the original series, and Morimoto was my hero. However, Chen Kenichi was pretty badass, too. Is Morimoto as intense in real life as he is on TV? Did you have a favorite Iron Chef from the original series?
I was a fan of the original series of Iron Chef. Morimoto was my favorite chef on that series, and I was fortunate enough to be able to cook with him on an episode of the US version of ICA too. A great experience.
You're also a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen. Is Alton as insane as he seems? You don't have to answer that. I'm sure he's a lovely fellow.
Alton ranks as one of the most brilliant people I have met or worked with. The man is many things, but insane is not one of them.
Growing up, were you a fan of punk rock? Your neck of the woods produced some pretty solid bands, including Gang of Four, as well as the rock band The Cult. If not a fan of punk rock, or rock in general, what did you listen to?
I was a big punk rock fan and am lucky that I got to live in an era where I could go and see bands like The Clash, The Adverts, The Damned, The Ruts, and The Pistols on an almost weekly basis. Best of all was The Buzzcocks, who still don’t get the credit they deserve (interestingly, they were nearly always supported by Joy Division, who were bollock awful live)
Trick Question time: did punk rock start in the U.K., or in NYC? Answer wisely, since you're an American now.
Punk’s a wide church and it’s perfectly possible for it to have begun in two places at the same time. There were certainly influences both ways (Bowie influencing The New York Dolls and Iggy, who influenced the UK bands) but anyone who claims to have been the “big bang” of punk is lying. Also, they drew from very different influences. US bands drew from a lot of art scene bands like The Velvet Underground, whereas bands like The Clash and The Ruts were heavily influenced by the thriving 1970’s music scene of Jamaican immigrants to London.
Am I an asshole for loving Chicken Tikka Masala? I've had other Indian dishes, and I like them, a lot, but CTM is the bee's knees. And it's not even Indian, right? Isn't it a British invention?
CTM was invented in Glasgow in the 1970s. I have actually met the man who created it and I have a great recipe on my website (www.simonmajumdar.com)
Growing up in Rotherham, were there any food/booze rituals? For example, growing up here in Cincinnati, Ohio, we'd normally get drunk then walk on over to Skyline for some Cincinnati-style chili, or, unfortunately, get a Crave Case from White Castle (don't judge!). Anything like that for you?
Friday night. Pub, too much beer, fish & chips on the way home. Always get to the chippy just before they close so they pile up your order with all the chips that are left.
Are there any quintessential British foods that are just absolutely horrible?
That’s too subjective a question to answer. Many people loathe haggis, but I love it. Similarly, I loathe pizza (snot on toast) but I seem to be in a minority of one.
You currently live in the US, right? Is it true you're severely allergic to coffee? How does it feel to be surrounded by things that can kill you (Starbucks)?
Depends on what you mean by “severely”. As long as I don’t drink the stuff, I am fine. Given my heritage, that’s not a problem, as I prefer tea anyway.
Was there a family meal growing up that you still think of today? Fondly or not...
Sunday lunch was (and is) the big meal in Britain. Usually a large joint of roast meat. It’s the one meal where the whole family gets together.
The War of 1812; any comments?
Americans should read more Canadian history books.
Meat pies? Can you please explain? I think most Americans have no idea what's going on there.
I can never quite understand why Americans claim not to understand meat pies but can reel off a dozen of their favorite empanada places.
Are there any current food trends that excite you? Any trends that should just go away?
I am delighted that some of the best meals I have eaten in the United States in the last few years have been outside the usual big cities. I hope this is a trend that continues. As for trends that can go away. If I never see another plate of wood-roasted carrots or charred cabbage, I will be jolly happy.
Any other projects you're currently working on, or anything you'd like to plug to my 30 or so fans?
If people could register for my newsletter (on my website) I shall post things as they come up on there.