I had interviewed many people on radio before I interviewed Reza Mahammad but interviewing him was a defining moment in my career on-air that set the benchmark for future guests and opened doors to interview prominent personalities on my show at Radio Today Johannesburg.
Until that day when I interviewed Reza I was just a rookie radio presenter talking to local restaurateurs about their ambiance and menus, but after Reza I was contacted to interview South African celebrities, feature national foodie events on my show, and attend highly coveted media events. The difference was night and day. For example: I could interview the tuck-shop lady at a local high-school about her delicious home-made fudge, but after interviewing Reza I was invited to review establishments that served twelve course meals where fudge was merely am incidental garnish. I literally went from gold star to five star!
Reza was a last minute; albeit an urgent celebrity interview on my radio show, who was only available for a limited five minute time-slot, but he spent a good twenty minutes in studio with us. Ironically, and equally frustrating, Reza spent more time sharing recipes with us during commercial breaks, but while interviewing him live, he would regale listeners of tales behind the scenes of his TV show. I learnt more from Reza between breaks than what our listeners ever heard. I know why uncooked curry can choked a diner in the throat while listeners know more about how Reza had to shoot a scene with a horse in the background. Bad timing, for sure, but that’s show business!
On behalf of JoziStyle, Edward Chamberlain-Bell interviewed Reza Mahammad.
Reza, you’re an internationally acclaimed chef, was this a childhood ambition?
Not really, I actually wanted to go into the arts, so it’s not something that I intended on doing. My father passed away when I finished boarding school in India so I became the head of the household and took over the family business. but I’m so happy with my restaurant the Star of India.
You travel extensively as a host on Food Network, where’s your favourite country and why?
I loved Hoi An in Vietnam, it looks like a stage set at night because the whole town is covered with lanterns and it’s just so magical. The food there and in Central Vietnam was some of the best I’ve ever had; very memorable.
Please tell JoziStyle readers about your new series coming on Food Network in January 2015:
It’s about my travels to Thailand and Vietnam; it’s my first time in South East Asia and experiencing Vietnamese food. I’ve had a bit of Thai food but I’ve never been to the country so it was a wonderful journey for me to experience the culture. It’s not just the food but the people and the society that I find fascinating. Although we did go in monsoon season– very high temperatures and humidity, it was excruciatingly hot!
Don’t Thai and Vietnamese food taste the same?
Both use those sweet, sour, hot, salty and bitter elements in their cuisine but to me, Vietnamese food tastes fresher, crisper and herbier.
What’s been your favourite part of the series to film?
Oh gosh– so many wonderful moments! I met this wonderful lady by the name of Hannah from Hanoi, and she was as food journalist, we went to a lychee farm. She showed me how to make the tradition breakfast dish pho.
I then met up with 84 year old Mrs. Du on the Mekong Delta, who has been making pancakes for spring roles since she was 12. She taught me all the wonderful foods you can make from rice: rice paper wrappers, noodles, puffed rice cakes. She was an interesting character who was delightful. She gurgled and chuckled like a little child, hysterically funny because when we tried to interview her there was more gurgling going on than there was her actually answering! I loved being on the Mekong – the river is the life source of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, flowing for thousands and thousands of kilometers. We went to the floating markets, it was busy but not loud and there was very little shouting, so unlike other markets, it was beautifully calm.
What was your favourite dish you prepared during this series?
That’s a really difficult one to say because there were just so many! The Thai beef curry with coconut is to die for, the lychee panna cotta is amazing. There’s the absolutely divine breakfast of champions I did, with Chinese sausage tomatoes, white pepper, spices and fish sauce with eggs and crispy fried onions. I made some green tea smoked duck on prawn crackers with sesame seeds with a tamarind dipping sauce as a canapé. I loved the coffee as France originally brought it to South East Asia but now Vietnam is the biggest coffee producer in the world– it’s really very good.
So not just one favourite dish then!
There’s no particular favourite, they’re all my favourite!
So far you’ve owned and a run a restaurant, been a TV chef, written a cookery book and founded a cooking school, what’s next?
There are lots of things in the pipeline that I’m hoping to do but I‘m sorry I can’t say.
So where would you like to travel to next?
There are so many places – I’d love to go to Argentina or Cuba, the food there is just so different from the Indian food I’m used to or the Thai and Vietnamese food I’ve explored this series. There are so many places in Europe I haven’t been – I’d love to go to Georgia and Uzbekistan. And China. And Japan! I’d just love to be a globetrotter; I’d scour every country on the planet if I could! There’s still so much to see and do.
JoziStylers will want to try your new recipes, which do you recommend they try first?
I love the Vietnamese chicken pie with filo pastry because of the French influences and I do make it quite often. JoziStylers can also also find the recipes on the Food Network website for Breakfast of champions, Smoked duck canapés, Chicken pie recipe and Lychee and coconut milk panna cotta.
Short of inviting Reza Mahammad back to South Africa, where he is always welcome, JoziStyle recommends that you tune into DStv’s Food Network (Channel 175) to view Reza’s new show Reza, Spice Prince Thailand on the 12th January, showing week days at 08:45 & 15:50.