by Karl J. Paloucek
Like a lot of shows, this one started in Britain: Two hairy guys on motorcycles who really know their food set out to explore the local cuisines their country had to offer and in doing so established a template for a show that was all but tailor-made for America. With its inventive food history rooted in its incredibly varied cultures, to say nothing of its highway infrastructure and motorcycling tradition, America was the next logical step, and as such, Hairy Bikers premieres Friday, Oct. 14, on History.
At the center of Hairy Bikers are Paul Patranella, a four-star, classically trained French chef ‚ÄĒ whose many honors include serving as President George W. Bush‚Äôs chef ‚ÄĒ and his best friend and riding partner, renowned motorcycle mechanic Bill Allen. Both take their passions for food and cycling to the road, where they meet the people who make some of the land‚Äôs most interesting dishes. Not only do they cook and eat with them, but in many cases they hunt, kill and clean their dinner in the process, whether it‚Äôs spearing bullfrogs, trawling for shrimp, capturing gators with a crossbow or even preparing road kill. We caught up with these two adventurers to give them a chance to brag about their exploits and tell us what it was like for them out there on the open road.
Ah, yes ‚ÄĒ the nutria. Allen and Patranella had a lot to say about their experience of hunting swamp rats in the Louisiana bayou. ‚ÄúThe swamps of Louisiana are overcome with nutria, which is basically, about a 20-pound rat,‚ÄĚ Allen explains. ‚ÄúAs Americans, we‚Äôre very visual people when it comes to our food. When you see something as you‚Äôre hunting it and see it on the table, you have the vision of everything you went through to skin it, and it‚Äôs not always so appealing.‚ÄĚ
But Hairy Bikers is by no means a gross-out spectacle. Far from it. There‚Äôs plenty of history to be had as they seek out their destinations. ‚Äú[In] Kentucky, we had to go to a distillery and see how they actually make bourbon,‚ÄĚ Patranella recalls. ‚ÄúI learned a lot there, technologically speaking, about how to build a still. … The Low Country cuisine of South Carolina ‚ÄĒ I really kind of fell in love with that. There‚Äôs a lot of farm-fresh stuff there that people use.‚ÄĚ
Although their itinerary was initially assembled by the people at History, the Hairy Bikers dudes had no hesitation about deviating from it if the journey demanded it. ‚ÄúWe found a lot of the places on our own and just made the camera guys follow us,‚ÄĚ ¬†Patranella says. ‚ÄúWe made it all the way to Maine and went lobstering on a crazy morning when it was really foggy and we couldn‚Äôt see where we were going. That was pretty scary, but luckily the guy we went with had been doing it for a long, long time.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a cross-section of Americana,‚ÄĚ Patranella affirms. ‚ÄúSome of it‚Äôs backwoods, some of it is a little more upscale. …. We‚Äôve cooked a five-course dinner and we‚Äôve eaten swamp rat. We did a clambake on the beach with lobster and a whole bluefish, and seaweed ‚ÄĒ the whole bit. And we‚Äôve eaten pig ears,‚ÄĚ he chuckles.
Patranella is already looking forward to the possibility of another season with a mixture of excitement, fear and dread. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure there‚Äôs some little producer, somewhere, coming up with stuff for us to do next year that is going to just make everybody cringe,‚ÄĚ he says, sounding resigned. ‚ÄúIf people call in and tell him what weird food they have in their little town, I‚Äôm sure that we‚Äôll be there.‚ÄĚ
America‚Äôs most insane eateries, there‚Äôs your cue ‚ÄĒ start dialing.