Michael Voltaggio, chef at L.A.’s Ink restaurant and a “Top Chef” winner, took a break from cooking Monday night to premiere his new Travel Channel show “Breaking Borders” at a screening at UTA. International correspondent Mariana van Zeller co-hosts the new travel and food adventure show that premieres March 15 on Travel Channel.
Fellow L.A. chefs Ludo Lefebvre, Josiah Citrin, Matt Molina and recent “Top Chef” winner (and Voltaggio protege) Mei Lin, were there to celebrate the launch along with actors Ben Feldman, Jonathan Sadowski, Emily Osment, Larisa Oleynik and Eric Wareheim.
Travel Channel acquired the “Breaking Borders” format at MIP. Although it is based on the Norwegian show “Dining With the Enemy,” “we broadened it a little,” said exec producer Brian Leonard, who thinks this show works because of its focus on real people in conflict zones, not politicians.
The first episode focuses on the tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories, bringing together a Palestinian, Israeli settlers on the West Bank and an Israeli peace activist over a meal cooked by Voltaggio. The discussion over lamb and avocado salad gets heated, while Voltaggio and van Zeller quietly listen. It’s hard to say whether any progress is made in getting each side to change their minds on an extremely complex issue, but all the participants agree that just coming together over a meal and discussion is a valuable step.
Subsequent episodes will visit global hotspots including Egypt, Cambodia, Northern Ireland and Sarajevo. Voltaggio admits that filming in Egypt was more challenging than he had anticipated, as authorities detained the crew and confiscated their passports for filming in Tahrir Square.
Voltaggio explained how the show helps get viewers interested in global issues because “you’re hearing it from the people who are genuinely affected by it,” he said.
With few assistants or helpers traveling with the crew, he does most of the shopping and prep himself. “It’s not over-produced,” he said. As far as the food goes, Voltaggio loved Sri Lanka, where he got to cook with lots of coconut and bold Indian flavors.
Even those who think they know these cultures are likely to learn more about politics, culture and food from watching trips to the local marketplace, discussions with locals and dinner preparations. “It’s like putting cheese sauce on broccoli” to help make it more fun to eat, explained van Zeller.
(pictured: Mariana van Zeller, Michael Voltaggio and Travel Channel president Shannon O’Neill)