Day 1 - Traveling is always fun

Early on a Sunday morning, we all met at the airport, Janice (Director), Rich (Sound), G (Cameraman), Sam (Assistant Producer), Al and me. Heathrow would not let us film, so we did a spoof piece to camera with Alison running out of the hotel lobby just off the airport with an inflatable bird and a lilo. But like most things we film, it never got used, a real shame as I loved it. We went on to have breakfast and a safety briefing. Security is always a high priority in Brazil, but even more so now. We had a full-time security guy with us and a fixer. We were to film in Rio for three days, then travel up the coast to Paraty for a couple of days, then over to Iguassu right on the Argentinean border. Then fly back to Rio and home. All fascinating stuff.

After taking an age to get through customs, we finally boarded the overnight BA flight to Rio, some 12 hours away. The staff are always charming, especially when you have a camera with you. I settled down to a nice glass of fizzy water and read the menu. I have to say I’m not a real fan of airline food (I don’t know anyone who is), and I have a lot of sympathy for the cooks who prepare it and the poor staff who have to make it look and taste nice at 35,000 feet.

So having said all that, lunch offering was a very nice balance of light dishes. I had marinated Shetland salmon with dill. A nice mild cured salmon, fresh and firm. The bread was better than before, not rock hard and not too hot. My main of poussin breasts, yes just breasts, cooked very nicely. Probably sous vide (cooked in a plastic bag for hours at a low temperature). I don’t have a problem with cooking in a bag, the foodservice industry has been doing it for years, but it does render food a bit tasteless and all the same texture.

I tend not to drink at lunchtime on a plane; I find it sends me to sleep far too quickly. So instead, I watch a couple of films, write a bit of this blog, and then fall asleep.

Before I know it, it’s dinner time, and I order a perfectly acceptable glass of Pouilly Fume Buffatte 2011. Dinner offering again is rather nice, and I plump for the mushroom and artichoke frittata. Nice, not too heavy warm and restrained (thank god) on the dreaded truffle oil. I was slightly nervous as I got a waft from the kitchen. The main course was a baby fillet steak, fennel, baby potatoes and sweet baby carrots. Again, it is perfectly cooked and very nice. Dessert was a sort of rhubarb dome with jelly, coated in white chocolate and served with semi-dried rhubarb ribbons. Waste of time, they taste and look awful and eat like shoe leather. Overall though a very nice dinner.

After that feast, it was off to sleep, and I really did sleep well.

Day 2 - Copacabana

Arriving in Rio, it’s early evening here and Winter! Well, saying that it’s still 26C as we emerge from the airport complex. My first impression is that a lot of building work is still going on, so our exit is a little slow. God only knows how they are going to cope when the World Cup kicks in. Still, that’s not my problem. We meet our driver Fernando, security guy Paulo (a man of few words) and fixer Jessell, packing all the gear into the van and set off into downtown Rio.

The streets are packed with cars and people, and the traffic is horrendous, but we finally arrive at our first hotel, the beautiful Copacabana Palace Hotel. It’s pretty impressive and slap bang on the beach, although by now the sun has set, you can still hear the waves breaking on the beach.

Check-in is perfect; the staff are amazing and very cool. We all go to our rooms to sort out our kit, shower and change. The plan is to meet by the pool for a drink. My room is spotless, with lovely linen and towels, cool and with an imposing bathroom. Feeling refreshed after a quick shower, Richie knocks on my door, and we set off to the bar. We sit by the huge pool order and a beer. It’s a lovely hotel, beautifully maintained and pretty much perfect. The others arrive, and we all order some food. It’s not long before we are all feeling the effects of a 20-hour journey, so we decide to make an early night of it and retire to our beds.

Day 3 - Sawdust?

I always wake up early, and today it’s 5 am. I shower, read my script for the day and run through the schedule. It will be a long day, so I wander off for a quick early morning survey of the local area. Copacabana beach is huge, and even at this time in the morning, there are people wandering about, or cycling, some even playing football. The sun is shining, and there is a very gentle mood about the place. I return to the hotel and meet up with Richie, and we slip into the restaurant for breakfast. The waiter asks us if we want to eat inside or out. We decide inside, as it’s already warming up outside, and we are going to spend all day in the heat. When Janice arrives, she has a go, saying she wants to eat outside; we are in Rio, its beautiful weather blah blah blah. Breakfast is very impressive, smoked salmon, cheese and fried bananas, with a huge array of very well prepared, fresh food. Cappuccinos are excellent. We are accosted by a lady who, it turns out, is an artist. She wants to know what we are up to and is one of those annoying people who never really know when enough is enough. I find it quite difficult to be rude, whereas Janice is straight to the point, and the lady wanders off.

She does return much to Janice’s displeasure and brings me some small puffed bread, a cross between a soft roll and a choux bun. It’s eaten all over Brazil as a snack and is made from oil, cheese and tapioca starch and is completely gluten-free (right up my street). Pao de Queijo or Brazilian cheese bread is delicious and will certainly be going in my Gluten-Free World Food Bible, due to be published in 2016. The lady then leaves the restaurant and gets on her bike, and subsequently falls off! I think she was still a little worse for wear, if you know what I mean. She waves, and she’s gone.

We all finish our breakfast and re-pack all the stuff into the van. Our first stop is for Alison is to do a piece to camera right in the long galleried section of Rio where the carnival takes place. As we arrive fixer Jessell, hops out to have a chat with some workers. It’s all fenced off and not looking good. We all step off the van, and Alison sets to chatting up the workers, who fall in love instantly. Suffice to say, she was in and filming before anyone knew what was going on. From here, we quickly drove to the Samba school, was Alison was going to be taught how to Samba properly. The place is huge, I mean really huge, and is a cross between and runway and a huge storage facility.

Here not only do they teach Samba dancing, but it’s also a store for many of the floats from carnivals past and present. In the UK, we are used to small floats in our carnivals; here, it’s a whole new ball game. Jessell tells me that they cost millions of pounds to make some up to 5 million. We peek into the stores and are blown away at the size and the detail that goes into making one of these. Have a look at the photo selection, and you can’t be impressed. The Samba crew turn up, and after a few minutes to change, we film Alison getting lessons and really getting into Samba. It’s loud, colourful and infectious. We film 3 or 4 times getting some great shots. By this time, we have attracted an audience, and everybody is having a great time.

Brazilians always seem to be smiling! It’s getting sweltering now, so we break for a quick drink and to get a few shots of the floats and dancers.

The next stop is the Garota de Ipanema Cafe, where the famous song Girl from Ipanema was conceived. Apparently, when a certain Frank Sinatra called the café to ask if he could record the song, the owners thought it was a prank call and put the phone down on him. He duly called back, explained, and the rest is history.

The place is a normal back street café, two blocks back from Ipanema beach, and its current owners serve some really nice food. We film a PTC (piece to camera) me walking in, and menus shot and set up to chat about one of Brazil’s favourite meat experiences, the classic Picanha. It’s a rare grilled steak cut from the cap of the rump. The steak is half cooked, placed on a small portable grill and served to your table sliced. You then finish cooking the steak to your liking on the hot plate. Its classic accompaniments are toasted manioc (tapioca) flour, with scrambled eggs, onions and ham stirred through. Rice with peas and fries are also served. Finally, we are ready to go, and the cameras are rolling. Then the steak duly arrives, and I tuck in.

The meat is so tender, succulent and packed full of flavour. The fat tastes creamy and is delicious. I gently flash the rare slices and devour them. We shoot many times (thank goodness), and at the end, I’m stuffed. A quick word about the manioc flour. At first glance, it does not look very appetising, a sort of scrambled egg dish with sawdust, small pieces of ham and spring onions. I know I’m not really selling it, but over the course of the trip, I did quite enjoy it in the end. The crew tuck into the steak as well, and like I am stuffed by the end. After a quick coffee, we set up the final interview with the current café owner and chat about the restaurant’s history and song. Geraint wants more shots of the café, so while he takes more shots, the rest of us pile into the bus and snooze.

Next stop; learning to cook probably Brazil’s most famous dish, Feijoada. We were off to meet chef Simone Almeida at her cook school Rua do Rosario. The school is also a restaurant and situated in a trendy part of Rio. The restaurant has a lovely feel to it, warm and friendly. We meet outside and start to sort out all the kit, which takes some time. Simone is charming and warm and very helpful, and we run through what we need from her. Whilst we chat, she suddenly barks a few words to our security man Paulo. Who immediately stands and looks around.

I ask her what the problem is. She nods to a young boy no older than 12 and says he will check you out. She says they have seen you all earlier, and they are keeping an eye on you. He quickly disappears when our man moves towards him. It just emphasises that you really have to be aware of your surroundings when in a strange city like Rio, known for its street crime.

We film a walking and greeting shot outside, then move indoors to set up the cooking sequence. Simone was, as I have said, going to prepare and cook a Feijoada, a lovely deep flavoured bean and preserved meat dish, eaten every day here in Brazil.

The cameras roll, and off we go. She is very funny, articulate with a steely edge. It’s something I have seen over the years from women who have done their time in professional kitchens. She doesn’t pussyfoot around and cracks straight on. Instead, she chops up cooked beautiful smoked sausages, like an Andouille. She then cuts up salted pork and ham, more like bacon, including the fat and ears. Next, she places soaked black beans into a saucepan and covers them with water. Then simmers until the beans are soft but not falling apart. Finally, the chopped meats are added with bay leaves, orange pieces and a generous slug of Caipirinha, a powerful spirit distilled from sugar cane and left for 2 hours.

After two hours, the onions are sautéed with garlic in a little oil in a separate pan. Manioc flour is added to soak up all the oil. It does look a bit like sawdust with onions in it. This is served as a side dish and probably will be at every meal we come across in Brazil. But being that Brazilians do not eat many vegetables, it’s an essential way of getting fibre so important to the human diet. Next, finely chopped bananas (there are 27 varieties in Brazil, Simone tells me) are added along with a little salt and pepper. It’s an odd combination, looking forward to tasting that one!!!

The final accompaniment to the Feijoada is some very finely shredded collard greens or cabbage that is sautéed in more hot oil with lots of garlic.

The stew is served in a deep bowl with the manioc/banana served separately and topped with the cooked garlic greens. The taste is amazing and really packed full of flavour. The smokiness of the meats and the deep flavour of the beans is a very nice combination. The banana ‘sawdust’ is actually quite nice and compliments the other two perfectly. Just going to prove never eat with only your eyes….Janice isn’t so sure; no surprise there then.

I make a white bean version, something that we could all cook at home, similar to a European bean stew, but basing it on her instructions. It goes down well, and we all have a good laugh.

Cold lemonades are brought to us, and we are allowed to put the air con on again!!! (Soundmen hate air-con, fridges, aeroplanes, cars, horns and ambulances etc.)

We make enough so Alison and I can go to a local trendy/popular music area to see if the locals approve of my version of Feijoada. Unfortunately, it’s getting dark by now, and rather than going back to the hotel, we head straight to the trendy part of town. Thank goodness it’s close, as we are pretty tired.

It’s dark when we arrive and set up our tasting station. The locals are a mix of happy (drunk or stoned) or not happy we may take some business from them. But, once it becomes clear, we are filming and no threat, many join in the fun, including the kids.

We spoon out bowls of my stew and film anybody who will taste. It all seems to go down well, and everyone is happy. Alison dances with a few locals as the music gets into full swing, and of course, they fall in love with her. We do our final piece to camera and all pile back to the hotel. It’s late now, so we just have time for a quick beer before heading off to bed as we have an early start tomorrow (no surprise there then).

Day 4 - Christ The Redeemer, a false start

6:30, I’m up and ready to go. When I get to breakfast, I’m the only one, and this time, I make sure I get a table outside to please the boss! It’s a warm, balmy winter’s day in Rio, like a perfect summer’s day in the UK. I order coffee and skim through my script and call sheet to see what we are up to today. I never look more than one day ahead as filming can change so quickly. Finally, the others arrive, and we all tuck in. I have to say the service at the Copacabana is outstanding indeed and always with a smile, something we seem to have lost in many of our hotels in the UK.

The van turns up, and off we go again, this time to film one of the most famous landmarks in the world, Christ The Redeemer.

It’s not often I get really excited, but I really was for this, very similar to seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu in Peru. I say film, it transpires we have not got permission, or it has not been processed. So, we drive up the very windy road, see the statue in the distance, and do a couple of pieces to camera, but not ideal. At the top of the hill is a police station, next to a fairly large Favela, one of Rio’s many slums. It transpires our security man, Paulo, is an off duty policeman and goes off to see what can be done about getting permission. Low and behold, 10 minutes later, it’s sorted, funny that! But we have to do it tomorrow, early.

As I have said, best-laid plans and all that….We have a rejig and decide to go fruit tasting in the local market with cook school owner and tourist guide Cristiano Nogueira. We all pile back into the bus and set off to town. It takes a little while as the traffic is shocking. I get a chance for a quick nap before we arrive and do all the introductions. The market is full and buzzing. Our security man is quite nervous and staying very close to us. Fruit and veg stalls are full, and the quality is amazing. I have to find some ingredients for my cooking slot later, so we set off filming and buying. Cristiano really does know his stuff, and I taste many fruits, most of which I have never seen before in my life. Vegetables are a little more scarce and consist of greens like spinach, garlic and spring onions. We taste passion fruits the size of footballs, custard fruit, sweet and succulent and small black fruit that looks like grapes, but with a stone, sadly can’t remember the name, but it’s on the film. We do a couple of pieces to camera, and then I buy some guava, passion fruit, limes, papaya, lemongrass, mint, coriander, spring onions and three huge avocados! All for my cooking sequences.

It’s lunchtime now, and we head off to a Brazilian buffet for lunch and a catch up on what we are to film in the afternoon.

After stuffing ourselves at the buffet now, we head to the beach to film more pieces to camera. Alison is Alison, and the blokes flock around her for selfies. The beach is stunning, and the water looks so inviting, but it’s very cold !! It’s winter; the locals remind me. We film some very beautiful people and have a laugh. Then it’s back to the hotel for a lesson on making Brazil’s most famous drink, the Caipirinha. It’s hot now, and I’m really thirsty, so cool off with a cold drink whilst Paulo, the barman, sets up with G, the cameraman.

Paulo is very cool and really is a wonder, and he bags the take in 10 minutes flat. The trouble is I have to taste, which I do, several times. Note to self, you never learn. I then stagger upstairs to deliver the final piece to camera for the day. Filming from the balcony of the premier suite at a cool £1,500 per night, as the late afternoon sun starts to disappear behind the hills. Can I get the words right? I try several times, with everyone laughing more each time I fluff! It’s been a lovely but very long day, but it’s not over just yet.

We pack our bags, say goodbye, and set off to our next location for filming in Rio, La Suite Hotel, Joa. It takes a good couple of hours to go just 20 miles or so, the traffic is terrible, but we finally arrive in the dark, tired and hungry and perhaps a little hungover in my case. Nevertheless, the place is stunning; set on the side of a hill with a full view of Rio in the distance, the view is breathtaking even at night.

We all choose our rooms which are simple but well-appointed. Mine is the red room, any guesses why? Yep, it’s red, even the bathroom. I shower and head back upstairs to meet the crew and a cool beer outside before dinner. It’s dark now, and Rio looks very impressive. You can just about make out Christ The Redeemer against the starry night.

Dinner is the best meal we have had so far, but not really Brazilian. The starter was Burrata, tomatoes and pesto, all so simple it can’t really go wrong. With Steak for the main course with mushrooms and vegetables, yes vegetables. After a few more beers, we all head of to bed.

Day 5 - Christ The Redeemer

We wake up early and have breakfast as we have to be at Christ The Redeemer by 7 am 6:30, even better. Thank goodness the traffic is a little lighter at this time. We gradually get closer and drive past Rio’s world-famous Maracana football stadium. It’s been spruced up for the World Cup and does look magnificent. We take the long road that leads right to the top of the hill. It’s quiet, and we are allowed to unload our kit and get up to the statue before the crowds are let in. Once standing next to it, it really does take your breath away. The view is also stunning, thankfully no cloud. We film a couple of pieces to camera and take lots of photos. You can see why it’s one of the man-made wonders of the world. By now, the place is filling up pretty quickly, so we finish up and go and get a coffee. It’s pretty awful, and the cheese pastry is even worse.

Getting back into the bus, we head back to our hotel to film the first cooking sequence of the trip.

At the hotel, I meet up with chef Ricardo, and I explain what I want. He is really helpful and sets off to prepare for me. Next, Janice, G and I go to find the best place to film. We finally decide on one corner of the helipad, with a stunning view of Rio behind. Once we get the BBQ alight, we stop for a quick bite to eat.

Lunch like dinner the previous evening was delicious indeed. Grilled Atlantic squid, soft as they come with quinoa, flaked almonds, and tiny cubes of feta. Around the outside was a reduction of Balsamic and olive oil. The main course is Grilled shrimps with ‘sawdust’ sorry manioc, passionfruit sauce (smear errrrrr) and sweet onions. This was served with a thick coconut milk sauce with ginger and peppers. This really was way too thick for me, but quite normal here. Finally, chocolate fondant vanilla ice cream with cashew manioc? Janice loves it so much she has two! Then after a coffee, Alison goes off for a snooze, as she is not needed.

I’m going to make bbq ribs with guava glaze and salsa. We film it a couple of times and get some great pack shots, just as the sun moves away and starts to shine straight in my eyes, causing me to squint like I’ve been chewing in a lemon.

Then it’s downstairs to interview Ricardo about Brazilian food and how he sees it, his background and his style of food. He’s very nervous but was fine in the end.

We pack our kit; it’s late now (nothing new here), and gets into the van for the 5hour drive to Paraty for the second stage of our tour.

Finally, once we are out of the Rio outer reaches, the traffic calms down a bit, and I have a quick nap. The van is very quiet. It has been a long day. At about 9:30 pm, Janice suggests we eat as we still have a couple more hours to go, so we stop at a roadside café. The only food on offer is Picanha!! Yes, with ‘sawdust’, so we all go for it. Here it comes with rice also. For a roadside café, it’s pretty good, although we cannot eat all the meat. Suitably stuffed, we finally get back on the road to Paraty.

We arrive at the villa gone midnight, have a quick beer and choose our rooms. Mine is fabulous, even with a punchbag and semi-outdoor bathroom. I shower and climb under the mozzie net.

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