By Elizabeth Liberatore
Photos by Claudia Johnstone
According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 7.5 billion inhabitants of the world. That’s a lot of people and a lot of ways each one of us is different. From how we talk, practice (or not practice) religion, honor culture, celebrate tradition and express viewpoints — this human family is a diverse one.
There is one thing that is universal among us all, and that’s our need for food. More than just providing nourishment, food reveals a lot about who we are and where we come from. It is a cornerstone in many homes. It also fosters community. And in these trivial times we find our world in, breaking bread with our neighbor is the most powerful act we can do to breed love, acceptance and hope.
But don’t take this from me. Rather, take it from the man who switched careers mid-life in order to break bread with people in over 80 different countries. This is Simon Majumdar — book publisher turned Food Network judge, food critic and best-selling author with a hunger to learn more about his human family.
“Give me a country’s menu, and I can tell you its history,” Majumdar says.
Majumdar was born and raised across the pond, spending most of his childhood in a town north of England — though home will always be London since he resided there for 25 years. Sandwiched between two older siblings and a younger brother, Majumdar was the mischievous one of the bunch.
“Occasionally, [I was] amusing enough to stop me getting beaten up at school,” he recalls.
With an Indian father and Welsh mother who learned how to cook delicious Bengali food, the Majumdar household was one that celebrated different cuisines. The family’s menu ran the gamut of Indian Dahl (lentil soup), fish and chips and Doi Murgh (yogurt chicken).
More often than not, the sweetest things in life are the simplest. This rings true even for the most sophisticated of palates, like Majumdar’s.
“[One] of my favorite meals [growing up] was the simple roast meats we had every Sunday when we all gathered around the table for a traditional English Sunday lunch,” he reminisces.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Divinity from King’s College, Majumdar intended to become a vicar, or Anglican priest. Fate had other plans for him, though. He wound up in book publishing for 20 years.
In 2006, Majumdar started writing about his passion for food. He co-authored a blog with his older brother called Dos Hermanos, which became one of the UK’s earliest and most popular food blogs. The brothers’ poignant reviews had London Evening Standard newspaper calling them “the most influential people in London” during the blog’s lifespan (2006-2012).
The success of Dos Hermanos encouraged other media outlets to get Majumdar on their contributing writers list. He penned features that appeared in the likes of The Guardian, The Times of London and The Independent. Residing now in LA with his wife Sybil, Majumdar recently became the food critic for Time Out Los Angeles.
Food features aside, it wasn’t until age 40 that Majumdar had a complete change of heart and decided, “I want to go everywhere and eat everything.” The product of his epiphany is Eat My Globe — his first food/travel memoir that unpacks the 31 countries he visited and the countless cuisines he ate along the way. He went on to write two other best-selling books — Eating For Britain and Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork — and is currently working on a fourth book with a well-known food personality.
His good fortune as an author piqued the interest of Food Network, specifically the producers of Iron Chef America. They were in the market for a new judge on The Next Iron Chef and Majumdar fit the criterion.
“I got the call that they wanted me. I’m not sure how many shows I have done for the network now, but I always love getting the call,” he admits.
Other shows that gave him a ring include Beat Bobby Flay, Cutthroat Kitchen, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, All-Star Family Cook-Off, and Extreme Chef, among others. When it comes to mingling with chefs and contestants on shows, count this judge out.
“I don’t mingle. A) Because I am not a mingler and B) Because I have to judge them so I don’t want personalities to get in the way of a culinary opinion.” Majumdar continues, “That being said, I will always say ‘hi’ to chefs on Cutthroat Kitchen as I know how intimidating it can be if it’s your first time one set. Plus, many of the Food Network personalities are now friends.”
Speaking of friends, The Simpsons – Terry, a Phoenix-based weight-loss surgeon and student of culinary medicine, and wife April, owner of Producergirl Productions – are near and dear to The Majumdars. April began working with Majumdar five years ago when he was writing his third book. By merging minds, the foursome, all travel bugs and foodies, came up with a little series called Simon Says...Go Everywhere and Eat Everything.
“There is little cooking on TV right now, with many of the shows being more entertainment than education,” Majumdar says. “Obviously, I love those shows too and work on them, but I wanted to show people that I do actually cook as well as criticize.”
The series was recently picked up by PureFlix.com and is also available on Majumdar’s YouTube channel. Viewers get to watch him cook in The Simpsons’ home kitchen, which is located right here in Arcadia, and share stories about the places he’s been (80 countries and counting) and the hundreds of cuisines he’s eaten.
The Majumdars travel to Phoenix two to three times each year to film intensively for a week. It’s a lot of work, but fun work for the friend group.
“During the weeks of production here [in Phoenix], the four of us tend to cook, eat and plan our next creative ideas and travels together. My husband, as a weight-loss surgeon, is obsessed with food, science and the body whereas Simon is obsessed with food history. It’s a nonstop conversation between the two gents where Sybil and I benefit from their joint cooking and great taste in wines,” April smiles.
So what’s this Londoner’s take on our beloved city’s food scene? He really likes it, especially the variety of restaurants on offer.
“From old-school (Tarbell’s) to new and modern — it’s growing all the time here and there is always something new to try,” Majumdar comments.
If he isn’t in the kitchen or on a plane traveling to yet another country, you can find Majumdar quite content in a library. For his latest venture, a podcast entitled Eat My Globe: Things You Didn’t Know About Food, Majumdar tapped his inner bookworm to give listeners a new way of looking at food.
“I wanted to create this to share the history of some of the dishes we often take for granted but that have amazing histories (fish and chips, the sandwich, and SPAM to name a few).” Majumdar continues, “The research is a joy, and I get to work with my friends, The Simpsons, again and the Department History at UCLA.”
His podcast, slated to drop this month, is just another way Simon Majumdar is making it his full-time job to get to know the people behind all the cuisines that get brought to tables across the globe.
“I can now say that I have family all over the world. I love that I can speak to Americans about a vast range of other cultures with experience of their amazing hospitality. Wherever I end up, I hope to meet some great people along the way.”
To learn more about Majumdar, visit www.simonmajumdar.com.