Exploring America’s Diverse Ethnic Communities
This food-obsessed travel maven and host of the Cooking Channel’s Eden Eats lives for adventure. On Eden Eats, she travels from coast to coast uncovering this country’s lesser-known global cuisine scene, from a Kurdish Halal market in Nashville to a Bosnian bakery and Lebanese butcher in Phoenix. We chat with Eden about her journey from culinary school to the Cooking Channel, America’s ethnic hot spots and her favorite eats in NYC. Catch Eden on the Cooking Channel’s All-Star Holiday Special, for upcoming showtimes click here.
AndrewZimmern.com: What sparked your interest in cooking?
Eden Grinshpan: Believe it or not , I was a little trouble maker in high school…;) I would use any excuse not to do my homework. I was the Queen of procrastinating! I came across the Food Network in the tenth grade and got completely hooked! I grew up in Toronto and they have Food Network Canada, which had a lot of Barefoot Contessa, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Iron Chef Japan. I swear that channel would just be playing in the background at all hours of the day. Since I have such a profound love for baked goods and anything that has butter in it, I started baking cakes, cupcakes, cookies etc. I fell in love! There was nothing more satisfying than bringing something that I baked to a friend or my family. When It came time to apply for university it just made way more sense to put my energy where it belonged…culinary school.
AZ.com: You went to culinary school in London. Did you plan on becoming a Chef?
EG: That was the plan at the time, yes. I went to culinary school knowing the basics of what I learned from TV and cookbooks. Wow, was I in for a surprise! I will never forget my first day in class. We all had a brand new set of knives and my chef was demonstrating how to julienne when he clipped the tip of his finger off! Everyone around me said, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen…literally!” He wrapped up his finger, went back to work and only went to the hospital after the day was done. Now that is hardcore! That was only the beginning of the craziness and excitement that goes down in a kitchen. Culinary school gave me basic skills, which help me approach almost any kind of cuisine and I love that. I graduated in both pastry and cuisine, but I wasn’t ready to grow up yet. I decided to travel, so I packed my bags and went on a trip to India, Southeast Asia and lived in Israel for a bit. What grew to be one of my favorite aspects of the culinary field is that you can take your passion for cooking and food and apply it all over the world. You can NEVER know everything, there is always something to learn from the people around you.
AZ.com: Where did the idea for Eden Eats come from?
EG: While I was backpacking in India, I found this orphanage in a city called Rishikesh, which is at the base of the Himalayas. I fell in love with the children and ended up staying there and volunteering. They had a café that was not in service and I decided to take it on as my personal project and re-open it… So I did, and I taped the whole process. When I came back from India I found an editor, cut it down to a 15-minute reel and then got my butt to NYC. Since I have a severe case of the travel bug there was no way I was going to give up on my love of adventure and discovery with people, cultures and ethnic cuisines. I met this incredible woman one day who walked into a bakery I was working at and together we came up with our show concept: meeting people that come from all over the world and seeing how they recreate their culture and customs through food in America. It just made so much sense and fit so perfectly into what was already my growing passion for traveling around the world and sharing food with new friends.
AZ.com: You’ve traveled the country in search of ethnic cuisine. Any cities that have surprised you?
EG: Oh, absolutely! I am surprised in almost every city we go to. That is one of my favorite parts about this show. I run into people that live in the cities that we feature and they always tell me that they had no clue about the ethnic diversity that exists in their own city! They seem to be so excited to discover the authentic and delicious eateries that have been just around the corner from them the whole time. I am so proud that the show has opened people up to exploring new cuisines in their hometowns.
One city that really stands out to me would have to be Nashville. When you think of Nashville you think of BBQ and Rock n’ Roll legends, but what we found there is that there is a massive Somalian refugee community, and that Nashville is also known as ‘little Kurdistan’ since it has a large Kurdish community.
AZ.com: What message do you hope your viewers take away from Eden Eats?
EG: I hope that this show inspires people to learn about other cultures and to try new foods. Eden Eats showcases how multicultural America has become. It is not just about burgers and fries. I literally get to travel around the world without leaving the country and I do it through trying new foods and meeting the people behind the dishes. America is home to people from all over the world and one of the best ways to stay connected to their culture and heritage is through food. Others can do the same and take a trip to a new country, just by trying out a new restaurant in their city!
AZ.com: 5 favorite places to eat in NYC?
- Pho Bang: I love this little family run restaurant. Great pho and pork bun!
- Despaña: Spanish specialty store that imports goodies from Spain, serves tapas and wine in the back and has a Spanish wine store attached to the side
- Café Mogador: Moroccan/Middle-Eastern cuisine. Love the tagines, the small starter salads like the hummus, babaganoush and spicy carrots.
- 12 chairs: Israeli restaurant. Go on a Saturday and order the jachnun, a yemen dish or dough rolled into a log and baked for 24 hours with hard-boiled eggs and served with freshly pureed tomatoes.
- Dosa Hutt: Best South Indian food I have had since leaving India. Great dosas, idlis, uttapams, chai and mango lassis.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
EG: I usually always have: milk, eggs, Greek yogurt (obsessed!) Sriracha, fermented shrimp paste, soup (I have borscht today), lots of maple syrup, an assortment of cheese (went to Eataly and had a field day!), hummus, small Persian cucumbers, tomatoes on the vine, almond butter, unsalted butter, fig jam, sake and white wine. When I travel and explore the city, I always pick up ingredients and spices to have on hand. My culinary adventures around the globe don’t stop when I get home.
Eden Grinshpan graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in London with the “Grande Diplome” in both Pastry and Cuisine. After graduating she went to India to volunteer with different organizations, one of them being an orphanage called Ramanas Garden. Here she came up with the idea of raising money for the orphanage by re-opening a café, which had not been in operation for some time, and teaching the children the basics of culinary cuisine. After returning to New York City, Eden enrolled in a management program at The Institute of Culinary Education before working at the bakery, Babycakes. Eden is the co-owner of EthNicitY Productions.
Photo courtesy of Cooking Channel.