In the new Travel Channel series “Breaking Borders,” celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio and Peabody-award winning journalist Mariana van Zeller explore the world's biggest conflict zones through a culinary-centric lens.
The former “Top Chef” contestant and seasoned reporter believe food brings people together. They travel to places like the jungles of Cambodia and the West Bank, and get people on opposing sides to sit down for a meal whipped by Voltaggio.
Among the dinner summits are Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, Catholic Republicans and Protestant Nationals in Belfast and members of the Tutsi and Hutu clans in Rwanda.
Zelier and Votaggio also make trips to Cairo, Sarajevo and Cuba, as well as in the U.S. along the Arizona/Meixco border.
Does the answer to world peace really lie within food?
Voltaggio and van Zeller stopped by FoxNews.com to talk about the new show and how they deal with a host of challenging topics.
FoxNews.com: Why go into conflict zones?
Mariana van Zeller: Well, this concept was actually created by a Norwegian journalist. She created it for Norwegian television—they called it “Dining with the Enemy” there. And then Travel Channel bought the format and brought it to the United States, and they hired the two of lucky ducks to go around the world.
Michael Voltaggio: She really just brings me around to cook. I’m really just her personal chef, she brings me all over the world now. Every journalist has a private chef now.
FoxNews.com: When you traveled to these different locations, was there one thing that took you by surprise?
Mariana van Zeller: I think every single one of them.
Michael Voltaggio: We were surprised any time we arrived somewhere new. I mean, that’s the power of travel is that you’re going to go and see and experience something new everywhere you go.
Mariana van Zeller: I think what’s surprising is that the challenges are very high for this show. Our goal is basically to put together people at the dinner table who don’t really like each other, have completely different view points—essentially try to kill each other’s side. That happened in Northern Ireland.
So a lot of people don’t like each other, there is enormous tension. But one thing that surprises us at each of these meals—partly because of Michael’s amazing cuisine—but also the power of amazing conversation--that something always happens. That as heated as the debate can get towards the end of every meal, people can find some common ground. The power of conversation—it’s really something that happens
FoxNews.com: Cuisine really does bring people together. What’s one commonality with the cuisine that you’ve seen?
Mariana van Zeller: One thing that is amazing…(Michael is cooking) in a country he’s cooked in, using ingredients he’s never cooked with—no help. And he brings out these incredible presentations, outstanding meals that blow our minds every single time. And as soon as the food is on the table and people start trying these dishes, as tense as the atmosphere is, that’s all they need for them to sort of understand that they have something they can share in common and it just makes the conversation so much easier.
Michael Voltaggio: I think the commonality for me as we go through this journey is I try and put myself into these cultures, these environments, these places that we go to. And I try to learn the local cuisine as much as I can. So in each episode, I don’t show up and cook Michael Voltaggio food, I show up and cook the food that I’ve been exposed to. I almost feel like I owe that with them because they are sharing their stories with us.
“Breaking Borders” premiered Sunday March 15 on Travel Channel.