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An Interview with Robin Leach
by Phillip Silverstone

Silverstone & Leach We all know Robin Leach....come on now...fess up, don't try to convince me you haven't at least once sneaked a peak at Leach's Lifestyles of the 'orribly decadent. You may have even read my first interview with my fellow ex-Londoner in this very column a while ago. Anyway, we recently popped a bottle of Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut fizz in a suitably decadent room in the Omni Hotel and had a chance to catch-up.

PS: When we last met, you were hosting a nightly chat-slurp-nibble show on the Food Network, and currently we see you once again, jetting around the world on that very Network. Did you enjoy staying put for a while or were you getting restless for far away places?

RL: It's wonderful to stay put ...I'm not fond of being a gypsy, which is how I live my life. But talking about food served a purpose, which was to launch the Food Network with a nightly show. And one of the things that we wanted to do was get out from behind the studio where it is cheaper to make television programs and go out on the road where it's more expensive to make television programs. But once again, that meant that I was on the road and in fact, you have me on the first day of what will currently be a 26-day, on-the-road trip for me winding up in Zurich, the south of France, Paris and London. After I leave you here, I go on to Dallas to do some domestic promotion. And I just came in from shooting the first of the new season of "Gourmet Getaways" in Ireland, and I was also up in Anchorage, Alaska. Believe it or not, there's a growing gourmet food society in Anchorage.

PS: Are you still sticking to your regimen of three, three-week holidays each year to recharge your batteries?

RL: No that's also changed. You know that I live in Antigua, in the Caribbean, so I try to get 10 days a month there for eight months of the year so I can work from home and recharge my batteries. We try to keep 10 days of the month for all of the months of the year, working from the East Coast. And the other 10 days of the month now, are on the road, shooting shows. So it's an extraordinary travel schedule.

PS: Of all the places you've visited, is there one that really moved you in a way you hadn't expected?

RL: I think I feel that way every time I go to Thailand. And I guess I'm moved because I feel that the Thai are such gentle people, and very polite and obviously quite spiritually-grounded and very, very close-knit as family. And they have a structure to their lives that we don't have in our part of the world, and I would think that that would be the definition of being moved. The other country I love is Italy because I just love the fact that they have this zest for life. I mean, anyone who concentrates their life based on great food and great wine can not do wrong and we don't spend enough time in the United States worrying about how good the food is and how great the wines are. In Italy, they add work and life on to food and wine.

PS: With your incredibly high-profile, I would imagine that it's virtually impossible to sit in a restaurant and just order off the menu; Chefs, bless their hearts, want to cook for you, and you must enjoy that privilege from the Maestro in the kitchen.

RL: I get uncomfortable with it, and I try to resist it. I'm not a restaurant critic, and I' m not a food critic so I can't really give value and knowledge back to a chef or to a proprietor of a restaurant from my experience of eating with them. That would be the quid pro quo of a chef going over the top. But, I've taken part in tastings, which are private affairs and have nothing to do with the rest of the regular restaurant customers. It's interesting and enjoyable and gives you an opportunity to talk to the chef during the meal or right after the meal.

PS: You travel a quarter of a million miles each year--

RL: More, at the moment; we are up again. I just got my million-mile card from American Airlines.

PS: Good Lord. Well I find it difficult to pack for a weekend, so do you travel with a hundred suitcases or is there a secret to packing for constant travel?

RL: Lists. For instance, I told you that this is day one of a 26-day road-trip. What I do is I write out all 26 days. Then I cross-file them so that I know which hotel I'm going to be in where I can use laundry service overnight. I try to pack in four-day blocks that can be repeated every four days and I always know that I've got clean clothes. I always know that after four days I better be in a hotel where I can get everything cleaned again. That seems to be the only sensible way to go on a trip like that, otherwise you will be carrying, a hundred suitcases; I only travel with one roll-on, hand-carry suitcase and one very large, very heavy office case that goes over the shoulder. So I'm a great believer in dry cleaning and laundry services and I'm a great believer in that everything must be packed in the plastic right from the cleaners because it prevents wrinkling and creasing. But the prime thing to do is always write the list before you leave.

PS: Do you think we're breeding a new generation of chefs who aspire to TV stardom as opposed to their predecessors who did it for the satisfaction of creating culinary magic for their patrons...

RL: Not yet, but I hope we do. And I don't think that it's a bad thing. Julia Child had the monopoly on TV stardom... for a long, long time. I think it's only the progression of the last five years with the Food Network that we've started to become really observant about the proliferation of television cooking shows. I mean, the problem with television at the moment is that all cooking shows are basically the same, which is what we're changing at the Food Network. But the young kids, going to the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales, are still focused on producing great food in the restaurants, and any thought of TV stardom comes afterwards. The chicken and the egg of that will change because the TV stardom will eventually make them more successful chefs.

PS: I must ask you this question as a fellow expatriate...London is a very hot and happening place again with extraordinary restaurants like Terence Conran's Oxo Tower, and the amazingly successful chef Marco Pierre White. Have you been back recently and sampled some of this?

RL: That's where I'll end up at the end of this current 26-day road trip, and we are interviewing Terence Conran, Marco Pierre White, and a lot of other chefs. It's really been interesting to see the transformation of the British food scene. Whoever would have guessed that in the land of cheap sausages and mashed potatoes there could be such a change which would actually bring the French from Paris every weekend to invade Britain en masse to eat great food and drink great wine. Who would have ever have thought it? Never...Neverů

And as always Phillip, champagne wishes and caviar dreams!


Phillip Silverstone Phillip Silverstone writes and hosts syndicated radio and TV wine features. His book, "Cheers! The World of a Wine-osaur" (Camino Books, $12) is available in bookstores everywhere. Phillip can be reached via e-mail at: winechap@pond.com.




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