taktil, an online literary journal

Runaway Chef blog excerpt from Joel Coblenz


It’s not a pretty sight to watch me eat. I make food and travel tv shows and I am told I inhale my food like a starving man. I am always feeling rushed and that someone will take my food away or there won’t be seconds. Often it’s just a taste and we’re moving on. I might have some sense about what I missed should I return unhampered. The television army travels on its stomach. At least my camera commandos do. It’s hot or cold, the stuff is heavy. Every 5 or 10 or 15 hours or so we refuel. I’ve been lucky enough to see everyplace twice courtesy of viewers  and I am grateful. All that travel made me very hungry and after the first few decades, somewhat more discriminating.


The best wine I ever imbibed was served in an open unlabeled bottle. It was an ancient boîte up a cobble lane too narrow even for even mini cars. That well worn table was high above Canne in the old city. In hind taste I’m sure the bistro fare was Provençale pearls before swine. The cuisine escapes me but that vin rouge ordinaire was a heady big giant fruit sporting complex tastes of its elements, circumstances and environment. It was effervescent, smoky, mellow, silky with what I now recognize as low tannin. We were shooting the Film Festival, John Sayles was showing “Brother from Another Planet”. I ate spaghetti Bolognese by the pool at the Carlton Hotel and hung out with Mickey Dolenz (hey hey we’re The Monkees). We worked in tuxedos, interviewed Isabelle Hubert and Catherine Deneuve and had some of the best red ever. Thanks for sending us.


Seasons later you sent us to Rome and Florence. My very first bite was porcini mushroom on polenta. My second bite was prosciutto hand sliced ethereally thin. I fell in love with espresso although Italy had me at bite uno. We followed an erstwhile Cardinal getting elevated, profiled designer Laura Biagiotti and futbol star Giorgio Chinaglia. I learned the virtue of the siesta and long meals outdoors way past my bedtime. A pattern of early calls, late wraps, long dinners and less sleep emerges.


OMG; Did I thank you for shipping us back to Provence to go truffle hunting with George Germon and Johanne Killeen then from R.I.’s Alforno where they shaved fresh black truffle in ample chips over fresh fettucine and cheeses the heady earthy gems from the earth perfuming the memory. Bourride is a fish stew, a regular guy bouillabaisse made with the tasty rock fish of the Med and floating croutons with spicy aioli. I learned to make this when I got home cause I wasn’t gonna get it any other way and here the door to flavor opened up a bit more.



In college my friend Diggins introduced me to Thai food. He’d traveled alone there and conjured images of palaces, elephants, vast wet markets and never ending street food that fascinated. Cold beer at a reasonable price. In those early days at “Bangkok” on Mass Ave and “The Thai House” out on Commonwealth I developed a taste for super spicy roast duck curry, kaffir lime and lemongrass soups, country style pad thai, kee mao noodles, charcoal grilled satays , and fiery hot papaya salads.

So just who's on board for this food trip? I’ve decided to give the Runaway crew Thai nicknames. All Thai people go by some short name. Pong, Ao, Lek, Bird, Tom, Tan, Apple etc. I’m doling the monikers out like barbeque names. Alter egos. Dopplegangers. A.K.A.s


Chef Michael Ginor; soldier, wall street player, author, Chef and Foie Gras King gets the name Sen Yai. It means “big noodle”, like “big cheese”…an important person. “Not a subtle guy” he is on a far flung flavor quest. We will follow him with lenses and microphones only to where “real people eat”. It’s a rule. Really.

Begin forwarded message from the Runaway Chef: Will anyone believe a Jewish guy called big noodle?

JC.com: I thought we were known for being pretty smart.


Johnny O on audio and music. Johnny is Khun ” Waan Yen”. It means “sweet cool” (a type of Thai dessert), an easy going person. He’s packing all the sound gear and a guitar.

Begin forwarded message from Johnny O:

That sounds great Joel, just assure me “Waan Yen” does’nt mean “Lilly white fragile flower” or  ”rotting durian stench”. Other than that its fine. Otherwise I’d prefer my porn name, Fuzzy Hayes.


Nikki on second camera gets Pak Boong. The much loved pak boong, water convolvulus or water spinach (yummy deep fried) is known as “morning glory” in English. She is bright and cheery and our youngest Runaway with a great eye.

Begin forwarded message from Nikki:

I know curiosity killed the cat, but google translator isn’t so great at translating from Thai. Please tell me that, “Khun Boong” doesn’t mean, “cow booger?” 


Diggins. Really can’t improve on that. He’s Khun Diggins/Mr. Diggins. Diggins and I went to college together and long ago he came to Thailand and got me interested in the culture that I find magnetic.


Khun “Apple” from the Tourism Authority has it all under control. “Big Apple” weighs about 87lbs., originally from Chiang Mai now of Nutley, New Jersey.


Khun “Tom” our erstwhile monk phenomenal fixer from last year in Bangkok and Khun Tan our hip hop driver make it all work.


I am the Director, Producer, bottle washer and whipping boy. They call me Khun Jo. Be careful what you wish, sometimes the glamour is masking long days, frayed nerves, a whole lot of dirt, rain and serendipitous delight.


Joel Coblenz is a multi-Emmy winner director of photography, and video producer and editor for ABC Network, and many food and travel shows, including The Food Network, Baking in Julia Child's Kitchen, Runaway Chef, and the production of his own show, Food Trip, now in its second season on PBS, with Todd English. Halfway through his 6th passport, he's been told he "inhales food like a starving man" and says that the best bottle of wine he ever imbibed was from an unmarked, open bottle, proving bare can indeed sometimes be better.