“I’m on a boat!” I kept singing to myself. “Everybody look at me because I’m sailing on a boat.” I was referencing the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Andy Samberg and T-Pain sail the seas making this one simple proclamation. But this was no ordinary sea and I was on no ordinary boat.
I was on a yacht owned by the Missoni family sailing around the Venice lagoon. I wasn’t, though, sipping champagne flutes with a bunch of well-fed, blue blazer and gold button-clad Italian gazillionaires. I was on the judges’ boat at the San Pellegrino Cooking Cup. I won’t go into all the details except to say it’s perhaps one of the most bizarre cooking competitions, ever. Mostly because it takes place on a boat while that boat is racing. I wasn’t sure what food-loving billionaire was smoking when he concocted this idea but I liked it.
One benefit in covering the Cup – besides eating well, of course – was that it allowed me to see parts of Venice I might not normally have seen.For example, I stayed in Giudecca, a neighborhood away from the main arteries of the city and a refuge from the perpetual tourist crush. There were so few tourists there (except for at my hotel, of course) that, at times, the area felt almost desolate. The only problem was that staying there, one is dependent on water taxis and the vaporetti. On the morning of the cooking competition, I accompanied the chef contestants to the Rialto marketplace, a wonderful outdoor market where fishmongers and farmers called out their goods in their very distinctive Venetian accents. There were huge live crabs (threatening to crawl away), squid big enough to feed a palazzo, plus-sized creatures from the sea, cheese, meat and, of course, plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. I’d been to Venice a small handful of times in the past but I never encountered this market, which is smack in the center of this city. For a town that’s increasingly losing its “real” life, the Rialto market is about the liveliest of live places in Venice. And these people, these real Venetians, and I were standing in the space and doing business where their ancestors have bought and sold things since the 11th century.
I also got to spend time in the 10th-century monastery of San Giorgio on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, near Giudecca. It was here where the closing ceremonies took place. I strolled around the arcaded walkways, this time a champagne flute in my hand.
And while I did all this, I had a video camera with me (okay, it was my iPod) and when I encountered the chefs in the competition or the judges (who are some of the most renowned chefs in the world, by the way), I asked them all one question:
What would you cook if you were looking to score?
As you’ll see I had to re-phrase the question slightly differently to account for language proficiency and so on. But the answers were varied and intriguing. And, if anything, hunger inducing.