Foodie Confidential

Eating bamboo rats and sheep eyes for work

Spunky television host and producer Greta Georges has eaten bizarre food such as bamboo rats, sheep eyes and horse and bulldog genitals in the name of work.

The 34-year-old spent the past five years travelling across China, from Inner Mongolia to Hainan Island, hosting and producing travel shows such as Travelogue for CCTV News and her self-directed series, Cook, Eat, China.

Despite having "seen it all", she says nothing prepared her for the stress and effort behind cooking food for large-scale events, chronicled on her latest show, Big Food.

In the 13-episode series, which airs on Mondays at 9.30pm on Channel 5, she travels to places such as India, Spain and Taiwan to look at how large amounts of food are made for gargantuan events.

These include the world's largest free kitchen at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, northern India, which prepares vegetarian meals for 80,000 people daily. She also visits a hospital kitchen, a Malay wedding and food festivals.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    My 92-year-old Cantonese grandmother's fried Hakka yong tau foo, which has ingredients such as tofu and vegetables filled with her homemade fish paste.

She says: "It is interesting to look at the big puzzle of how people have to work together to cook on a mass-scale. It is cooking down to the wire."

One stressful time was at last year's International Paella Competition in Getxo, northern Spain, which was attended by 30,000 people.

She had followed a Singapore team taking part in the competition and they had difficulty starting the fire from wood logs to cook their paella in front of a crowd, until someone gave them a burning log.

Born to a Singaporean-Chinese property agent mother and Lebanese businessman father, Georges, who is Singaporean, grew up here eating everything from dawood basha (Lebanese meatballs) to Cantonese soups.

After working here as a radio DJ and broadcast journalist, she relocated to China to host a travelogue in 2009.

Georges, who has an elder brother, 36, is married to economist-turned-television host and producer James Cheah, 33. They have no children.

The gungho host likes having spontaneous moments on her show. In Big Food, she stood on a chair to sell a dish in a bustling Ramadan bazaar in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where 15,000 people thronged stalls selling mutton curry and confectionery.

She says: "I love to be shocked. I am prepared to do what it takes to get the right atmosphere and live in the moment."

How did your interest in food start?

It started with a love for eating and I have become an accidental expert by sampling cuisines across China in my work.

Through doing research for my shows, I understood the difference between cuisines from Cantonese to Dongbei and learnt the reason for people in China eating cats is because of food shortages in war time.

What are your favourite Singapore foods and where do you go to eat them?

I love the beef rendang at Makanan stall at Tanglin Halt Food Centre. It is so tender, aromatic and filled with spices and the texture is smooth. I always have it with its fiery red sambal chilli. I love its achar and fried ikan kuning too. I also like the chicken and mutton briyani from Peking Room coffee shop in Tanglin Halt.

What are your favourite Lebanese dishes?

I love the baba ghanoush, an eggplant dip, and I top it with yogurt. I love grilled lamb chops and kebabs seasoned with spices, pine nuts and pistachios. I love going to Urban Bites, a Mediterranean restaurant in Telok Ayer, for these dishes.

For my recent birthday, my husband and I whipped up a Levant spread, which featured a lamb shawarma and roasted legs of lamb with spices including cardamom pods, fenugreek seeds and cinnamon sticks.

Other dishes included chermoula aubergine with bulgur, yogurt and saffron rice.

What is the best thing you've eaten and why was it so good?

It was tender frog legs in a Sichuan mala hotpot from a restaurant in Chengdu.

The chilli is like a drug. The more you have it, the more you feel the pleasure and pain. It was so spicy and intense that I was perspiring, sneezing and crying, but I couldn't stop eating it.

What food products do you always buy during your travels?

I usually buy local spices and ingredients when on location.

In Spain, I went crazy at the meat market and bought bags of chorizo and sausages and almost wanted to buy a whole leg of ham as it cost only €50 (S$78). In Sichuan, I went cuckoo over bags of Sichuan peppercorns and stuffed them in my luggage.

What's the most bizarre thing you've eaten in China?

While filming in China, I tried a dish of bamboo rat (an agricultural pest) cooked with bamboo shoots and served with chilli in Guizhou.

The meat was gamey and it was visually shocking. I also visited a restaurant that served animal genitals in Beijing and ate those of a bulldog, horse and water buffalo.

What is the most memorable meal you have had?

While filming in Mongolia three years ago, I stumbled upon a wedding in a yurt in the remote grassland. I took out my ukulele and sang a Lady Gaga song before digging into a feast of sheep eyes and tongue and meat and drank a lot of vodka.

Do you cook at home? I cook dishes such as roast chicken and potatoes and grilled meats. I picked up baking while living in China and make flourless almond chocolate cake, lemon loaf, key lime pie, stollen and fruit cake.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?

Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as I admire her tenacity in serving her country.

•Big Food airs every Monday at 9.30pm on Channel 5.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Foodie Confidential Eating bamboo rats and sheep eyes for work'. Print Edition | Subscribe