In the first season of David’s Moscow’s show From Scratch, the host took on the monumental task of fishing, forging, hunting, and more to figure out how to make a splurge-worthy meal from the ground up.
For his upcoming season of the same show, Moscow decided to up the ante by filming during a pandemic (though that wasn’t really his choice).
Fine Dining Lovers spoke to Moscow about his incredible show, what’s in store for season two, and how he managed everything he did during the worst crisis of our lifetime.
For people who aren’t familiar with the show, can you give us a refresher?
Basically, I go meet with a chef who makes me a meal. And then I harvest, hunt, gather, and fish every ingredient and then try and reproduce that meal, and I have like a week to do it.
How did you land on doing it all in one week?
We want to show the amount of effort and hard work that it takes to do this. And the longer we have, the less interesting it is in a way. For example, in New York last year, we were going to make duck à l'orange, but it wasn't duck season. So, we do fail. But we're trying to make a truthful examination of food cultures and food production around the world.
Let’s dig into the show. How did you get started with a looming pandemic?
I'll just walk back, because I think this is fun. I’m in Sundance and there’s a thing called ChefDance there, which is like a dinner program that follows Sundance, and I meet Martha Stewart. We start talking about a spinoff show I want to do called From Scratch Home. The concept being ‘how do you build a home from scratch?’ And I think Martha would be a really cool fixer where I run into trouble in every episode and I go to Martha and she tells me everything I’m doing wrong and then I go fix it. So, she loves it, but says I have to fly to New York to meet with her because she doesn’t do these things over email or the phone. Meanwhile, Covid is bubbling up, it’s like March 6th, and I'm thinking I'm gonna get on a plane, get Covid and kill Martha Stewart. But I go, and I get on a plane wearing a gas mask. I land in New York, I meet her in her office, and there’s nobody there. But we agree on a deal, we shake hands and now I’m in New York about to fly the next day. I call my buddy to have dinner and when I go to use the restroom, I look at my phone and Tom Hanks has Covid, and the NBA shuts down.
Now, our first episode was going to be in Peru at Central, which is the sixth best restaurant in the world. Peru's international airport shuts on 15 April, and no one can go. Now I’m thinking what are we going to do? Is this season just not going to happen? But I started looking more closely at the science and the protocols that companies like NBC and Disney were putting in place, and just said, let’s do it. It’ll be a small crew, everyone is going to be masked, it’s not going to be as fun as the first season, and we’re going to take tests every week.
So, with Peru off the table, where did you go first?
We figured we'll start with the US, because I wanted my wife and son to come with me, at least for a chunk. We do three states – Utah, Wyoming, Washington. And then we jump on a plane and go to Croatia, which was sort of like the one entry point in Europe that you can go to at the time. And we do two episodes in Croatia, one coastal and one in Zagreb.
What kind of obstacles did you run into along the way?
We landed in Wyoming and the restaurant that we were going to the next day called and said our whole kitchen is down with Covid. So, we had to very quickly pivot to one of the top food trucks in America, run by a Native American woman. And she rocked it. It's a great episode. We also had a visa issue with Portugal, so we couldn’t go there, so we ended up going to Malta.
And what was Malta like?
Malta is this desert island, south of Sicily, north of Tunis, and the world's food has been unloaded in their harbour for the last 500 years. Malta is where the Knights of Hospitaller, these lunatic religious fanatic Crusaders would launch against the Ottomans. And what's neat is that there are also pirates who were backed by the Spanish King and whatever pirating they did, they had to give 10% to the government. So, they kept meticulous records. We ended up diving into these 500-year-old court documents about some butcher suing a pirate, because he never got paid for the sausages he made. And his recipe for the sausages is in there.
The other thing is that three times in history, the people in Malta disappeared. It's not a place that people survive. The oldest standing structure in the world, they believe, is in Malta that predates the pyramids and the people who built that disappeared. And then another group arrived, and they lasted for a couple thousand years, and then they disappear. Then the Knights came, and they were there for a while. And now Malta is at this really weird crux, where they have one of the fastest growing economies, fastest growing population on the planet on a desert island where there's no water, and barely any food. So, we tried to make a dish local to Malta asking the questions, ‘what can you do on this desert island? And how do you make water? How do you get water?’ So, that was a really cool episode.
Where did you go after Malta?
From Malta we jumped to Kenya. There's a restaurant there, called Cultiva where the chef started off as the chef of the Royal African Safari, like this legendary Kenyan safari. So, they’re running safaris and we kind of piggybacked them where I have my own little tent. But I was harvesting along the journey of the safari, and we went up across the Masai Mara, and I had a shaman guide who took me up into the sacred forest to get these roots and herbs for a dessert that the chef was making. It was a life-changing experience and one of the most dynamic two weeks of my life.
What made it so moving for you?
Well, you're in the birthplace of humanity, and you're with a nomadic pastoral community. The Masai live with cows and sheep, and they drink blood, and they drink milk, and the blood they drink because there's no plants with vitamin C in the area. And so, they sort of live this almost parasitical relationship with the cows, which the cows I imagine would like much better than our relationship with cows, which is we kill them. They make a nick in the cow's neck, they put blood in a gourd, and they put some mud and cow shit on the neck and the cow gets up and walks off and lives another day. And the way that the Masai villages are, they build fencing around their villages with big thorny acacia trees. And then right inside that fencing are the huts. And then there's another fence, and inside that little circular fence is where they keep the cows and the goats. So, they are actually putting themselves in between lions and the herding animals because the herding animals are the most important thing. It's their food. It's their money. It's their power. It's everything.
Then I end up talking with Richard Leakey, this famous anthropologist, and we were discussing the original food cultures – hunter gatherer, fisher gatherer, nomadic, and agrarian. We were looking at the Masai and how this way of life is ending as Kenya is going through massive changes. Basically, a few things happened – they got motorbikes and cell phones with a banking app on them way before PayPal. So, all these people out in rural areas suddenly had bank accounts and satellite TV, and that meant they entered the 21st century in like four to five years. Now, people want to send their kids to school, they don't want to be nomadic anymore. They want to have fencing up around farms, and they want to own land. So, there's a lot of stuff going on.
What an experience. Were you ever able to make it back to Peru?
From Kenya, we went to Costa Rica. And then we made it back to Peru. Finally, nine months later, we ended up doing Central. The chef at Central [Virgilio Martínez] does his menu based on altitudes for every 1,000 feet. It’s a 17-course tasting menu, where you start at the Pacific, and you go up to the top of the Andes, then back down the other side into the Amazon, and makes a dish from each place. So, we did three dishes – we did coastal, we did the top of the Andes, and we did the Amazon. That was super fun. I mean, the Andes, the Quechua people are wonderful. We went harvesting quinoa up in the mountains packing up with llamas. And every place you go, the traditional celebratory dish is guinea pig, known as cuy. And every time you go meet people, they love having you there, and they serve you lunch, and every time it’s cuy. And all I can think is, ‘please don't kill your guinea pigs for me. Please don't. I can't eat another guinea pig.’ For the other dish, we did one from a more traditional restaurant where I killed and cooked the guinea pig. So, I am a guinea pig killer.
In the last season of the show, you had some near-death experiences, you had to kill an animal for the first time, and other uncomfortable moments. How has your perspective changed from season one to season two? Are you more adventurous, less adventurous, more careful, less careful - what surprised you?
This is a great question. It's such an overwhelming experience that to parse it out in these ways, like, comparatively, I haven't done. I think that each moment is unique. You know, I did things on this season that I’ve never done before. Last season, I almost died harvesting octopus and sea anemones in Sardinia. And I had to go out for octopus again spear fishing in Malta. And that was scary. My body has PTSD. My mind has PTSD. Malta is one of the driest places on the planet, it’s sunny 340 days a year or something crazy. And the day I go, there's a huge storm, and I’m like - what the hell?
But we’re always doing stuff like that. We’re in the Amazon and I’m fishing for piranha, and the guy I’m with jumps in the water and wants me to come in with him. I'm like, this is where the piranha are and not where we’re supposed to be going. But there's always that element of excitement and danger and fun, you know, and thankfully, nothing really bad happened to me.
With all that you've done, have you learned anything about yourself that maybe surprised you?
I think there's a level of enjoyment that I didn't know. I cook now at home using a lot of the tricks that I learned on the way and I'm using ingredients that I never cooked with before. I'm the family cook now, where it wasn't that way prior to this. So, I’ve been enjoying the process, I've taken that, and it's now part of me. We have some land here where my in-laws are, and we've planted olive trees, we planted agave, and we have a garden. In Utah, I helped forage for this ancient potato called the Four Corner Potato, and it was a Native American food source that is likely the oldest domesticated potato in the world, and it might be the oldest domesticated plant in North America. And when these tribes were forcibly removed from their land, the potato basically got lost, and stopped being a part of their diet as the US government forced them to eat all this other shit to try and break them. And it is now back, literally, a year and a half ago, there was a discovery of wild patches of it in Utah and now the Navajos are producing it for restaurants. I think the first restaurant cooked with it just before the pandemic started. So, I've ordered some of those and we are now growing them in the backyard.
Ultimately, this is what I set out to do, which was to get in touch with this part of me that had gone since my childhood. But also, whatever you think about me, you can't not fall in love with the people that I'm working with. You just can't not marvel at humanity. I can't not marvel at humanity.