Bob Blumer's idea for a wacky cookbook in 1992 has led to an offbeat celebrity status
By Mia Stainsby:
The Vancouver Sun
November 10, 2004
He looks a little bit Lyle Lovett and a little bit Kramer, thanks to his frazzled, gravity-defying, skyscraper hair.
His kitchen is a state-of-the-art Toastermobile, a silver Airstream trailer with two slices of "toast" popped up on the top. He's a character waiting for a cartoonist.
For Bob Blumer, aka The Surreal Gourmet, life turned surreal in 1992 after he "had this wacky idea to write a cookbook." It was called the The Surreal Gourmet: Real Food for Pretend People. His life took a hairpin turn from managing singers (notably Jane Siberry) and morphed into all things food and wine.
Over coffee at Caffe Artigiano recently, Blumer talked about his newest cookbook Surreal Gourmet Bites: Showstoppers and Conversation Starters, about his Food Network show, The Surreal Gourmet, which airs in 20 countries.
To demonstrate how simple, yet flavourful, his party nibbles are, he gives me some bee stings. Let me back up. He whips out some chopped Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from a bag, tumbles them on to a plate and drizzles it with truffle oil honey which he's pre-made. Get it? Honey? Bees? Bee stings? And that's what he called this simple recipe. "What I love about it is that it's so fast. If I made it from scratch, it would have taken just 15 seconds more."
His surreal foods are conceptual conceits. Lovin' Spoonfuls are heart-shaped polenta bites in bell pepper sauce, served in a soup spoon are called Lovin' Spoonfuls. Caramelized cauliflower heads, served in popcorn bags are Cauliflower Popcorn. ("Your basic off-the-rack cauliflower is miraculously transformed into sweet, lip-smackin' candy bombs your guests won't be able to get enough of," he says.)
Cookies and dog bones take Dali-esque twists: Cowboy Cookies are beef tenderloin slices, sandwiched between caramelized yam slices with barbecue sauce and chipotle aioli. And Dog Bones are gingerbread cookies in the shape of dog bones.
If you think his food has more kookiness than flavour, he's ready with a rebuttal: "In this book, more than any, I'm dead serious about flavours first and then I work on presentation. They have to pass the flavour test. They have to be bold and addictive.
"I'm a fairly accomplished chef. I've cooked for some hoity-toity chefs. I have a passion for food," he says.
The Toastermobile kitchen was his idea to market the last cookbook, Off The Eaten Path. "I decided to try and tour and raised a quarter of a million dollars from sponsors," he says, looking a little bushed after day-long media interviews. "I did a three-month, 15,000-miled, 30-city, rock'n'roll tour with the book. It was insane, the most brutal three months I've spent in my entire life. It was low-budget touring, so it was rock'n'roll and we drank like fish the whole time. The people on the road with me were friends."
His show still aims for a potent mix of food with friends. "My friends are most important. It's my quality time. Back in the early days, my friends were starving artists. They couldn't afford cable but they'd have the best single malts. No one had a nickel to rub together but we'd put on the most amazing dinner parties."