WHATS COOKING? Chef Michael Broughton sheds light on National Geographic Channels documentary series Seasons at Terroir, which takes a look behind the scenes at his restaurant.

CELEBRITY chef Gordon Ramsay has done a commendable job of taking viewers into the kitchens of restaurants with Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen. And he spices it up with high-strung drama.

Now home-grown chef Michael Broughton tells a similar tale with Seasons at Terroir on National Geographic Channel. But he keeps it clean (profanity wise) while staying true to the dramatic, pressure-cooker environment of a high-powered restaurant kitchen.

Viewers are probably perplexed about the platform on which the show is airing. After all, National Geographic Channel’s mainstay is rooted in wildlife content.

Broughton explains, “We (Justin Bonello) did a shoot together about a year ago. It was for Cooked: Out of the Frying Pan… We hit it off shooting this one episode. I always wanted to do an instructive programme on cooking and restaurants, to give people an inside look at what goes on in a restaurant.

“While shooting, I chatted about this instructive DVD I was thinking about. He said: ‘Let’s think about it!’ A month later, we were having a beer and he said: ‘Why don’t you host it (the show) and I’ll produce it?’

“We also wanted to give people a look at the Kleine Zalze farm and the Stellenbosch wine estate. It wrapped up nicely like an enchilada, so to speak.”

That done, the next step was finding a platform.

“When I discussed this with Justin’s (business) partner, he said Nat Geo was interested. He gave me a rundown of what they are trying to do with the programming. They want to bring in more of a social and informative side.

“They thought this show was a good way to do that. We met the head of acquisition from London and she said we’d be hearing from her. That was a big plus for us.”

Seasons at Terroir marks National Geographic Channel’s second departure from wildlife content. Taboo Africa: Born Identity? set the trend last year.

How did Broughton find the shoot – after all, the high-pressure cooker environment in Terroir’s kitchen isn’t exactly conducive to a camera crew sharing the same space? He acknowledges, “In the beginning, it was a bit rough. There is not much space around for anyone standing let alone for a camera crew. But after the first three hours, it became easier. The only issue was spacing.”

Chatting about the feel of the reality-meets-documentary series, Broughton confirms, “There was no acting, no script and no make-up. One of the conditions was that I had to be kept in the kitchen. I wanted to be a fish in water, not out of water.”

The chef says viewers will get a bird’s-eye view of the chef, how hands-on he is and how the restaurant functions during service. “Episode one was more of an introduction into the space we work in and the immediate area surrounding us, including the wine tasting area.

“In episode two, you see more of the farm and another surprise – a food media lunch. Justin threw me a bone and I couldn’t resist. He said: ‘Why don’t you invite 10 food journos and cook completely off the menu. This was a week before. It was quite pressurised because we still had a full service to do as well.”

On the drama and tempers that flare, he laughs, “We’re a quiet kitchen. We’re not about high drama. We can do 70 covers, be absolutely stretched and there won’t be a sound in the kitchen, except for one voice (calling out the orders). And if they swear, they get a hard look from me. I don’t like shouting.”

Without giving too much away, Broughton is also challenged by a wine-making heavyweight.

Let’s just say, he’s thrown a leg of freshly-hunted venison, which he has to prepare for about 18 people, who are as much of a connoisseur of food as they are of wine.

He adds, “Viewers will get to see how we do things in the kitchen, how I mentor the team, especially with people coming in as trainees to learn. And how we deal with problems. There is order and hierarchy, a kitchen can’t function without.”

• Seasons at Terroir airs on National Geographic Channel (DStv Channel 181) on Tuesdays at 6.15pm.