Chili peppers rule our world. Indian curries, Sichuan hotpot, Hungarian goulash—none would be the same without the beautiful, beguiling heat of the genus Capsicum. But go back 500 years or so, and the cuisines of Asia, Africa, and Europe were anything but spicy, because chilies had not yet left their homeland in the Americas. Thai food didn't burn; Korean kimchi was white. Then, suddenly, chilies hit the road—and quickly conquered the globe.
Hot Pursuit is a documentary series about how all that happened. How exactly did chilies spread around the world? How did they transform cuisines and cultures? Who are the people today pushing the boundaries of chili culture? And what kind of spicy future can we look forward to?
Chilies are the most popular spice in the world—so why has no one ever told the story of how they got that way? It's time to fix that, and Hot Pursuit is going to do it!
So, What's the Plan?
This Kickstarter would fund the production of a 30-minute pilot episode, set to take place in the country we consider the most "chilified" in the world: Thailand. (That is, it has more, and more-spicy, chilies in more of its dishes than anywhere else.) In Bangkok, we'll visit the Portuguese micro-neighborhood where it all started (sort of), and we'll plumb the depths of the city's ultra-spicy drinking-food scene. In the South, we'll encounter the rare varieties of chilies that give the region's curries their signature slow-acting but walloping heat. And in the Northeast, we'll break into sweats over papaya salad—and try to understand how chilies wake us up to other, more complex flavors.
But this isn't just about us burning our faces off. (Okay, it's maybe a little about us burning our faces off.) This is about the Thai people who've created and sustained a unique culinary culture. Along the way, we'll be meeting home cooks and Michelin-starred chefs, farmers and artists, and even some regular folks whose passion for spice makes them stand out, even in a country where it seems everyone is passionate about spice.
This pilot will function as proof of concept—a way to sell a full-on documentary travel series, the kind of show you watch on your favorite cable network or streaming channel. We've got a few seasons mapped out, and we're hoping that the enthusiastic support you're going to show us will help convince executives that there is a broad audience for this. The 20-to-30-minute format might be a sweet spot for some platforms, but others might prefer something longer—or even shorter. (How about a 24-hour Hot Pursuit network, all chilies all the time?) We're looking forward to keeping you posted on how this beast evolves!
Just Who Are You Hotheads, Anyway?
Matt Gross (@worldmatt) is our host, a veteran food and travel writer who's worked for pretty much every publication out there, from the New York Times (where he was the Frugal Traveler) and Bon Appétit to Saveur, Runner's World, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Somehow he's managed to get most of them to run articles about spicy food: He's gone hunting for unlabeled, home-made hot sauce in the Caribbean; he's immersed himself in the hot-pot culture of Sichuan province; and he once entered a Carolina Reaper–eating competition (with unfortunate results). Last summer, he ate his way through Jamaica, Hungary, and Thailand for an Airbnb Mag mega-feature that's basically a test-case for Hot Pursuit. Even when he's not writing about chilies, he's probably making Sichuan chili oil by the gallon or island-hopping around Indonesia to do sambal research.
In short, dude is obsessed, to put it (ahem) mildly.
Dave Katz (@davekatz), the director of photography, is a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn. His primary area of expertise is in food, with clients like New York Times, Food Network, Food52, among others. His curiosity for all things socio-historical and anthropological has led him into the world of documentary. You can find his work at katzcaptures.com. No stranger to the world of spice, he's the one explaining at Thai, Sri Lankan & Mexican restaurants that yes, he does want it that hot.
This piece below, featuring the lively Persian cooking of Soli Zardosht, is a good example of the tone that Hot Pursuit (@_hotpursuit) will set—just use your imagination to add in interviews with restaurateurs, farmers, chefs & others:
This piece Dave shot for Luke's Lobster is a good example of a longer video that tells a longer story about the history, mission and ethos of the company. (Complete with plenty of drone footage!)
What Do You Plan to Do With Our Money?
The bulk of the money will be going toward production and post-production. First, we need to get ourselves to and around Thailand for about a week, likely in late January. Flights to get all of the crew to Bangkok and pay everybody's day rates. Then there's food, lodging, travel within Thailand.
Then, once we return, it's time for editing, graphics, and additional sound recording. We'll have to pay for licensing quite a bit of music as well as all designing all of the graphics and illustrations that'll be sprinkled throughout the final cut.
We want to hire a talented yet nimble crew to make sure this story looks and sounds its best. Fiona Murguia would be directing and producing, Andrew Weller would be shooting alongside Dave, and we'd hire a local interpreter/PA as well as a sound tech in Thailand. As for post, Dave would be doing the editing, then Zachary Korpi would be handling color correction and grading. All along, Say-Kheong Lim, aka @Mister.Kobayashi, is the mastermind behind our quirky graphic designs.
Ooooh! Tell Me About the Rewards!
Honestly, we're almost as psyched about these rewards as we are about the prospect of making a TV show. Whether they're physical products or intangible experiences, they're great representations of what we're trying to accomplish—and you won't be able to get most of them anywhere but here:
[NEW 12/20/2018!] Sichuan Chili Oil
We finally figured out a way to make our Sichuan chili oil available as a reward! This stuff is crimson gold, chock full of high-quality ground dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, and based on a recipe Matt learned in Chengdu, China. It's decently spicy, highly aromatic, and ideal for drizzling over everything from dumplings to fried eggs to spaghetti. Check out the video below to see how we make it.
The Digital Pilot
This is what it's all about—the pilot episode of Hot Pursuit, made possible by your generous support. Download it, watch it, re-watch it, pause it to giggle at Matt's sweaty face, turn the most hilarious moments into GIFs and memes, subtitle it in Finnish or koiné Greek. You'll be among the first to view it, before it goes live anywhere else.
The Digital Cookbook
Over the past 15 years, Matt has spent a lot of time in the spicier parts of the world, and he's returned not just with a scalded tongue but with a cornucopia of recipes. This digital cookbook will show you how to make a thick, red Sriracha-like sauce; a fiery Caribbean-style sauce; a Balinese-style fresh sambal; a Jakarta-style sambal oelek; and a luscious, aromatic Sichuan chili oil.
The Hot Pursuit Handkerchief
Even those of us who love eating chilies all the time know: Sometimes, there's no escaping the sweats. (And sometimes, the sweats are the best part.) Deal with them like a proper adult with this insane handkerchief, designed by @Mister.Kobayashi and featuring the Hot Pursuit Hotheads.
The Smoke-Dried Thai Chilies
Now these are something truly special: Phrik kaleang, the chilies of the Karen hill tribe, are some of the hottest in Thailand. But these aren't just hot, they're smoke-dried, giving them a sweetness and earthy flavor that makes them flat-out addictive. Matt encountered them last summer in Udon Thani, in Thailand's northeast, and fell in love. We bet you will, too.
The Dad Hat
We only recently found out that the basic cotton baseball caps we've been wearing the last couple of years have been nicknamed (or officially named?) "dad hats." Whatever! They're great—they keep the sun out of your eyes, and they look pretty dope. Plus, they've got this cool embroidered Hot Pursuit logo by our pal @Mister.Kobayashi. You can eat them while eating spicy food, or while not eating spicy food—it's totally up to you.
The NYC/Chi Town Hot Sauce Expos
The NYC Hot Sauce Expo and the Chi Town Hot Sauce Expo are flat-out awesome—the best gatherings of spicy-food makers (and lovers) in this country, and possibly the world. The main event, of course, is the dozens of vendors, including stars like Puckerbutt and CaJohn as well as local heroes like Queen Majesty and Soothsayer—all of whom have copious samples for the tasting. But there's also music, cocktail demos, and some insane eating competitions (how many Carolina Reapers can you consume?). VIP tickets gets you access to the open bar, tons of food, and a chance to hang out and chat with the heroes who make the hot sauce scene so vibrant.
The Screaming Mi Mi Awards
A major feature of the NYC Hot Sauce Expo is the Screaming Mi Mi Awards, handed out to the best hot sauces in categories ranging from Caribbean Style and BBQ to Chipotle and (ulp!) XXX. How do the winners get determined? You'll find out as a guest judge. Expect a long, crazy night at Stanton Social, on the Lower East Side, during which you'll try dozens of competitors in a blind tasting, evaluating them based on flavor, texture, and use of heat. And don't worry—there'll be plenty of milk (and beer) to tame the spice, plus snacks aplenty. Matt's done this several times, and says it's one of the absolute best nights of the year.
Loads of people are helping to make Hot Pursuit happen, but we want to give special recognition in the credits to those making an extra contribution.
And for those who go above and beyond, who want to claim a major role in the production of this pilot, we're offering Executive Producer status, to be featured prominently in the credits.
Join Us in Bangkok!
If you want to make the biggest commitment possible (under Kickstarter's rules), we'd love to entertain you during the shoot in Thailand! Swing by a shooting location, meet a chef or two, join us for the wrap party, and spend a day with Matt doing a full-on food tour of Bangkok. Flights and accommodations not included, mostly because we can't imagine anyone really, really wants to spend 22 hours with us on basic economy and sleep in our weird-ass Airbnb.
Risks and challenges
As with all overseas video production, things may go wrong. The airline could lose our gear. The gear could break or get stolen. The people we feature on camera could be busy, sick, or uncooperative. Our jetlagged crew could fall asleep on set. Torrential rains could destroy the chili-pepper crops. Thailand could suffer another coup d'état. Or things could just get delayed and delayed in ways that are unavoidable and deeply frustrating (for you and for us).
But! We're basing most of the filming on Matt's research for his Airbnb feature—he's met the people and spent time on the ground in our locations, so our characters and storyline are solid. Really, we just need to get ourselves there, talk, eat, and shoot, and we'll be okay. After that, it's all in the edit!
Fiona, Andrew and Dave all have plenty of experience filming internationally, so the chances of the production going well are about as high as they can be.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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