Can breaking bread actually make a difference when it comes to Breaking Borders? In Travel Channel’s new original series, premiering Sunday, March 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT, Peabody Award-winning journalist Mariana van Zeller and acclaimed chef Michael Voltaggio tackle that very question as they travel to conflict zones around the globe. Together, they have a unique and challenging goal: gather people from all sides of the conflict to a delicious meal and talk about the issues that divide them. A thoughtful and informative hour, Breaking Borders is a unique opportunity for those living in the region to share their challenges, concerns and possibilities of a future – through the eyes of the community members whose daily experiences continue to drive international headlines. The series is comprised of 13 one-hour episodes.
In each episode, van Zeller and Voltaggio take viewers on a journey to meet residents affected by the unrest. They go into their homes and businesses, uncover their culinary cultures, likes and dislikes and learn how each respective cuisine helps define who they are. As van Zeller digs deeper into the issues, Voltaggio goes on a culinary adventure, collecting ideas and ingredients to create an unbelievable meal inspired by the people he has encountered along the way.
“It’s amazing how people talk more freely around a dinner table. Food always unites, even where war divides,” says van Zeller. “What we found at the center of each of these conflicts are people with their own truths to tell. The series is a wild ride – rich with stories of war, food, tears, laughter, fear, bravery and survival.”
“For each location, I arrived with just my bag of knives and a vague idea of some of the most traditional foods from the region,” says Voltaggio. “I started from scratch buying every ingredient on the ground and constructing my interpretation of the local cuisine. I put 100% of myself into cooking every meal. It was an honor to sit at the table and hear the stories.”
In the premiere episode, van Zeller and Voltaggio travel to Israel and Palestine to take a closer look at the mother of all conflicts and learn how it has shaped these nations. They meet people affected by the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and explore some of the holiest sites on Earth. Immersing themselves in the culture, they experience Jerusalem and the West Bank in a way that goes beyond the conflict, showcasing what makes this biblical region a truly unique place to visit.
They prepare for their big event – the dinner – with excitement and definite trepidation. Van Zeller introduces the dinner guests representing the opposing sides of the conflict: Yaakov and Naama Berg, Jewish settlers; Yoram Cohen and his family, Jewish settlers; Munther Fhami, a Palestinian book store owner; Sameer, their Palestinian “fixer/guide;” and Israeli Yariv Oppenheimer, General Director of “Peace Now,” a pro two-state solution organization. With the group seated around the table, Voltaggio presents the first kosher dinner he has ever prepared which combines the local spices, flavors and traditions of the region. As they enjoy the meal, the guests discuss their personal views, hopes and fears. Though there is some tension, all participants are open to hearing each other’s viewpoints, bringing insight and a greater understanding to the ongoing conversation. In the end, Voltaggio and van Zeller orchestrate a successful meal, with Israeli settlers and Palestinians coming together to candidly talk about the age-old problems and controversies that still surround them today.
Van Zeller and Voltaggio continue their travels into various conflict zones throughout the season to reveal the personal stories behind the story: they head to Belfast to understand what happened during the 30-year war in Northern Ireland between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Nationalists; travel to Cairo to explore the chaotic reality of the country post-Arab Spring; investigate the island and capital city of Cyprus divided by age-old enemies; crisscross Beirut and Tripoli to explore a country in paradox; and journey to Sarajevo to grasp how three distinct ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks – co-exist in one city after civil war and ethnic cleansing. Additional locations featured in the series include Arizona/Mexico, Cambodia, Cuba, Kashmir, Myanmar/Burma, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.