The Perennial Plate's Real Food Road Trip: Q&A with Daniel Klein

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The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. The episodes follow the culinary, agricultural and hunting explorations of chef and activist, Daniel Klein. Season One took place over a calendar year in Minnesota where every Monday for 52 weeks, Daniel and cameragirl Mirra Fine released short films about good food. In Season Two, they will be traveling across America, taking the viewer on a journey to appreciate and understand where good food comes from and how to enjoy it.

Bay Area Bites asked Daniel about Season Two's Real Food Road Trip -- the mission, the project, the plan for the Bay Area and how people can participate.

Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine getting excited about The Real Food Road Trip
Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine jump for joy in front of the vehicle that will take them on the Real Food Road Trip. Photo: Tim Klein

BAB: What is the mission of you trip? How does a road trip around the country fit in with your project? What do you expect to accomplish? Why did you choose the specific destinations you plan to explore?

Daniel: The mission of our trip is to explore and promote what good food is in this country. What “good food” or “real food” means is, of course, up for question. And we don’t pretend to know. This trip is about engaging and learning with the people who are passionate about their food.

The first phase of The Perennial Plate was about Minnesota. It was extremely local and/or regional. There is fantastic stuff happening here, much like the rest of the country. We couldn’t move on and just do a year in Iowa, so we decided to take on the whole country and show glimpses of these places in all their similarities and differences. It also just seemed like the logical next step for the show.

We expect to learn a lot. What I film is generally something I want to learn about, so we just bring the viewers along on that same educational and entertaining journey. Beyond learning, we hope to meet (and entertain) a lot of people, and develop a project that is a real celebration of all that goes into food (animals, the earth, water, money, politics, humans, love).

The destinations on our map are not set in stone. We want this journey to be guided by the people who submit ideas, or have stories to tell. We drew a map of places we wanted to visit, but it will surely change and develop.

The Perennial Plate Real Food Road Trip map
Real Food Road Trip Map. Illustration: Mirra Fine

BAB: After a year documenting local Minnesota food + farming what kinds of local stories will you seek from specific regions? Are you going to try to capture the essence of the local cuisine? Or are you just looking for compelling stories?

Daniel: There are some regions where we really want to focus on the food that makes that place famous, but other places we’ll avoid the obvious choices. The truth of the matter is we don’t know yet. In the first few days of announcing the project, we received hundreds of story ideas, we are still sorting through them.

We are looking for compelling stories most of all. But each episode will vary. One week may just cover “Iowa” and have several short stories about food in that state. Another week could be a more in depth look at just one fisherman in Louisiana. We don’t like to repeat a format each week, and we think that changing things up keeps people coming back. One thing that will stay constant is that each week will keep moving, we’ve only got 6 months to cross the country.

BAB: When do you anticipate being in the Bay Area? What types of stories are you looking for to capture the food culture of the Bay Area? Do you have anything lined up yet? How can people submit their stories?

Daniel: We expect to be in the Bay Area in late June, early July. I am really excited about the Bay Area, but also a little nervous. There are so many stories there, it seems like everyone and there brother is involved with food in some way. So we could do something on just how prevalent and awesome good food is. We have been in touch with a number of folks in the Bay Area, but nothing is confirmed yet. On our website we also got hundreds of stories from across the US, many were from the Bay Area. We are still accepting ideas on our site, please: Tell Us Your Local Food Story.

Mirra Filming with second camera. Photo: Chuck Peterson
Mirra Filming with second camera. Photo: Chuck Peterson


BAB: I am curious about your production process -- how will you produce segments while on the road? What kind of setup do you have?

Daniel: Working from the road is going to be a challenge, however after filming and editing 52 videos, we are relatively proficient in the process. Our setup will include a laptop, many hard drives, 2 cameras (one HD video camera and one DSLR camera that will be used to film occasionally but more often to capture pictures for our blog and the post-trip cookbook).

Our plan is to always be a week ahead of our videos, so its pretty real time. We are leaving on May 9th and we will release our first video on the 16th. We will film an episode every week as well as extra footage that may not make it into the series, but could appear in a film or mini-series version of the project.

BAB: I hear that Mirra, your vegetarian girlfriend and videographer will be blogging to document your journey in addition to shooting the segments. You say she will provide a vegetarian perspective to the experience -- what does that mean? Why do you want to include this POV?

Daniel and Mirra working together. Photo: Stephanie Watts
Daniel and Mirra working together at a Harvest Dinner. Photo: Stephanie Watts

Daniel: Mirra will be blogging. She’s always been a part of the project, though very behind the scenes. But she is a funny writer with a very different POV from my own (when it comes to food). We say she will bring a vegetarian perspective, but really she will just bring her own thoughts to the project, they just happen to be vegetarian. That means when I am excited about some meat, or discussing the morality of killing an animal, she may have something different to say. It won’t all be serious of course, I expect her to make fun of me often.

The show is very much about connecting people to their food and making them think about it. We are learning and don’t know the answers, so by having two very different food perspectives, we are playing to that concept of dialogue and reason. Also, the first episode turned Mirra into a vegetarian -- it may do the same to others -- and that’s ok. The more folks are conscious about what they eat, the better.

Bread pudding with pumpkin soup and harvest dinner menu. Photos by Stephanie Watts
Bread Pudding + Pumpkin Soup and Harvest Dinner Menu. Photos: Stephanie Watts

BAB: You also talk about doing events while on the road that people can get involved in. Can you clarify the details for people that might be interested?

Daniel: There are two types of events: harvest dinner and screening. We are working on a 30 minute version of the Minnesota series that we will be showing across the country (along with a Q&A). These screenings can be in at a restaurant, farm, home, theatre... wherever there is space and the appropriate equipment for screening as well as a reasonable size crowd (20+)

For the dinners, we will be cook (and film) and promote the dinner. The host is expected to organize the location, kitchen, money (for food) as well as bring together the guests. The event can be a fundraiser for an organization, a farm or The Perennial Plate. Events must have at least 20 people.

To host an event, please Submit Your Idea.

BAB: Is the Perennial Plate slated to become a documentary film? A TV series?

Daniel: We plan on turning the 6 months of filming into a documentary film or mini-series. Although we are releasing a video every week, we will be filming other content that will make this next phase possible.

BAB: How have you funded your project for the past year? How do you plan to fund your upcoming Real Food Road Trip?

Daniel: Last year was funded out of pocket as well as through crowd funding and hosting harvest dinners. For Season 2 we are raising $20K on Kickstarter (Please Donate!) and also looking for sponsors. It's a lot cheaper to drive around Minnesota than to drive cross-country. We want the viewership to both guide the trip as well as help pay for it.

BAB: What do you hope people will learn from The Perennial Plate?

Daniel: I hope people are entertained and through that entertainment, become more engaged with what they eat. Even if they go in a different direction than I would, if they are thinking and making a choice about it, that is positive.

BAB: How has your project affected the way you view food? View life?

Daniel: The project has made me more open minded about food. I don’t think there is one answer, and when you meet with people who have different points of view, but a similar passion for making good food available, you realize that this process has many paths.

The project has made me look differently at filmmaking and storytelling. I focus more on the person and less on the project, looking for moments of humanity rather than a clear explanation.

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