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Eric Greenspan tries to break down stereotypes with meat

Eric Greenspan tries to break down stereotypes with meat
Eric Greenspan with goats in Moreauville, Louisiana. (Photo by National Geographic Channel)

Eric Greenspan is Hungry offers a quintessentially American story: two super-successful, Jewish, Berkeley-educated, city boys traipse around the backwoods of the Bible Belt, learning from the locals how to shoot, fish, and sometimes shoot fish, all in a quest for great meat.

In the process, we all learn a lot about how exotic protein—hog, wild turkey, alligator gar, crawfish, buffalo, and goat—gets from the field to the table. Their series premieres tonight on National Geographic Channel at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Friends on a quest for meat

L.A. celebrity chef Eric Greenspan and New York City screenwriter Captain Mauzner (a.k.a. Josh Klausner) have been best friends since they met in college. Both guys were raised in New Jersey and L.A., both wound up on the same freshman hall at U.C. Berkeley, and both recently found themselves with wives pregnant for the first time within a few months of each other.  What did the old pals do? Road trip!

Escaping the golden handcuffs of domesticity, if only for a few weeks, the men went off to explore their hunter-gatherer selves.

Greenspan looks nothing like a hunter, nor does Mauzner, and neither had hunted or fished before they shot Eric Greenspan is Hungry.

“I’ve been a city guy my whole life between New York and L.A.,” Mauzner told reporters, “never hunted, always had the stereotype of what a hunter was, what hunting is. And it’s really just an excuse to hang out with your buddies. The experience of hunting was nothing like I imagined.  It was really, really cool.”

The bromance adventure was halted, though, two weeks into filming. While the guys were hunting goat in Louisiana, Greenspan’s wife’s water broke. He rushed back to L.A., “suffered” through 32 hours of her labor, and saw the birth of his first child, Max. “I wanted a tough, Jewie name,” Eric explained over drinks. “Where I had to put an occupation on my son’s birth certificate, I put Hunter.”

Then he opened up his fourth restaurant, Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, and was back in the woods three weeks after he left to finish filming the show. Mauzner’s wife gave birth to his son Bruno a few months later.

But Eric Greenspan is Hungry is not a show about hunting.  Well, there is hunting, fishing, and the like, but Greenspan explained to reporters, and he’s right, “At the end of the day, the show’s really about the people, and it’s about breaking down stereotypes and barriers: our stereotypes of them, and their stereotypes of us.

“Every single time we met up with these new people, it started off super awkward, and every time it was done, we were trading Facebook addresses.”

Eric and Mauzner are both wicked smart and hilarious, but they move around the Southern backwoods with boyish curiosity and openness, without a trace of L.A./N.Y.C condescension. As viewers, we laugh at the big-city boys and we laugh at the Southerners, but when we see what they eat, we respect them all and wish we were in camp, noshing on the scraps.

Learning from differences

The truth is, the contrasts between Eric and Mauzner and the folks they meet up with for adventures are so distinct and so much fun that you could enjoy just listening to the show as a podcast, or you could watch it on your TV with the sound off and still be charmed.

Take the exchange in the opening episode between Eric and Higgy, the Dutch Oven chef, in Warren, Arkansas. Higgy sports suspenders; Eric wears a gray cardigan. Higgy’s got a thick Southern dialect, although not quite thick enough to warrant the subtitles that some of the Southerners merit on the show. Eric’s voice still has the telltale signs of an early childhood in New Jersey.

Higgy: “We’re gonna have some hog tenderloin.  I got some marinatin’ right here.  I’m gonna serve it with a cherry sauce.”

Eric: “Basically you’re going to make it—we call that a gastrique or a sweet and sour sauce.”

Higgy: “That what you call it up there?”

Eric: “That’s what we call it.”

Higgy: “We call it stuff you cover up pork or hog with.”

Eric, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and apprenticed for Chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Spain, dissected the exchange for reporters after a screening of the episode: Higgy “takes pride that he doesn’t know what a gastrique is. I take pride that I do know what a gastrique is. One way or another, it’s fucking vinegar and sugar and cherries. It’s delicious and it goes great with pig.”

Later in the same episode, while sitting around the coals, waiting for the Dutch oven to cook up the hog tenderloin, Eric says, “I gotta be honest with you, Higgs. This is probably the first time I have sat down to cook in 15 years.”

“Well, you must be doin’ something wrong,” says Higgy.

“I’m starting to get that feeling” Eric says.

We get the feeling that something profound has passed between the men—although it’s hard to imagine Eric sitting down to cook again in the next 15 years, unless it’s for another Eric Greenspan is Hungry episode. And maybe that’s part of the beauty of the show: Eric and Mauzner, two Type-A hard-chargers, finally get a chance to kick back and relax after a tough day of hunting up meat. Heck, the Captain even takes up whittling.

Mauzner brings his own brand of goofball to the show. He learns how to shoot a gun while wearing pink sunglasses and matching red tuque and gloves, and he wears “a bush” (a leaf-covered, hooded poncho) while out turkey hunting.

Fun and costumes are de rigueur for Captain Mauzner, though. He got the title “Captain” in his younger days in New York because “I was kind of chief of the boat, the mascot, the kind of wild-and-crazy guy, running around with American-flag diapers and fur coats and a barrel once.”

Eric explained his choice of sidekick to reporters: “My best friend is fun to have around, but Mauzner can talk to anybody and Mauzner will do anything.  The man will try it once. He’ll wear a barrel into a fucking bar just to do that.  He’s fearless and shameless, and those are two perfect qualities for a guy to be hanging out with.

“As a writer, he’s always looking for the angle, looking for, is there a story behind this? And trying to get inside people’s heads.  It’s all research.”

Greenspan himself has a larger-than-life personality, and he lives life large—including overseeing his four restaurants and appearing regularly on reality TV and food competition shows (various Iron Chef incarnations, Fix this Kitchen, The Traveler’s Guild to Life, and Hell’s Kitchen, among many others). Mauzner, whose writing/producing credits include “Wonderland” and “Factory Girl,” is his perfect partner in crime.

The show’s genius rests on the chemistry between these two men and their keen understanding of the absurdities of life, the joy of new experiences, and the pleasures of being a carnivore. The other key to making this cultural exchange work is that the guys converse about food, not politics or religion. Good advice for us all as we head into Thanksgiving week.

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About the author

  • Nancy Barber teaches writing at Stetson University. She worked as a journalist before getting an M.A. in English from Stetson and an MFA in poetry writing from the University of Florida.

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