Somebody shouts “GUN!” and the next thing I know Parts Unknown director Mo Fallon drops his camera, drags me to the floor of a crowded restaurant, and covers me with his body. A split second later, assistant cameraman Josh Flannigan piles on. Mo has his back to the potential shooter, shielding me. The danger passed quickly. Two car thieves, struggling with the ignition, had allowed their stolen vehicle to drift into the curb in front of the cafe where we were shooting a scene. Witnesses tried to drag them out of the car — at which point one of the thieves produced a weapon. After a tense moment the two were (wisely) allowed to flee the scene unmolested.
As I got up from the ground, I think my first words to Mo were, “If your wife finds out about this, she is going to kill you.” My crew is not the Secret Service. And I sure as shit ain’t the president. This kind of behavior, while flattering — and, well, frankly, heroic — is above and beyond the call of duty. I can —let’s face it — be replaced. I returned to the table to continue talking about the cuisine of Minas Gerais . But in light of what had just transpired, I was thinking, Damn! Now I’ve gotta be nice to them. What does one do for people who risk their life for you? A fruit basket isn’t enough.
I don’t want you to think Minas Gerais, a beautiful and mountainous agricultural area of Brazil, is a dangerous place. Brazil can be dangerous, for sure. It’s a country where the divide between rich and poor is striking and severe. But shit happens. It could have happened in New York or Dubuque. That it happened with us right there, cameras rolling, was one of the many flukes of the road. Travel long enough and you see stuff like that. A rule of the road, learned long ago, is that everything is fine. Until it isn’t.
Do NOT let this brief moment discourage you from visiting Minas Gerais. It is beautiful. It is soulful, with a cuisine and a style all its own. It is unlike Rio or São Paulo or Salvador or Belém or anywhere else we’ve been in Brazil. It’s where so many of the cooks from the best restaurants in Brazil come from — and when you spend time there, you discover exactly why the best chefs in São Paulo brag that their cooks “come from Minas.” It is truly a “part unknown,” in that it is relatively undiscovered by tourists. And the batshit-crazy amazing art gallery, Inhotim—it’s spread throughout acres of jungle — is reason alone to visit.
The food is hearty and comforting and delicious, reflecting the demanding appetites of hard-working farming communities. The people are lovely. And the mix of blood and culture is inspiring. Go there.