Michael Steed, who directed the Newfoundland episode, sits down with producer and director of special operations Helen Cho to talk about cinematic messes, shooting fine dining in the wilderness, and what to order at a diner when cod is the only thing on the menu.
Helen Cho: Why an episode on Newfoundland?
Michael Steed: I think maybe Fred and Dave [Frédéric Morin and David McMillan, the chef-owners of Montreal’s Joe Beef] had mentioned it to Tony before. He picked Newfoundland and wanted them to come along for the trip. Fred and Dave hooked us up with Jeremy Charles [the head chef] of Raymonds restaurant. They had never been to Newfoundland but had worked with Jeremy in Montreal.
Cho: All the food looked insanely good. Did you get to try the mushroom ice cream or caribou heart tartare?
Steed: Yeah, it was outrageous and amazing. One of the most amazing things was this cod sound [bladder] that Jeremy dehydrated and fried like chicharrón, and it was so f***ing good. It should be a thing. They should sell bags of cod sounds like chicharrónes.
Cho: Was that your favorite crew meal?
Steed: That wasn’t a crew meal. I was doing inserts [additional shots], so they were preparing the dishes. The best crew meal was probably the diner we went to, and it was cod. Look at the menu, and you just get cod.
Cho: Did it taste different from cod you’ve had?
Steed: Very different. I don’t know what it is. It could be that I just don’t prepare cod very well. Theirs was more buttery.
Cho: The other meal that looked amazing, aside from the lavish meal outdoors, was the baker’s meal in St. Pierre [a French island territory south of Newfoundland].
Steed: Yeah, that was in France. We had to go through customs for that one scene. That episode was all about long travel to scenes that had to pay off.
Cho: Like that hunt and outdoor meal? How many days did you hunt?
Steed: We hunted for just one day, but we were there for two. It wasn’t happening. It was kind of a rainy, miserable, cinematic mess. And the rain stayed at nose level. The air was dense.
Cho: Tell me how the extravagant outdoor dining setup came about.
Steed: We showed Jeremy the old Canada episode [from season one], and I saw this as part two of the adventure with Dave and Fred. Dave did this [Auguste] Escoffier thing in the fishing shack [for the Quebec episode], and we knew we were going into the wilderness in Newfoundland, so we wanted to continue this idea of extravagance in a place where it shouldn’t be. They went over the top again. Jeremy brought out all his fine china and a bearskin rug and, of course, extremely expensive wine.
Cho: What stylistic references did you look at before shooting this episode?
Steed: No films, really. We were out in the woods, so I wanted longer chances to be alone with Jeremy to get introspective stuff and let the environment speak to it—the big faces of these long cliffs overlooking the sound and dramatic still life or nature details.
Cho: Any funny moments with those guys that didn’t make it?
Steed: Yeah, although it’s more a behind-the-scenes moment. It’s sort of in there but not how extreme it was. We started shooting, and the sun was really bright—like, sunglasses, short sleeves, bright blue sky. Ten minutes in, it’s cloudy and starting to drizzle, a misty drizzle. I’m in video village riding it out, and Fred, Dave, and Tony put on a layer. We had built this frame, and were going to do a whole tent, but just the frame was there. Tony asks if there’s a plan for this rain, because now they’re eating, and it’s starting to rain and get uncomfortable. We had to keep shooting but also get the tarp up as quickly as possible. An army of PAs rush over, and it’s a damn tarp, so it’s blowing around making all sorts of noise. They’re stringing this thing up and tying it down and I’m like, “Let’s just shoot it, and it’ll be a breaking-the-fourth-wall thing.” I keep going and going, and a dish ends and I’m like, “What do I do about this tarp?” I hate it. It looks stupid. It sounds terrible. And we’re chasing light. So I’m like, “OK, let’s take this thing off.” So the tarp comes off with two courses left, two monster courses. Like hunks of moose. Things are going fine, but then I look up. The clouds turn from down the river, and you just see them coming back. And then the third layers go on. It went from Florida-style sunshine to a misty early fall rain to a torrential downpour to break and then to a little warm to supercold. In the show there’s a line about how in Newfoundland you get all four seasons in one day. It’s true.
Cho: How do you pronounce “Newfoundland” correctly?
Steed: You say the rhyme—understand Newfoundland.
Cho: Tell me the story about the sneakers with Tony’s face that we see in the episode.
Steed: It was one of those times as a director when someone tells you they are going to spring something on Tony. It’s Fred and Dave, so I’m already disarmed. I’m like, “OK, let’s see how ridiculous it is.” Fred told me beforehand, “So I made these shoes, and I was thinking of giving them to Tony.” I ask to see a picture of them to make sure it’s not going to be awkward or stupid. But it’s Fred, so I know it’s going to be ridiculous. I see them, and it’s hilarious. So each day he says, “Can I do it today?” Finally, I say, “Go for it.” It had to be at a white tablecloth restaurant, of course.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.