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Kevin Longa on his food documentaries TASTE, filming chefs and building food stories

Kevin Longa on his food documentaries TASTE, filming chefs and building food stories

 

When we move away from the safety and comfort from of our lives, the truth beneath our passion appears. When in a conversation with Kevin Longa, the showrunner mostly spoke about merging passions. Longa is an alumni from Draper Univeristy who got chosen for the Top Ten Short Films Real Food Media Project in 2014 and 2015. He was chosen for the official selection of Devouri Film Festival, Canada, Despicable Film Festival, California, Life Science Film Festival, Prague, Czech Republic and many others.

From European restaurants to Malaysian street vendors, Kevin has walked through every alley. After touring for the last three years, he is launching a trilogy of three series – TASTE: AMERICA, TASTE: EUROPE and TASTE: ASIA

“We have very few things that connect us all. Food is one of those things.’’ – Kevin Longa 

Highlights of this episode

quotes and takeaways

  • I have had the fortune of swapping stories over meals only to find that people – no matter where they’re from – have more in common than they do differences.
  • The route to our goals might have been rife with setbacks and unknowns, but that’s half the fun.
  • I want these stories to connect with viewers on a more human level. With the inspirational stories of TASTE’s food entrepreneurs, I hope audiences leave an episode feeling entertained.

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Taste with Kevin Longa (or TASTE, for short) came as a union of your passions: travelling, food, films and entrepreneurship. Can you tell us about your history with the food? What made you so passionate about documenting food entrepreneurs?

I began making films ever since I was a jolly, fat, little eight-year-old. It wasn’t until a wake-up call at the hospital that I realized I needed to shape up, learn about where my food came from and who made it. Between film club meetings and swim practice in high school, I hit the farms and food markets to create my first food documentary. Since then, my life has been an exploration of food and, more importantly, the people who make it.

And all of these passions culminated into TASTE With Kevin Longa (or TASTE, for short). It’s a documentary series that features the stories of food entrepreneurs around the world. Visit the kickstart page here

Taste has taken you to 14 nations so far. Did the stories of all of such entrepreneurs affect your life? Can you share some specific experiences?

Absolutely.  Many stories from my “TASTE: Europe” series had a profound affect on how and why I began TASTE in the first place.

For example, I filmed Rolf, a self-taught chef in Copenhagen; his story taught me that the unconventional path to success is often faster and more fun. Much like the film industry, the culinary industry is based upon ‘working your way up the career ladder’ and classic apprenticeship and stages. Although I do think there’s a lot of value to be learned from starting at the bottom, Rolf’s self-taught-chef story helped me understand that I could create my dream of TASTE from scratch. Like Rolf’s story, the route to our goals might have been rife with setbacks and unknowns, but that’s half the fun.

Another example is Andreas. I filmed a man who ditched his job at IBM so that he could resurrect the lost art of snail (escargot) farming in Vienna. Before filming TASTE, I had graduated college, and it was the bleakest point of the economic crisis. I kept getting job application rejection after rejection. In fact, I literally cried after getting rejected from Google. So, like Andreas, I decided to leave a ‘safe’ career path to pursue my passion (TASTE) full-time, and learn about the job creators themselves: entrepreneurs.

It’s been a crazy journey with highs, lows and risk. But all of it has been worth it to film and collaborate with some wonderful food entrepreneurs and people. 

When you talk about Taste with Kevin Longa, what are your first thoughts?

Food and stories unite people.

Like nothing else in the world, food and stories have the ability to bridge divisions and forge understanding. Daily we hear news stories of war and conflict between fellow human beings. I have had the fortune of swapping stories over meals only to find that people – no matter where they’re from – have more in common than they do differences.

I hope TASTE’s food stories can bind a connection and foster understanding. With TASTE, I probably won’t create total world peace. However, it’ll be a small step towards the right direction.

Is there any other documentary which inspired you to do what you are doing now?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Super Size Me.

How do you predict the future of Taste with Kevin Longa? What is the mission at the outset?

TASTE could be more than just an international food documentary series. Our generation – millenials – care deeply about our food and identify as world citizens. I envision TASTE as a future food media company that bridges people across the globe and beyond with (the people who make) our food. For example, I could easily see filming astronaut food in space and working with technologies like Occulus Rift, which could help viewers embark upon virtual culinary tours around the world.

With TASTE, I want to reveal the stories behind our food. That mission started TASTE, and it will always be core to TASTE.

Is the food industry changing fast around ourselves? Is there any such change which you have experienced in person?

With new technologies like social media, I think the food industry is definitely becoming more entrepreneurial. With a small amount of startup capital, an aspirational food entrepreneur can make a pop-up restaurant or rent a food truck and tweet/post about their food event to thousands of people.

Food entrepreneurship is the future.

What were the calculated risks you took for this venture?

I dug into the bottom of my life savings and risked any chance of starting my post-grad life with a ‘safe’ job. This ‘risk’ has been exceedingly worth it.

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While making such documentaries what are the essentials you like to bring out through your documentaries? How would you advice people wanting to document stories of people?

A lot of food documentary films often push a certain political message or attract an audience that already knows and cares about food. With TASTE’s stories, I don’t advocate for a certain way of eating nor advertise a certain approach to food production. Instead, I want these stories to connect with viewers on a more human level. With the inspirational stories of TASTE’s food entrepreneurs, I hope audiences leave an episode feeling entertained. I want people to feel the heartbreak Chef Jacob feels when he finally sees his kids after weeks of endless catering work. I want the viewer to feel the joy when cake designer Rachel Raj adds a final flourish to her marzipan cakes. And if through that entertainment audiences begin to think about the people who make our food, then I have done my job.

I would advise aspiring documentarians to focus their energies and concentration on the characters and stories in their documentaries. You don’t need fancy cameras, etc. to make great films. You just need to tell simple stories with complex characters.

kev

Words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs.

Take the unconventional route. It’s faster and more fun.

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