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A Global Adventure of Food and Music with Jens Grotzschel

It’s not unusual to think “I can’t do anything substantial to make the world a better place. I’m just one person.” While this is understandable, it’s not accurate. Connection among people can often come from the most unexpected of places; a simple kind word, a meal, or music. Where politicians can fall short, food and music can create union without a single word or treaty. When Jens Grotzschel signed on as composer for the television series The Culinary Adventures of Sarah Wiener it was for the then unknown show’s pilot episode. Six seasons later, this production is internationally acclaimed for its food and exposure to different cultures. As each successive season of the show presented a different part of the world, the show’s composer immersed himself in the national musical identity of the area with the desire of presenting it authentically. What Jens and the show’s audience learned together is that everyone has something unique and appealing to offer others. Produced by Zeroone for German-French TV-Station ARTE, the show also aired in Austria, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Switzerland and Australia, and is still being broadcast in various European countries in addition to being available on Netflix and Amazon. These thirty to forty-five minute episodes are their own unique ambassadors to the world.

Sarah Wiener is a famous Austrian cook who explores the food of varying countries in each season of The Culinary Adventures of Sarah Wiener. She meets with farmers, manufacturer, fishers, and others of these areas in an investigation of what makes each country’s cuisine taste the way the indigenous people desire. Throughout this process, we learn as much about what makes the people the way they are as we do about what makes their food have its own DNA. In a very practical sense, Jens was the anchor throughout the series. As each season introduced a new part of the world and its style of food, the score required the familiarity of the host’s personality with influences from the music of that culture. The compositions of each season were the sonic wardrobe of that country; something to keep us comfortable in the environment but not completely familiar.

The first two season took place in France with a French "Musette"-style idiom contributed by Jens. When the German viewing audience accompanied Sarah to Italy, Grotzschel took advantage of the post war connection many Germans felt to Italy as it was a popular vacation destination for many of them. He orientated the soundtrack to West German songs of the fifties and sixties in a style that was both playful and ironic. Great Britain’s season took on the visage of big arrangements ala James Bond of the sixties. For the Alps, he created pop arrangements via German brass bands with nods to Wagner. The last season of the show took place in Asia and was the most demanding and interesting for Jens. He communicates, “In this case, there were four different countries: India, Japan, China, and Vietnam, each of them with its own style of traditional music. My preparation was necessarily longer. It was not the first time that I'd been in contact with Chinese or Indian music, most of the instruments are known in the Western World, but it felt further away than France or Italy…of course. Vietnam particularly so. I'd never heard traditional Vietnamese music before. There are very similar instruments in China or Japan. The relationship is obvious but the music is very different. I discovered instruments I've never seen before like Dan Bau or Goong. This challenge was the same for all countries. I listened a lot and read a lot to dive into that music.”

There’s something inherent in this show that elevates it to a level of great importance. We can find something endearing about each other by the intimacy of the experiences Sarah has interacting with other cultures. Jens confirms, “It's not just a show about cuisine. It's much more about different cultures. This is perhaps the reason why it's been so successful over such a long time. People in many countries are watching it, which means they are open to learning something about different cultures. That's a good thing. I came from a similar position as Sarah; my own culture in the bag, but curious what I can find out and how I can use or create something with this and integrate it into the concept of the show. It was a challenge as well as a lot of fun to bring it into this ‘Sarah-world.’ My world is better for it.”

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