The Story of the Hippy Gourmet TV Show
By Louis R. Cumberbatch and James Ehrlich
quiet little culinary revolution is happening in the Haight-Ashbury
district of San Francisco.
New Yorker Bruce Brennan, who has cooked for royalty, heads
of state and celebrities across the country, decided to
make his kitchen into a TV set a few years back and share
his blend of vegan cooking and conscious living with the
world. He and friend James Ehrlich began producing “The
Hippy Gourmet” in a beautifully renovated Victorian
home, just doors away from the fabled corner of Haight and
more than just “munchie” food for the wandering jam-band
crowd, the show is a smorgasbord of culinary adventures, travel,
music, and information on inventive solutions to global problems.
Brennan’s can-do, get-things-done attitude retools the hippie
ethic toward community awareness and doing good for the planet.
doing what we think media should be doing. We aim to use this
television show as a tool for creating global tranquility and
togetherness,” says Ehrlich, who is the producer, main cameraperson
and editor for the show.
those accustomed to the drive-thru lunch or gobbling down a sandwich
in the middle of work, the Hippy Gourmet is your antidote. “Nobody
digests in this country. Food has become a distraction from our
busy lives,” says Brennan, whose large garden just outside
the door of his dining room provides a number of the fresh vegetables
used in his recipes.
great big bear of a man in loud tie-dye shirts and a beret, Brennan
takes viewers step-by-step through his mouth-watering recipes,
patiently describing his techniques and the tastes and smells
being created. He cooks up group-sized servings (buying in bulk
is emphasized) so that viewers following along at home will have
more than enough for just one meal. The fresh-off-the-stove fare
is then served to a usual gathering of willing friends for the
show-finishing “yummy shot.”
recipes fueled the hippie movement in the '60s, and are as current
as ever in keeping families well-nourished for the challenges
of a busy life," says Brennan.
show started on Bay Area public access TV in 2001 and quickly
spread to around 54 public access stations nationwide. "When
we first started on one station in San Francisco a number of years
ago our show was wedged between 'Bikers for Christ' and 'Black
Power,'" says Ehrlich. “We were getting some pretty
hilarious emails from Evangelical Harley riders and ex-Black Panthers
who just loved our show!”
modest beginnings a loyal following was being created, and now
the series boasts over six million household viewers and growing.
“The main thing is we're building up viewer by viewer. Every
week somebody new catches our show. The show is not just for hippies
and their families, we reach across all walks of life and to every
part of the world, so it’s really not hard to see that there
are like-minded people everywhere who enjoy what we’re doing,”
it looked liked the Hippy Gourmet was ready to make the leap from
community access to broadcast TV, an Emmy winning consultant was
brought in to help shape the look and tone of the production.
The editing was further refined, and additional animation gave
the opening and transitions a slicker appeal.
PBS stations nationally now carry the weekly show and the guys
offer over 35 episodes on the Web through a relationship with
Google video. A link right at the top of Hippy Gourmet.com website
takes people directly to the on-line shows.
fair trade, and sustainably grown ingredients constitute the recipes.
An emphasis is on the vegan lifestyle, with occasional fish dishes.
Bruce defines his style, loosely, as French Fusion, but the recipes
are drawn from many sources, including his free-form hippy youth
and from his years as a restaurant chef and caterer. His credits
even include feeding the Mission of Ghana for a whole weekend
at the U.N. back in New York.
of Bruce’s early influences was Euell Gibbons, the world
famous author and naturalist. After reading Gibbons’ “Stalking
the Wild Asparagus,” Bruce developed a penchant for foraging
in unusual places, sometimes simply stopping by the side of the
road and trudging off into the brush. He’s always on the
lookout for unusual food sources like quinoa and Romanescu broccoli,
which he says people aren’t accustomed to but are nutritious
and often inexpensive.
artichokes, for example, are edible tubers that look like a potato.
I grow them in my backyard garden," says Brennan. “As
I hitchhiked back and forth across the country in the old days,
they were a perfect food source. I used to dig 'em up by the side
of the road."
see them as solving a lot of problems in the world," Brennan
added. "They're good for erosion control on the levees--Arnold
(Swarzenegger) should know about them."
sister, Pam acquired the spacious home in the mid-70s and ran
it as a bed and breakfast, the Herb’n’Inn, for a number
of years before the show started. A collection of ‘60s memorabilia,
including rare and unpublished photos of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix,
and the Grateful Dead adorns the front room of the house, now
dubbed the ‘Psychedelic Museum.’ The address is also
a stop on “The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour”
which meanders through the Haight, and visitors and acquaintances
can often be found milling about, chatting, and admiring the artwork
if not sampling leftovers from one of the shooting sequences.
show also goes on the road to exotic locales such as the Amazon
rain forests, Tuscany in Italy, and the Hawaiian Islands for regional
delicacies. “We are fortunate enough to visit communities
that see eating (in a slow food style) as a highlight of the day,”
says Brennan. “Many Italians, for example, spend 3 hours
savoring lunch: sipping wine, talking, and enjoying a respite
from their tasks.”
can get a glimpse of the preparation such things as Moussaka from
Greece, Borscht from the Ukraine, and organic Yucca and Plantains
from Brazil. Background on the history and culture of the locales
is provided, and viewers are introduced to the chefs who staff
the kitchens as well as local personalities.
says when they feature a guest chef they like to "start from
the beginning with the interview, putting him or her at ease,
and spend time to discover the original inspiration behind someone
becoming a chef. Was it the smell of garlic at home, did they
lick the spoon when their mother was making a chocolate cake,
or maybe did they grow up in a restaurant environment? This often
draws the person out and imbues the segment with more warmth and
and Ehrlich also cultivate relationships with nonprofit organizations
that they feel are having a positive impact on the planet. Solar
energy, hybrid vehicles, aquaculture, the organic and fair trade
movements, and endangered or mistreated animals are just some
of the themes featured. In one episode Bruce cooks up vegetarian
pizzas in an oven that heats up entirely on the sun’s energy,
on the grounds of the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California.
non-profit feature segments are near and dear to my heart,”
says Ehrlich. “They start out as a kind of visual sherbet
in a way, allowing us a way to cut between recipes, but what they
really do for the viewer is connect them to worthy causes around
conversation Brennan is a true counter-culture thinker. He tends
to free associate and go off on tangents about his adventures
and influences. He’s happy to show people curious found-object
art pieces he’s working on, such as a windmill made of wire,
nitrous caps and discarded AOL CDs. He comes across as the idealist
of the pair, balanced out by the practical, no-nonsense Ehrlich,
who is entrusted to meet production deadlines and keep his host
on task while shooting.
likes to feed people a six-foot hero sandwich (of his ideas) sometimes,
and I’m left with the task of making him cut that hero into
bite-sized pieces,” says Ehrlich.
has been developing a concerned and aware conscience since the
days he was cutting class to protest the Vietnam War. His activist
spirit was nurtured by his mother who organized busses to take
willing students, including Bruce, to the marches on Washington.
Numerous friends were dodging the draft, and Bruce did everything
in his power at the time to support them in their effort to get
across the border to Canada.
was going with the flow of the times but was pretty scared out
of my mind," says Bruce, "mostly about my friends going
courage to speak out as a teenager against a "sadistic"
war got him removed from public school. He ended up out west at
Pacific High School in the South Bay hills, where instructors
were introducing geodesic domes as construction projects.
by R. Buckminster Fuller, the geodesic dome was developed into
some of the largest domes and stadiums in the world. It also became
the most popular building plan for hippies around the world. Fuller,
or “Bucky” as he was known in the 60s, became a hero
to the hippy movement, and to Brennan. While he was in his 20s
Brennan built a Fuller-inspired dome in Nova Scotia, and was part
of a group that lived there for eight years in the 1970s.
has also envisioned, through his years of cooking and catering,
that special little restaurant where he could do his own thing–
“for me it had to combine outdoor patio dining, art, music,
and food,” says Brennan. “I saw this little side-of-the
road café/truck stop sort of thing- like in ‘Baghdad
café.’ “Just think of this mirage of sorts
coming out of the glimmering distance, in some obscure, bizarre
place, perhaps on the outskirts of Phoenix or L.A., or Las Vegas
entrepreneurial spirit has been channeled, for the meantime, into
a popular PBS cooking show, and Bruce isn’t complaining.
The show is part of the Saturday afternoon cooking lineup that
viewers have tuned into for years. The Hippy Gourmet feels honored
to be alongside some of the stellar lights of TV cooking like
Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and Graham Kerr, all who influenced
“Hippy Gourmet Guide Cookbook” is being worked up
which will condense Brennan’s philosophies into an easily
referenced guide. “It’s a cookbook that starts at
the big bang and leads up to lunch,” says Ehrlich.
confesses that the best part of producing the Hippy Gourmet is
when they reach the conservative, right-wing types. “When
we are contacted by people who used to think anything “hippy”
was radical and unkempt, but then are blown away by our message
of peace through positive change and good quality foods, it just
makes what we’re doing all the more important.”
of all,” Ehrlich continues, “…we receive e-mail
from around the world from families and friends who are coming
together again, sharing in the special bond that links people
together through nice meals that have been prepared as a group
effort…this is what inspires us to keep filming new shows