Gates is a blend of journalist, intrepid traveller and food-obsessed adventurer. He has published three books and is the presenter of Cooking In The Danger Zone , a BBC food and travel programme. I caught up with him at the Good Food and Wine Show in Cape Town.
It all started when Stefan had some raw beef in Japan at the age of nine.
"It was this revelation, this transcendental experience of food becoming extraordinary. Back then, food for me was boring. I'd grown up on margarine. Suddenly I'd been given something to eat that was scary, naughty and hilariously exciting. So, it was this sudden realisation that food can take you on a journey. It arouses a passionate emotion inside of me."
It seems Gates really does eat in the danger zone when you listen to this chilling account of eating a live slug.
"They brought a still live sea slug to the table. The girl just pushed it down, until its intestines spit out at one end. She then picked one up, handed it to me, and said 'that is the best part'.
That was the nearest I came to vomiting on camera. It tasted astringent, quite sour and slimy. Then while it’s still alive, they chop it up into thin slices. The slices are still moving and you eat it like that. It was horrific, fantastic and I'll never forget that moment for the rest of my life."
A taste for the extreme
Yet, it is this thirst to learn as much as possible about food, which has taken Stefan out of his comfort zone to sample some of the most unusual cuisine on the planet. Highlights include eating live sea slugs in Korea, frozen walrus (known as igunak) in Canada, yak's penis in Beijing and now 'smileys' (sheep's head) in Gugulethu in Cape Town. This isn't just about cheap thrills and shocking reality TV. Cooking In The Danger Zone also aims to use food as a tool for viewers to learn more about the cultures of other people.
Inspired by these travels and adventures, Stefan is finishing his third book 101 Things to Eat Before You Die . This is a not conventional list of scrumptious home-cooked meals. Instead, it's an invitation to his amazing and wild food experiences. Many of the dishes are included because of their cultural and historical significance.
The last entry in the book about fugu has Stefan wide-eyed and enthusiastic. Fugu, is a Japanese putter fish and the second most poisonous fish in the world. Only specially trained chefs are allowed to prepare the dish as even the slightest mistake in gutting and cutting can result in the death of the person eating it.
Stefan continues, "There is an undeniable excitement eating something that can potentially can kill you. You get an incredible sensation from eating it that you can’t get from anything else on the planet."
He has also written Gastronaut and In The Danger Zone . 101 Things To Eat Before You Die is due out in December.
Take a look at Stefan Gates eating frozen walrus.