Behind the Lens: Filming S.A.L.T. In Southeast Asia
One can, perhaps, trace the origins of modern-day culinary travel back to the 2nd century BC, when early spice merchants plied their trade along the Spice Routes between the East and the West, disseminating ingredients, recipes, and know-how as they went. They transported goods such as turmeric, cassia, and cinnamon from East Asia and Southeast Asia to the Middle East and East Africa. These entrepreneurial mariners ventured deep into foreign lands, encouraging international acculturation and evolving culinary traditions in the countries en route.
It is said that the merchants traded not only ingredients but also stories as they journeyed from region to region, fabricating fanciful tales on the origins of their goods to inflate their value: they claimed that cassia grew in waters guarded by winged beasts, and that poisonous serpents safeguarded their precious cinnamon stocks.
Culinary travel, it seems—with its ancient history and ever-changing nature—has long held storytelling dear as a vehicle for its own evolution.
Reviving the Spirit of Deep Culinary Discovery
When Silversea’s all-new Silver Moon launched on October 30th, 2020, so too did the cruise line’s new Sea and Land Taste program—an inspired culinary initiative, known neatly as S.A.L.T., which utilizes storytelling to explore the most engaging hooks in the world of food and drink. It promises to unfurl the essence of the world’s richest culinary cultures for those curious enough to lend their taste buds.
As the program’s director, Adam Sachs, former editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, is tasked with curating a holistic program of immersion for travelers—one that will enable them to really connect with destinations through the lens of food and drink: experiences ashore will provide a preamble to stories of the world’s most alluring culinary cultures, while Silver Moon’s S.A.L.T. ecosystem will guide travelers through to their delicious conclusion on board.
In Silver Moon’s new S.A.L.T. Kitchen, diners will feast upon a regionally inspired menu that changes daily; the S.A.L.T. Bar will serve up mouthwatering drinks with an offering that adapts according to the region—perhaps spritz cocktails in the Italian-Adriatic, vermentino in Sardinia, and port in Porto, for example; and S.A.L.T. Lab, a hands-on test kitchen, will introduce travelers to each destination’s fresh ingredients through classes, demonstrations and talks.
Food, Flavors, and People
In the same spirit of discovery as those early pioneers on the Spice Routes, modern-day travelers will explore the frontiers of culinary travel aboard Silver Moon. ‘Food, flavors, and people,’ went the program’s maxim, as anticipation built around S.A.L.T. in March of 2019, yet few comprehended the true extent of what was at stake for travelers.
That is until a select group of food enthusiasts boarded Silver Muse in Southeast Asia for a preview of the S.A.L.T. program. Among those on the adventure was a group of journalists—including a writer from Conde Nast Traveler, who subsequently described how ‘Silversea is completely rewriting how cruises do food.’ Also present was talented filmmaker Lucia Griggi, who would ‘openly admit to being inexperienced in culinary exploration’ and who, now, for the first time, shares insight on this one-of-a-kind journey, which changed her perception of in-depth culinary travel.
S.A.L.T. In Practice In Southeast Asia
“As a filmmaker, I was very excited to head into Southeast Asia to experience what the new S.A.L.T. program had to offer in this part of the world,” begins Griggi. “This trip was certainly unique for me, because not only had I explored only a fraction of the region’s rich cultures, but also because I had rarely been so purposeful in setting my lens upon culinary themes before. More accustomed to working in the Polar regions, I couldn’t wait to discover how the tropical environment would lend itself to filmmaking and storytelling, and how these fascinating stories surrounding food and drink would engage us.”
“The S.A.L.T. pilot was as educational as it was fun. Traveling between destinations in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore meant that we were tasting such diverse flavors and discovering such unique experiences that gave insights on authentic ways of life—as well as the history and environmental features of each place. Experiencing these cultures through cuisine, both on-shore and aboard Silver Muse, made for such compelling footage; I quickly learned how to combine portraiture with culinary shots to portray the overall experience.”
“There was one encounter that stands out in my mind and, to me, sums up the essence of what the S.A.L.T. program is about.”
A Taste of Culture
“We arrived in Denpasar ahead of Nyepi, also known as the ‘Day of Silence,’ which marks the start of a new year in the Balinese Saka calendar. I quickly found out that the island’s Hindu population mark the occasion with a day of rest, fasting, and meditating at home, and so everything was remarkably serene—the electricity was out in our immediate vicinity and I could see just a few people milling about on the streets.”
“A day or two later, I discovered an amazing celebration in the heart of the city, in which locals, dressed in traditional Balinese attire, were parading through the streets ceremonially. This vibrant cultural display was our first true initiation to life in Bali and I was immediately hooked, but with a busy schedule planned for the coming days we had no time to be overwhelmed.”
Into the Jungle
“Following a typical Balinese lunch at Locavore, which is widely regarded as Indonesia’s best restaurant, we ventured deep into Bali’s Ubud hills to learn about the local farming culture. The setting was incredible and remains etched into my memory: we first trekked into the dense jungle, through the vibrant undergrowth. We emerged into a clearing, entering a small farming community in which chickens roamed freely. I immediately noticed the symmetry of the fields as they extended into the distance—pristine rows of crops in verdant greens, lined with row after row of towering palm trees.”
“We were greeted by a friendly farmer, who, from the porch of his modest hut, was enjoying the last of the afternoon’s sunshine. A clucking companion sat contently in his arms and he welcomed us as if we were close acquaintances. The farmer’s pride in his trade was clear, conveyed through his enthusiastic gestures and animated expressions He was friendly. Interested. Passionate about his home.”
“After interacting with the farmer, as well as some of the village’s inhabitants, we were led along a path between the terraced fields in search of an unknown ingredient. I didn’t quite know what to expect at this point, but I was already in awe of the simplicity of life here in rural Ubud.”
“With no warning, the farmer began climbing a towering palm tree—as if the talent was second-nature to him—and began hacking away at something near the treetop. He gathered a container of sticky nectar, which I later found out was used to make palm sugar, as well as a small beehive, and proceeded to descend. I couldn’t wait to taste the jungle’s freshest produce.”
Capturing the Moment
“Using a wide-angle lens to border the frame with foliage, I followed the movement of the farmer as he gradually descended the tree. I held my camera steady, not wanting to miss a single movement. Once done, I looked around at the faces of those admiring the spectacle and saw that everybody shared my sense of amazement. Once the farmer was safely back on the ground, we sampled the sweet concoction of his find, while sipping on fresh coconut milk served on newly cut palm leaves. I remember thinking how a dish can speak volumes about a culture—about a people and their way of life. In gathering these ingredients from this incredible natural setting, the farmer had constructed the first of S.A.L.T.’s field-to-plate experiences; capturing the moment on film gave context to this unique culinary adventure, and would enable me to construct just one of Bali’s many culinary stories.”
“Our host on this S.A.L.T. excursion was a captivating protagonist. I knew his characterful face and humble way of life would engage viewers when telling the story of Bali’s jungle farm terraces. Recognizing the sensitive nature of my request and communicating with the most basic of gestures, I asked the farmer whether he’d be happy for me to capture his portrait—to which he, and his chicken, kindly obliged. I had never considered the impact of strong portraiture in culinary filmmaking, but I was delighted with the shot and its relation to the overarching story.”
“In a simple act—a humble gesture of sharing his produce—this kind Balinese farmer invoked within me a deeper understanding of the island’s people and its culture. It was an education, captured in an afternoon. Like the people of this rural settlement, who walked barefoot through the fields, I felt a warm connection with the culinary culture of this land, its history, and perhaps even its future—knowing that Bali’s rustic food culture was safeguarded by a population of knowledgeable artisans, and that its heritage endured as they lived off the land. This rare culinary exchange, held deep in the Ubud hills, fed the narrative of S.A.L.T., as well as my soul, as I left Bali in search of our next immersive moment.”