Food TV: Left of the Dial
Baron Ambrosia, alternative food personality, comes straight outta the Bronx to take us on a food crawl of Yonkers.
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Photography by Chris Ware
The Baron eating a cemita (a sandwich with chorizo, the Mexican herb papalo, avocado, onions, tomatoes, spicy salsa, and queso Oaxaca) at Tacos El Poblano.
The shoes hit the tarmac first, and they were excellent shoes. Plum-colored size 12s, long and tapering of toe, with a gleaming snakeskin vamp; definitely not animal-based, but that really doesn’t matter—especially when paired with sumptuous purple socks. It was The Baron, of course, hitting this dreary Yonkers corner like the pure violet beam of a black light.
In Bronx Flavor (airing Wednesdays at 9 pm on NYC Life, Cablevision channel 22), Baron Ambrosia, the fictional construct of Justin Fornal, a serious 32-year-old guerilla filmmaker, travels through the gritty streets of the Bronx, chasing romance and adventure through the avenues of ethnic food. West African fufu, Kosovan burek, Mexican cuchifritos, it’s all his beat. Passionate, ridiculous, he’s a gourmet Gomez Addams.
South Broadway is The Baron's "playground of authentic foods".
Food is his Morticia, driving The Baron through contorted plots filled with lust, carnality, and (usually) shame. One episode ends with Baron Ambrosia stripped of his finery, wandering strung out, and begging for a fix of Jamaican curried cow foot. And, yes, Bronx Flavor celebrates outré eats (like goat’s stomach stuffed with chopped kidneys, intestines, blood, and chilies), but The Baron—eyebrows tweezed into a Nike swoosh, beard razored into a chinstrap, fingernails glossed, eyes tweaked with liner, and long hair twisted into a bouffant bun—never resorts to circus geek gulping. “Everything I do is done with love and respect.”
Stefy's patacon misto is, according to the Baron, "a fat, juicy freakout filled with a triple threat of spicy chicken, slow-cooked steak, and pernil all served between two giant tostones...um, crack".
Praised in the New York Times and online in New York magazine’s “Grub Street,” Baron Ambrosia vibrates with the excitement of a cult on the edge of explosion. Indeed, there’s a poignant feeling about The Baron at this moment, like the Clash in 1976 or Nirvana on Sub-Pop. Will success spoil this foodie rock star?
It hasn’t been an overnight success. Fornal’s campaign started with self-produced series titled Underbelly, released as a video podcast on iTunes where it quickly became the number one food-based podcast. Today, with a third season of Bronx Flavor shooting, The Baron is planning to expand his footprint with Spice Hunter, an NYCLife program exploring restaurants citywide. And what after that? “We’re taking baby steps, hopefully leading up to a national show. If anyone questions what we’re doing, we’ll say, ‘Why not? It’s worked so far.'”
Tacos El Poblano is a modest spot for killer goat tacos.
We asked Baron Ambrosia, to guide us on a tour of Yonkers, to share with us his favorite foods in a city of great ethnic cuisine. “I love the South Broadway food scene. It’s such a playground of authentic foods." We savored goat tacos and slurped balut (Filipino fertilized eggs), all the while witnessing the Baron’s bizarre charisma. Maybe because he manifests cartoonish archetypes—Byronic hero manqué, hapless romantic, a bit of hissing vampire—civilians that he meets instantly get into the act. In fact, much of Bronx Flavor’s cast is made up of people that the Baron encounters on his culinary travels. Being with Baron Ambrosia is like casting a cloud of silly dust; he spreads viral playfulness.