When Frenchman and former Radio France Internationale journalist Marc Victor arrived in the restless heart of Kabul in 2006 to set up restaurant L’Atmosphère, the city was in the midst of a full-blown riot. In this whirlwind of violence, his little outpost offering hearty French cuisine and the rare oasis of a swimming pool became the relative calm in the eye of the storm.
Not that it was a serene white linen dining experience, far from it. As one of the few places in a morally policed dry town where you could get hold of black market booze, it was akin to a hedonistic club for westerners including NGO workers, reporters, mercenaries and peacekeepers.
It also attracted strictly banned Afghans who had the clout to flout the rules and bargain their way in to the wet zone – mostly warlords, gangsters and politicians. Everyone was welcome as long as guns were checked at the door.
Victor’s one of three series creators behind French production Kabul Kitchen (Kaboul Kitchen), a hilarious TV series loosely based on his misadventures while running L’Atmosphère during five years of American occupation of the city. It’s an absolute hoot with its finger way more on the pulse than Tina Fey’s disappointing Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
You can catch all 12 episodes via SBS On Demand now - we’d suggest you might like to whip up a bowl of Kabuli pilau – widely considered to be the national dish of Afghanistan – to keep you sustained if you decide on a viewing marathon.
With Moroccan capital Casablanca standing in for Kabul during filming, Gilbert Melki plays Jacky, the owner of Kabul Kitchen, with Stéphanie Pasterkamp showing up unannounced as his estranged daughter and NGO worker Sophie. They are backed by a host of colourful characters including corrupt Colonel Amanullah played by Simon Abkarian (seen previously in Zero Dark Thirty and Casino Royale).
Taking full advantage of the culture clash between French and Afghan cultures, with all the nefarious wheeling and dealing going on, sometimes it seems like food is the last thing on the mind of Kabul Kitchen’s frisky patron – although the cook goes on strike about pork at one point, and there’s a hilarious misunderstanding in episode three when Jacky’s local cook serves up what he dubs Afghan Blanquette.
Blanquette’s classic veal stew takes its name from its crème fraîche-sourced creamy consistency and un-browned meat, but the dinner Jacky sits down to is decidedly ‘rouge’, much to his consternation. The French do not take kindly to messing around with their culinary classics, with the flustered waiter aim to reassure the red colour is the Afghan twist. A colleague shoots this theory down, pointing out the chef blended it with beef bourguignon.
While SBS Food does not recommend combining the two dishes, why not try both out at home and while you’re at it, explore some of our Afghan recipes too.
Series 1 of Kabul Kitchen is available on SBS On Demand.