Antony Dimov from Radio BNR Shumen talks with Maxim Behar about his new book "Seychelles Recipes and More About " Paradise on Earth"June, 2023
Host: You are the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Seychelles, an honorary citizen of Shumen and a leading PR expert not only in Bulgaria, how do you combine these different roles and find time to write books?
Maxim: Well, they're not such different roles because ultimately, I'm doing my job, and these are responsibilities that I try to combine. The Honorary Consulate takes up a lot more of my time, and the Honorary Citizenship in Shumen is a great honor and responsibility for me, so it's not that difficult. Writing books is part of my life, I am not a professional and maybe I never will be, but from time to time I have the urge to express what I think on a piece of paper or a computer. It gives me great pleasure, just sharing with more people what I want to say to them.
Host: How fixated is your new book on the cuisine of Seychelles and how well does it succeed in giving its reader an insight into the nature and culture there?
Maxim: It's probably the first interesting book I've written. Because all my books up to now, as much as they have sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world, have always concentrated on business or on what I do in Public Relations. This book was born very spontaneously out of my participation in the show "Cherry on the cake" which, much to my surprise, sparked great interest. Obviously Seychellois cuisine because it's more exotic. And because I had a lot of calls from people who were interested in the country, the islands, conditions of travel and staying there of course the cuisine. I said to myself that it was right to write some recipes, through the cuisine, the Creole interesting facts to arouse interest in Seychelles. Half of the book is dedicated to recipes that I have selected and are interesting, for which I would like to share that most of the products can be found in Bulgaria or ordered online. In the other part I tell interesting stories about the country and people I have met there. There are many pictures of mine of course, I have taken many as I have been working for Seychelles for 20 years now. It seems to me that through cuisine each country becomes much closer and more recognizable to us. As an example, I can share how we all eat pizza and pasta as a way of associating ourselves with Italy, and many people have never been there.
Host: What is the most popular Seychellois dish and how is it prepared?
Maxim: No, the most popular is Creole cuisine. I should share here that Seychelles used to be a desert island. Mid-17th century when the French populated the islands along with their slaves from Africa and were then part of a British colony. Given this fact there is a European flavor in every dish. But at the same time there are many Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese of course people from Africa, Zambia, Kenya. So, it is a very interesting mix of different and yet spicy dishes. If you ask a local taxi driver, "What are you having for dinner?" he's likely to say, "Chicken curry". That's a very common meal. My favorite and traditional dish that I like to prepare is tuna steak. It's easy, quick with typical spices. What I gained a lot of interest with on the " Cherry on the cake " show was the "Millionaire's" salad. These are hearts of palm found in the Seychelles. They can now be found in Sofia. When cooked with spices it is very tasty and fresh. No favorite dish, but I want to share that except for the desserts, Creole cuisine is very easy to prepare.
Host: Your book is in an unusual almost pocket-sized format. Does that make it more accessible to Bulgarians, who, according to recent polls, are less likely to buy and read books?
Maxim: Well, it is about 200 pages in album format. Very nearly 20 years ago when I published my first book about the changes in Eastern Europe, it was in that format, and I thought it was appropriate to have it in that format again now. Because when you have so many pictures it's perfect to look at. The price is 15 leva and I think it is affordable, but if anyone is interested in learning more about Seychelles there is no such book on the Bulgarian market to date. This is the second cookbook written about Seychelles, the first one was by my wonderful friend, the first founding president of the Republic of Seychelles Sir James Richard Manchum who passed away six years ago and exactly three days after we had dinner together. I had just returned home to Bulgaria and took a plane back to Seychelles to send him on his final journey. He and his wife Kate Manchum have a book on Seychelles cuisine which they prefer. And friends from Seychelles called to advise me to quickly publish a book in English because there is no other such cookbook. I am not a chef, but an amateur of course. I think it will arouse interest and it will be published in English very soon, it will be sold on Amazon.
Host: There are probably differences between the inhabitants of the islands and peninsulas, but what are the similarities between the societies of the Balkans and the Seychelles?
Maxim: We are all human beings and have our own values and preferences. We fall in love, we fall out of love, loyal or not, hardworking, or not. There is not any significant difference in our human qualities. Of course, the nature of Seychelles suggests quite different qualities. People are slower, but they are super smiley and positive. Seychelles is to 85,000 people just about as many as in Shumen on 115 islands scattered. The capital Victoria, which is the smallest in the world, has 8 000 people and you see when I am there, I know everyone, and they know me too. This implies a much more human, cordial, warm relationship between people. The main business there is tourism and if they are not smiling, quick in service, polite then tourists will not go to Seychelles. You can say that is the big difference because there is a great respect between people. For example, two years ago, there was a change of power and after more than 40 years one party was in power now another party is in power as happened in Bulgaria in the early 90s. There was not a drop of hatred and aggression, on the contrary President Ramkalavan who is now the President and had run for President for 22 years, in four years. Vavel Ramkalavan ran and didn't get elected, now he's getting elected. With great respect to the previous presidents, the previous government all work together, all tolerant of each other and somehow there is an understanding that in this not so small territory. If they don't get along there will be no development. This is a huge difference, especially when we observe this absurd mess in Bulgaria in the last two years. People there get along and somehow the word kindness is built into their DNA.
Host: What would you wish to the residents of Shumen for the May 11 celebration of the city?
Maxim: First, Happy holiday. I have visited Shumen very often on May 11, but now I will not be able to come, much to my regret. I have participated in the processions, celebrations in the city center with great pleasure. I am sure that on this day they will be very impressed. Shumen over the last 7-8 years has been a different city for me. On March 3 I usually always go to Shumen with my friend Solomon Passy and his family as we tour the old capitals of Pliska, Preslav, Madara and stay in Shumen. Maybe 10 years ago the town was very run down, there was no production, people were a bit desperate. But now it's different and the last time I was there in March, I saw a very different Shumen. Business is going, people seem to be living better now. Yes of course it is difficult for all of us in Bulgaria, of course we all see what is happening and we don't like it, but in the end, I see the city alive. The restaurants are full, the restaurants are a little harder to find a place and what I wish for the people of Shumen, no matter what is happening in Bulgaria, to do their job. To do their best to make life good in Shumen and to live well, not to be impressed that politicians quarrel, cannot govern. To do their job, to win, and I think this is the most important thing for the city and for every citizen of Shumen.
Host: Let's wish each other a warm Seychelles summer and smiles like the people there.
Maxim: Yes, and all the people of Shumen can come to Seychelles. It's not that difficult.