Maxim Behar for the studio of Radio Focus presented his new book "Seychelles recipes and more about “Paradise on Earth"July, 2023
Host: In the studio with me today is one of the most popular PR experts with experience not only in our country, but around the world - Maxim Behar. His recent book "The Global PR Revolution" is currently one of the best-selling PR books in the world. The most influential independent book ranking organization ranked it among the top 5 PR books in the world. Apart from the secrets of PR, Maxim Behar has just recently introduced us to those of Seychelles by releasing his new book "Seychelles recipes and more about “Paradise on Earth" a few days ago. I will surprise you by telling you that today we will talk not about communications, but about the taste of life, as Maxim Behar this week takes on the role not of a PR expert, but of a culinary guide. Hello.
Maxim: Good afternoon, Radio “Focus”.
Host: Tell us more about the book "Seychelles recipes and more about “Paradise on Earth"
Maxim: You know how good things happen by chance, usually and unexpectedly. I participated in a show called "Cherry on the Cake", I've been there before, but this year I decided to cook Seychellois specialties. Why? To be able to present the cuisine and through it tell interesting things about Seychelles, I have been working for Seychelles for 20 years. To my great surprise, the show had such a strong response. I confessed to my colleagues from that show that I don't watch TV, I don't watch that show, but then I got interested and I saw that Bulgarian cuisine is basically dominant there, and more simple cuisine is dominant and I explained to myself why the show about Seychellois cuisine and specialties had such a great response. But it was so big that I started getting dozens of emails, social media messages saying, "give me this recipe, give me that recipe," and I said, wait a minute, let me pick out 25 good recipes and put them in a book. And along with that deliciousness, I told stories about Seychelles, about the people of Seychelles, about the nature. I published a selection of 25 photos from my own collection, I think there are about 22,000 now, that I have taken in different years. And so, it turned out to be a book that sold terribly fast, because I got calls from various bookstores and supermarkets - asking me when there would be a new printing.
Host: There, and you say it has caused a great response after you have prepared these recipes. It's as if people are now looking not so much for the traditional, but more for innovation, to tie the food to a story, the dish to a story, as you have done in your book.
Maxim: Well, not just with history, but with different cultures, civilizations, people. Social media has given billions of people the opportunity to communicate with each other, to exchange information, and this has, of course, also contributed to a greater interest in interesting, exotic, and foreign cuisines, specialties. You would not imagine that 25 years ago someone would have been interested in the cuisine of Seychelles, and other more famous countries like Thailand and the Maldives, Kenya, Tanzania, and various others. But now, we have the opportunity, everyone can try and cook. And it's not just social media, international exchange of goods, open borders, maybe 90% of the ingredients of the recipes that I've described in the book can be found in Bulgaria, and the other 10% can be ordered from a European online store, so they don't come from Africa or America or somewhere far away. Anyone can cook these recipes and I cook them at home with ingredients, with products that I have bought in Bulgaria, it really expands the culture of all these, what should I call them, these kind of foodies or people who like to try different dishes. And you know, I phrased this sentence that when you buy this book, you're bringing Seychelles into your living room or into your kitchen. You can sit on the couch, on the armchair in the kitchen, open it up, read stories, interesting things, I even have a dictionary of Creole words, the most popular Creole words. And because a lot of people are worried that going to Seychelles is seemingly very expensive, but it's not. It's not, because flying on any airline that flies past Africa or past the United Arab Emirates, those countries, if you buy the ticket on time and plan well, it already comes out to be cheaper than a flight to Vienna or to Paris and it's not so expensive. And when you realize these things and do a bit of Google research for an hour or two or three, many people could happily land in Seychelles and try the food on the spot. It's all about good planning and good interest. If you're good at working with different platforms that provide a range of different options, both cheaper and more expensive, for airplane tickets, hotels, different houses, I think you can have a ten-day, two-week vacation in Seychelles on a pretty good budget. And I've even done the calculations that a week in Seychelles, again I say with good planning, could come out cheaper than a week in Greece, which right here, we cross the border, but we wait for 10 hours at the checkpoints until we get into Schengen. It's all a matter, really, of good calculation. Of course, there are very expensive hotels in Seychelles, super expensive hotels that are boutique hotels, but these hotels can be found everywhere, they are in France, Italy, Switzerland and wherever.
Host: There are very expensive ones everywhere, just like here.
Maxim: As in Bulgaria, of course, we often joke that a week in Velingrad can be more expensive, especially at New Year, can be more expensive than a week in the Seychelles, all as a joke, of course. The destination is affordable, the flow of Bulgarian tourists is increasing drastically, the Seychelles Ministry of Tourism is starting to pay more and more attention to Bulgaria. And when I talk to our minister, Mrs. Sherin Francis, and she often says to me, "Hey, what is happening in Bulgaria that so many tourists come?". And I tell her, nothing is happening, we just talk a lot about Seychelles and explain that it is an affordable destination with very delicious food.
Host: I listened to an interview of yours in which you say that Seychellois cuisine is very different. How does it differ from Bulgarian, and did you find any similarities?
Maxim: Well, it's fundamentally different from Bulgarian for many reasons, not just the destination, not just the distance, I would even say not just the culture, but simply the fact that Seychelles used to be deserted. In the middle of the 17th century, when the French sailors first docked on the islands, they saw this unearthly beauty, wonderful beaches, clear waters, the nature impressed them a lot, but there were no people, only birds, nothing more. And then they named the islands after the French Minister of Finance at the time, the Marquis de Sechelles, in gratitude for giving them money for this expedition, and then they went on and discovered Madagascar. And when they settled there, they started to go even further, however, 20, 30, 40 years later slavery in Africa was abolished and then the French colonizers decided that it was too dangerous, and they had no business staying in Africa. They thought of these deserted islands, and together with their slaves from Kenya, from Tanzania, from Zambia, from South Africa, from these countries that are in the region, which is the south-eastern part of the continent, they populated the Seychelles with boats, together with their slaves, whom they free, of course. So, there is no indigenous population of Seychelles that cooks food that is very typical of the islands themselves, because that is what the indigenous population is. The whole range of different dishes, in fact, is brought from Africa, then naturally, many came from India, after all Seychelles is in the Indian Ocean on the Equator. The Chinese came, various other nationalities came, when the islands started to become known as both a destination and a place to do business. And that's why, in the so-called Creole cuisine, of course, there's a lot of fish, and a lot of seafood specialties that are characteristic of each island. Particularly for the Seychelles, which many people claim and research claims to be located on some of the clearest waters in the world. And that is why the fish that is caught there is very popular, especially tuna. We have three large factories there that are in the ocean for canned tuna, and in a day we have 1 million cans of tuna coming out of Seychelles. And now, all these little cans that we buy in our supermarkets, that say they are produced in Italy, or in England, or in France, it is all from Seychelles. Why? Because really the fish there is extremely clean, delicious, because the least number of ships and oil tankers go through those waters. And so, this cuisine started to acquire flavors from Europe, from India, from China, from Africa. There are no points of contact with Bulgarian cuisine, I can't find anything but, of course, that's why it's delicious, because it's different. We eat Bulgarian cuisine here - meatballs, kebabs, Shopska salads, sarmi and everything else, but when we go to Seychelles, we try something completely different.
Host: Indeed, it is. Listening to your story, it really is quite a colorful cuisine bringing many cultures together. When does your passion for cooking date back to?
Maxim: I'm not a passionate cook. Of course, I like to dedicate a minute, because I'm a very busy person, to make something delicious, to cook something delicious. I like to experiment. Sometimes both me and my wife see what's in the fridge, we pull together whatever's left in the fridge and make something, put it in a pot for example, cook something, then spread it on a slice of bread, it's delicious. You know, the kitchen, or cooking, is valuable when it comes from the heart and with an idea, with a vision. You've got X number of ingredients and you want to make something delicious, and when you've got it in your head, you've got that imagination, you can achieve a lot of delicious things with it. And that's why I wouldn't say that I'm a person who is addicted to cooking and who comes home from the office every night, throws on an apron, gets behind the stove and starts cooking passionately. Rather, I do it for pleasure. And let me tell you, I do interesting, extravagant things for fun, skydiving, let’s say I play golf, last week I worked at McDonald's as a cashier and then inside their kitchen.
Host: That is very interesting indeed.
Maxim: Yeah, with young people. I think all these things enrich me and make my business more meaningful because I can see things from a completely different perspective.
Host: And firsthand as well.
Maxim: Yes, and to feel them. And in the same way, when I'm cooking or when I'm doing something tiny, even if it's just frying some eggs or toasting some bread, spreading something on it, I try to put my heart and imagination into it all, and then things work.
Host: That's right, food is an experience, or it must be an experience for us to feel pleasure from it. As a leading PR expert in our country, I can't help but ask you, are there connections between communications, PR and culinary?
Maxim: There definitely are, and I'll tell you where they are. In my opinion, three elements can speak most eloquently about the image of a country, a territory, a place, a city if you will, and those are cuisine, nature, and people. Of course, I put the people first, even though I listed them last now. It's very important how they welcome you, how they smile, whether they are aggressive, whether they are lazy or whether they are hospitable, whether you make friends, in general it's very personal. You can end up in some village or somewhere on holiday, when you go, and find yourself among people who are not good, not to say bad people, and you don’t like it, but in the end the people, nature are very important, and the food. A lot of times, because I've really traveled all over the world, when I come back home to Sofia and I start looking at the pictures or remembering what I've experienced, I feel like I'm keep coming back to the food. Because beaches, yes there are beautiful beaches in Seychelles and in other countries, in many places. I personally think Seychelles beaches are the most beautiful, there are three of the top five best beaches in the world by all rankings possible in two of the islands of /.../ which are adjacent to the main island of Mahe. But you know, you think of the scenery, you look at pictures, you think of some of the people, you find them on Facebook, you send them a message saying "thank you so much for seeing me", but eventually you think of the food, and you go "Oh my god ..."... We go to neighboring Greece, which has beaches like in Bulgaria, I even think that in Bulgaria they are better, there is good service, there are nice places, beautiful restaurants, however, we say, oh, how delicious the Greek salad is. The Greek salad is nothing compared to the Shopska salad, but we say, oh, what octopuses there are. And when I ask my friends, well, why do you go to Greece? "Ah, when we sit in the pub, you know, there's ouzo, and octopuses, and tzatziki", which in our country is called dry tarator or whatever. So, a lot of the commonality between my business, PR or communications, and food is that you can promote a destination very successfully through food. I personally think that Bulgaria, through food, can be promoted very well if done intelligently. Leaving aside the fact that it hasn't been promoted at all in the last 10 or 15 years. So, if we must promote Bulgaria through the Shopska salad we are doomed, no one would come here for just this salad or for some meatballs or kebabs, grilled pork with cabbage. All this can be found also in Serbia, it can be found in the whole of the former Yugoslavia and Croatia and Slovenia and many other places, Montenegro and I think in many of these countries there is better quality, because the market for such food in Bulgaria is very saturated, the demand is very high, and this often allows people to abuse and take advantage of this. Nevertheless, if this food is intertwined with nature, with the people who are the best thing that Bulgaria has, the best - intelligent, young, ambitious, hospitable people, it can become a good promotion. The way Seychelles very often promote their beaches, i.e., nature, together with their food. The most interesting thing is that this book, if it is considered a cookbook, of course, even though only half of it is recipes, in the last 15 years it is the only cookbook about Seychelles that has been written. And now as of this week, it's on Amazon in English, and I was talking to our minister last week about whether to publish it in French or in Creole. But she told me, "Don't." First, English is the official language of Seychelles, and everybody understands it, not to mention Creole because a Seychellois is not going to buy a Seychelles cookbook, they cook better than I do. But with food, when done in an intelligent way, in an interesting way, in an accessible way mostly, a destination can be promoted very successfully, and this is in direct relation to the PR business.
Host: Right, and something really impressed me that you said, and that is that it really does create memories. I mean, just like a flavor takes us back to childhood or to a place, so does food, its taste.
Maxim: That's definitely... That's a good comparison you used to the aroma, by the way, because we all know that when we go back to a place where we haven't been in 15-20 years, somehow the smell itself reminds us of that place much more than the atmosphere inside or the furniture or whatever. In the same way food could very much characterize a country, a territory, people, a culture, a history too. If somebody cooks successfully, and I will promote a little bit later the so-called famous "Millionaire's Salad", which I love very much, it is very easy to cook. But, through this salad, which you can spend no more than 30 minutes preparing, let's say, you can go to Seychelles, taste the local taste and even intuitively through your senses you can be transported to Seychelles and say "oh, I was in Seychelles for half an hour" because I cooked a “Millionaire's salad” or I cooked, for example, a tuna steak, or some other dish. That taste, that smell, those spices, can take you to places you either can't go, don't have time to go, don't have the means to go, or just really have dreamed about all your life.
Host: Since we are coming to the end of this interview, which is undoubtedly very, very interesting, we talked a moment ago about social networks, and how they are undoubtedly the leading means of communication now, the online space in general. How has the culinary industry changed with the advance of social networks, the Internet as a leading means of communication?
Maxim: The book that you mentioned that I wrote in 2019, just before the pandemic "Global PR Revolution" and which BookAuthority now has as the 2nd best PR book of all time, it was 8th, then it went to 5th, now it's 2nd, it might go down again, I don't know. But it's entirely devoted to how our world has changed with the advent, or as I call it, social media tsunami. Because up until now, and up until 15 years ago, we also had online media, we had websites, we went there to write, but social media has given us this sense of interactivity, meaning we can respond, we can get a response, we can have a conversation, we can share pictures, videos, something that wasn't possible before. And this is really a revolution with a capital R for me. I had a lot of opponents at the time who said "no, it's an evolution, we had newspaper, then radio, then TV, now we have Facebook, we have Instagram". Yes, but neither television, nor radio, for sure not newspapers, have given us readers, listeners, viewers, this opportunity to be able to express our opinion, to be able to express our dissatisfaction if we didn't like something, or our admiration if we liked something. And that's why I believe that social media has made all the boundaries in communications disappear, and of course, in a huge, very sensitive way, it has also enabled all of us to experience cultures through the cuisines and through the food of different nations and bring them home. If you want to cook something Chinese, yes there are many Chinese restaurants in Sofia, of course you can go and ask a Chinese person for a recipe, but if you don't feel like going there or he doesn't know Bulgarian well or his Bulgarian is such that you won't understand the recipe, then you go on social media, you see, especially You tube, you just type in “Chinese cuisine” and 150 videos come up with the most precise instructions, with everything. Both you and I spend a lot of time on Facebook, because it's the main social media in Bulgaria, we see people every day sharing what they've created in their kitchens. And you say, "Oh, look how interesting it is, let's see, let's ask this, let's say Ivan, or let's ask Elena, Valeria, Polina, or whoever how they cooked it. Could it be that they put too much of the cinnamon, or maybe they didn’t put enough black pepper." It starts a discussion, and it makes people much more creative to an extent. Leaving aside the purely culinary side, where you can taste, you can make, this sharing gives you the opportunity to develop your creativity. And it changes the tastes and the cuisine to a great extent, not only of a country, but in a family, in a block of flats somewhere, in a small kitchen, people can cook things that they never thought they could learn about just ten years ago.
Host: Indeed, and I believe that through social media and through the online space, the barriers have really come down between people and different cultures and we feel them much closer when they share because they want to do it with their followers, subscribers, etc.
Maxim: You know, I've always said that social media, because there's a lot of opponents right, they say there's haters, there's this, there's that, however, at the end of the day, social media is nothing but knowledge. It's knowledge, knowledge can be related to food, cooking, electronics, technology, chemistry, it can be related to anything, it can be related to human relationships, they shape our perception of the world, and it's all knowledge. And if someone is interested in cooking and wants to cook something interesting in their kitchen, they just open Facebook or open YouTube and Instagram too, of course, because they have a strong vision and they’re ready. This is a revolution.
Host: Or they get your book "Seychelles Recipes" from which, we will hear suggestions in the coming days.
Maxim: They can buy it, of course, it's available in all bookstores, online, everywhere, if they want to have it in English, they can download it now from Amazon and I will be very happy to provide the listeners of Radio Focus with some of my favorite recipes from the book "Seychelles recipes and more about “Paradise on Earth".
Host: Thank you very much.