When you go out for coffee, you look both ways before crossing the street.
When Todd Carmichael does it, he dodges guerrillas, bureaucrats and other predators
Tuesday night (1/28, 9 p.m.) is the launch of the second season of Travel Channel's Dangerous Grounds, in which the Philly-based Carmichael - co-owner of La Colombe - scours the planet for rare beans. This season, he visits Nepal, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Uganda, Guatemala, Tanzania and India.
It's equal parts travelogue and adventure story, narrated by Carmichael's understated bravado and filmed by his trusty sidekick, "Hollywood."
In the first episode, Carmichael is sitting in New York City with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, his biggest client. Vongerichten tells Carmichael that he needs to source beans as locally as possible for his restaurant ABC Cocina. Local? Coffee is not grown in the continental United States. Carmichael offers him coffee from Bolivia. Not close enough. Carmichael's next suggestion is Mexico, an idea that works for Vongerichten.
And it works even better for TV. A week later, Carmichael found himself outside of Acapulco in an area controlled by drug cartels. Lots of brandished guns and sweet talking later, Carmichael has his coffee and a happy client.
Episode 2, which will be shown Feb. 4, Carmichael sits with Stephen Starr, who wants a rare but excellent coffee for Buddakan. It's a $250,000 deal. Next scene: Carmichael is in Nepal, where he's riding on top of buses instead of inside them.
Tuesday night at 9, Starr's Frankford Hall will host a screening of the season premiere on a large projector screen, followed by a look at the second episode with Starr.
Carmichael, whose more, um, decaffeinated adventures include a solo walk across Antarctica to the South Pole, doesn't frighten too easily, does he?
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I fear loads of things. You just have to separate yourself from what's happening. We have a saying around our house [which he shares with wife Lauren Hart and their four children]: 'I was nervous. I was afraid. I did it anyway.'" Though Hart has been singing professionally for more than two decades, Carmichael said, "she's close to throwing up" before she goes on.
Dying for a cup of coffee would not be worth it, he said. "That's what I tell myself when my chest starts pounding."
Carmichael said his dreams include traveling to and buying beans in what he calls the "black list" countries such as Cuba, Zimbabwe and Yemen.
Carmichael likes the chase and the adventure side, but he views coffee-buying in far-flung countries as a way to bring the world together and tell a story that affects everyone.
Isolated farmers, he explained, need to be brought into the world marketplace. "If you're not connected to the market, you're going to die."