Annie Sibonney sits in a bar in Mexico City with a cluster of professional wrestlers. Then the electrocutions start.
Sibonney is the host of the new food-focused show "One Night Stand" on Discovery World, but the culinary adventurer does a lot more than just eat and drink when she's on camera. No wonder Anthony Bourdain, famous for merging eating with other exotic escapades for TV viewers' enjoyment, has favourably compared Sibonney's work to his own.
It's easy to imagine Bourdain trading shots with masked lucha libre wrestlers, but even he might balk at electrocution. Trading shocks to see who has the biggest cajones is actually a popular bar game in Mexico, but it's not something every traveller is up for.
"When people start drinking you start to show a little bit of bravado and one person tries to show another up," the Toronto-based Sibonney says. "So electrocution is a very convenient way of proving how strong you are."
Sibonney had no idea she was going to get shocked when she walked into the cantina in a "sketchy" neighbourhood of the Mexican capital, but she went along with it anyway. Boldness and bravery, Sibonney says, are at the heart of the travel philosophy she advocates on "One Night Stand."
"The way that I like to travel is by being fearless in both food and language," says Sibonney, who speaks five languages and is working on a few more. "Anyone can visit a place but that’s different than really living and experiencing a destination by immersing yourself into the culture and that’s what we try to inspire people to do."
And she's in a hurry to do it. In each episode of "One Night Stand" Sibonney dives into a city's food and culture -- in a single night. After dark, she says, is the best time to experience the "true taste and rhythm of a city."
But there are hangover meals too. In the Montreal episode, Sibonney indulges in an "epic, cinematic, brunch of excess" featuring ostrich eggs, 14-pound lobsters and absinthe cocktails at 10 a.m. It ended up being her favourite meal from the six cities she has visited so far for the show.
But Sibonney has a hard time picking favourites, perhaps because her enthusiasm for food and language has helped her rack up an enviable list of epicurean experiences.
She reluctantly admits that her favourite restaurant on Earth is a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian, but says her deathbed meal would be nothing but home cooking.
The former is Arzak, the birthplace of Basque molecular gastronomy, a restaurant that holds a special place in Sibonney's heart.
Sibonney ran a catering company after university but found that the kitchen was keeping her from travelling and travelling was keeping her away from the kitchen. So she decided to find away to merge her passion for food, travel and language.
The answer was Relish, the high-end culinary tour company that Sibonney continues to run today. But to get her dream off the ground, she had to display some of the fearlessness she preaches to viewers today.
She knocked on the back door of Arzak and asked for their help with her company. Her enthusiasm won them over and today she considers Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena her closest family in Spain. The famous food family helped introduce her to the top figures in country's burgeoning culinary scene and Sibonney would eventually make Spain the centre of her tour business.
Later she would parlay that business into her first TV foray, "From Spain With Love." On that show and on "One Night Stand" her close relationships with the people who actually run the restaurants make the action feel refreshingly authentic.
She comes by her obsession with eating honestly. From an early age she would watch her French-Moroccan mother cook massive meals for their extended family. Even after eating at many of the world's most famous restaurants she clearly has a close connection to home. Her mother's Friday night couscous dinner with vegetables, lamb and a myriad assortment of salads would be her last meal on Earth.
It was also at home, where "at least four or five languages" were being spoken at any given moment, that she picked up a passion for exploring a culture in its native tongue.
It's something she hopes more travellers will try.
"To be fearless in both food and language, to try and communicate in the language and also to try all of those beloved dishes of a culture, that goes a really long way when trying to feel part of the place."
"One Night Stand" airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. PT on Discovery World.
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