There’s an urban myth that we can get all the vitamins and nutrients necessary to survive from Guinness. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Dublin, Ireland, to see if the myth is indeed true. My quest is being documented by a five man TV crew for my new series Glutton for Punishment (now airing on the Food Network in The U.S. and Canada). My plan: to live on nothing but Guinness and water from 6pm Monday until 6pm Friday. Fiachna O”Braonain, co-founder and guitar player of the popular Irish Celtic-rock band Hothouse Flowers has generously agreed to show me around the pubs of Dublin and act as my tour guide for the week.
My good friend Colin Devlin (who introduced me to Fiachna) is in Montreal recording an album, and I’m staying in his vacated flat. Colin bet me a hundred dollars that I wouldn’t survive the week on my self-styled diet. When I arrived at his flat, I discovered a chicken suit hanging in the bedroom with a note pinned to it. It read:
This suit is your end of the bargain. Fiachna will be happy to show you a fantastic time in Dublin. But if you cave in, you’ll have to wear this chicken suit for the duration of your stay.
PS: Please water the plants.
Day 1 (Monday)
Today Fiachna and I mucked about, had a couple of warm-up pints, then headed down to The Purdy, one of Dublin’s many gastropubs, for a fabulous last supper. Like a man on death row sitting down to his last meal, I ordered oysters (accompanied by Chablis), tagliatelle carbonara (accompanied by a Borolo), sea bass on roasted vegetables, garlic fried potatoes and stir-fried veggies (with a full bottle of [white] Mercury from Burgundy) and a multitude of desserts – followed by Irish coffee, a shot of Bailey’s and a Blackbush Irish whiskey (on the house).
In a spontaneous show of solidarity (or drunken moment – you choose), Fiachna surprised me by announcing that he was going to join me on the diet. At the stroke of 6 pm the two of us ended the gluttony and officially embarked on our week-long Guinness diet. If all goes well, neither of us will have a morsel of solid food, or any liquid other than Guinness (or water), until 6pm on Friday.
We headed to Searson’s, “the local”, for a couple of pints before calling it a night.
Day 2 (Tuesday)
At about 9 am, I stumbled into the living room of Colin’s flat to discover two beautiful Irish girls sitting at the dining room table. One was salaciously juicing fresh oranges as the other set out a full-on Irish breakfast. A place had been set for me and all was offered up. While I was surveying the spread, Fiachna arrived and informed me that this was a regular monthly gathering. Even though it was too late to cancel it, he promised to persevere with his half of the deal. We cracked a couple cans of Guinness and watched the girls eat (and believe me, these Irish lassies put the girls from Los Angeles to shame when it comes to eating). The beer was surprisingly satisfying and the company almost made me forget what I was missing.
After our breakfast of champions, I visited a local doctor for a brief assessment. He was a bit shocked by my report on last night’s alcohol consumption (note to self: remember the 50 percent rule when responding to doctor’s questions about alcohol consumption), but after taking my vital stats, he pronounced me to be in fighting form.
Fiachna and I headed to an illustrious local pub to celebrate the positive prognosis. We had a pint while the camera crew ate a HUGE pub lunch in front of us. Afterwards, Fiachna headed to the studio to mix a track for an album he’s recording with the drummer of the Flowers and the original bass player of the Pogues (and Elvis Costello’s former wife). And I headed to another pub for a prearranged meeting with Father Brean.
I was seeking council in the art of avoiding temptation, and the good Father chose to dispense it while feasting on a delicious-looking plate of shepherd’s pie. Actually he was quite a hoot and gave me the best tip so far. His advice: to plug my nose when I was around aromatic food. I responded by sticking a napkin up each nostril, then sending our production assistant out for swimming nose plugs.
After bidding adieu to the man of the cloth, it was on to Fiachna’s studio to hear a few tracks. His band mates were both there – munching on a freshly delivered pizza.
As if that wasn’t enough temptation for one day, Fiachna insisted that we go to a party thrown by The Dubliner magazine to celebrate their “Top 100 Restaurants” issue. Naturally, the place was lousy with food, wine and chefs. We made a few friends, then headed off for one last pint.
The Daily Count:
Pints of Guinness: 7 (or 8 depending who was counting)
Water: at least a gallon
Pees: About 15.
Day 3 (Wednesday)
Another day of temptation and torture.
A beautifully presented plate of eggs Benedict greeted me as I opened my bedroom door this morning, but naturally it was no match for a cool pint of the brown stuff which I quaffed while reading the morning paper.
After a bit of e-mailing and general housekeeping, Fiachna took me to meet a chef friend of his at L’Ecrivian, one of Dublin’s only restaurants to earn a Michelin star. As is my nature, I ended up in the kitchen where Chef Derry showed off several of his Guinness-infused dishes. Seems as though he thought my “Guinness diet” included anything made with Guinness and he was eager to feed me. He must have anticipated my love of bacon, because just about everything from the oysters to the braised beef included it in one form or another. Frankly, it was his freshly-baked Irish soda bread that really made me weak at the knees. Chef Derry promised to pack me a box lunch for my flight on Saturday – if I last the week.
After the demo, I headed out for a pint on my own. When I came back to meet Fiachna at the restaurant, I discovered him chowing down on plate of quail and sipping an Italian red from a fish bowl-size wine glass. THE FUCKER had caved! Frankly I was impressed that the rocker had lasted this long. And after a brief brow beating, I commended him on pacing me for the first 42 hours. After Fiachna’s betrayal, I had to endure the crew moaning in delight over a stunning lunch that Chef Derry prepared.
From there we toured a few other pubs where I learned to “pull a pint” and met a few nice – albeit plastered – locals. Then after the crew stopped for a quick fry-up at the local chippy stand, Fiachna took me to a pub where he sat in on the penny flute with some traditional Irish musicians. Needless to say, a couple of pints were added to the mix.
In case you are wondering about my state of well-being, it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. At the end of day two, I had developed a raging head ache. But it later dawned on me that it was probably due to what I wasn’t drinking – caffeine – then the all-day drinking or lack of food. I am finding myself vacillating from moments of euphoria to periods of grumpiness (yes, really!). And as I type this I’m feeling quite light-headed. So far, I’ve never felt drunk – just slightly buzzed for brief periods. And one other thing of note, I can’t turn around without seeing food or references to food everywhere I look.
The Daily Count:
Pints of Guinness: 8
Water: tons, but probably still not enough
Pees: I lost count after 20.
Day 4 (Thursday)
This morning’s offering in front of my bedroom door was a dessert plate sent over by Chef Derry. Needless to say, the double chocolate brownie, fig shooter and vanilla custard were no match for my “pint of plain” which I enjoyed at the local at 9:30 am.
After breakfast, Fiachna sent me to his hairdresser-to-the-stars for a Guinness shampoo. Wow, the man who touched Bono’s mane touched mine. Come to think of it, Bono doesn’t have much left these days.
The rest of the day was consumed (or not as the case was) with a visit to the grave of Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness. Arthur died in 1802, but his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, Patrick Guinness is still dining off the family name. Patrick, to be fair, was very cordial (in that upper crust, self-aggrandizing kind of way) and was happy to spin truths and a half-truths about the family history until Will mercifully called “cut”.
We wrapped early and I took in the Borat movie at a packed cinema. Despite the wafting popcorn aromas, it was a welcome distraction – and wickedly funny in a juvenile kind of way.
The hunger pains have subsided, as has (most of) the grumpiness, and I’m shocked at how much energy I have considered my limited caloric intake. That said, and despite the conventional wisdom that says the stomach shrinks, I do feel as though if I let my guard down for a second, I could do some serious damage to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll make it to the finish line. However, my bravado is tempered by my fear that the entire crew is still determined to take me down – after all, they’ve had every culinary resource in Dublin at their fingertips. With only 18 hours to go, the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
The Daily Count:
Pints of Guinness: 5 (today was the Guinness diet diet!)
Water: who cares any more
Pees: let’s just say the soles of my shoes are wearing thin
Day 5 (Friday)
Nothing could have prepared me for the challenges that would face me today.
There was a note outside my door in the spot I’d come to expect my daily breakfast offering. It read “Townsend Street #2.” I dressed quickly, glanced at the chicken suit, then ran out of the flat and waived down a taxi. The cabbie deposited me in a scrappy part of town in front of a dubious looking pub called The Windjammer. When I entered I saw Fiachna sitting at the bar devouring a plate of poached eggs on mushrooms and toast. In fairness, he was accompanying his breakfast with a pint, so naturally I joined in. The Windjammer is an “early house.” Early houses, for the initiated, are pubs in Dublin that’re licensed to open at 7am in order to serve shift workers as they get off work in the early morning hours.
After we finished our respective breakfasts, Fiachna took me to the coast to see the James Joyce museum. It was cold, overcast and rainy. As we approached I noticed several swimmers braving the icy waters. I looked at the swimmers, then at Fiachna. Suddenly my mind scrolled back to a moment as we left the early house when the soundman took my microphone pack from me “to fix a loose connection.” The penny dropped just seconds before Fiachna dropped his trousers, revealing a pair of plaid swimming trunks. Coincidentally, he just happened to have an extra pair of shorts with him, and insisted that I join him. Before I could decline, he cannon-balled into the drink and I had no choice but to follow. The 40°F ocean waters would have been a shock to any system at the best of circumstances, but they were even more jarring to my weakened body. At the same time I must admit that the experience was quite invigorating. We scampered out onto the rocks shivering. There were no towels in sight, but Fiachna produced a steaming thermos of chicken soup and held the cup up to my nose. Weakened, but not yet broken, I took the soup and poured the whole lot over my head. Chicken soup never felt so good.
With the ruse up, we toweled off and headed to a pub for a quick warm-up pint. I can’t say that it warmed my body, but it certainly took the edge off the shock. From there, Fiachna brought me to one of Ireland’s finest cheese shops. Great cheeses of the world are one of my weaknesses and this shop had them all. I did my best to ignore the wafting aromas as Fiachna and the crew devoured a tasting. Our next stop was a specialty wine store around the corner. The owner had set out a luscious food and wine pairing for us and Fiachna dove in with the same wild abandon he had displayed at the sea side. Then he announced that I could pick any wine in the shop – as long as I opened it and had a glass. I looked around the well-stocked shop and eventually spotted the reserve case. Closing in on my prey, I discovered a 1985 Petrus – one of Bordeaux’s most legendary wines, and an excellent vintage. The price was 1,250 euros, well beyond the budget of my weenie cable show. It seemed like a toothless ploy until Will, my director (and the show’s true protagonist) whipped out his wallet and produced his credit card.
At this point it should be noted that Will and I have been traveling on the magical mystery tour we call Glutton for Punishment for the past six months. By now he’s well acquainted with my many weaknesses. Will’s as competitive and tenacious as I am (but in a much more Zen-like way). Usually he’s my staunchest supporter, but in this particular episode he took it as his personal mission to take me down. He also happens to LOVE wine and wanted to taste the Petrus as much as I did.
“Drink it now and I’ll pay for it,” he said.
He was dead serious.
It’s not often in one’s life that they have the opportunity to drink an ’85 Petrus. With less than two hours left, Will taunted me by saying that I could have my wine and drink it too, then only have to endure two (humiliating) hours in the chicken suit. It was painfully tempting, but I knew the finish of the wine would fade long before the stories of my demise.
Next up was a visit to the doctor who’d examined me earlier in the week. Despite his pronouncement that I was “slightly pale and tired looking,” I was feeling surprisingly spry. He quizzed me about the week and shook his head in disbelief at how much I’d consumed. According to his scale, I lost more than five pounds. The mild-mannered doctor was quite shocked (and dismayed) to find that all my vital signs were exactly the same as my first visit. (Note to Morgan Sperlock: choose your poison wisely). Moving in for the kill, I challenged him to an arm wrestle. I’m sure I detected a flicker of fear in his eyes as he politely declined.
With a renewed spring in my step, we moved on to the market bar where my victory dinner was set to take place. Even though there was less than an hour remaining until the 6 pm finish line, many details had yet to be arranged. Peter Devlin (our local production coordinator, and Colin’s brother) was dispatched to accompany me for a last pint. Six o’clock came and went. I got a hand shake – and another pint – from Peter, but at this point, all clocks were reset to television time which basically meant that I couldn’t have my first bite until we were ready to roll. 6:30…7…7:30…another pint…8. Finally Peter’s cell phone rang with word that everyone was ready. As we walked across the street to the restaurant, it began to dawn on me that I had actually survived all the physical challenges, temptations and hurdles of the Guinness diet.
Fiachna was waiting at the bar to greet me with a victory pint. He announced that the table was almost ready. We were to be joined by chef Darry, orange juice girl, his band mates, the Guinness barber and a few other sorted and assorted characters that we had encountered in our travels. Fiachna excused himself for a pee and I nursed my last pint, thinking about how long it would be before I would order another one on my own volition. Much to my pleasure, one of the most stunning woman I had seen all week sat down on the stool Fiachna had just vacated. Needless to say I had no intention of saying it was taken. Moments later, a curvaceous full-lipped-dark-haired beauty sat down on the vacant stool to my left. Apparently the two were friends and we immediately struck up a conversation. I could tell that the fair skinned girl was Irish and the dark haired girl seemed Spanish. The Irish maiden was plucking ripe strawberries from a bowl and dipping them in freshly whipped cream. Seeing the hunger in my eyes, she generously offered me a strawberry. In my slightly buzzed state, I tried to explain my predicament. This amused her, but she would have none of it. The two of them took it as some form of challenge complete the mission that the rest of Ireland had failed to at. I held my ground, which only made them more determined. Sensing my weakened state of willpower they both offered me a long slow kiss if I would just take one bite. Eyelashes fluttered, nostrils quivered and lips curled.
Would anyone really know…after all Fiachna was in the bathroom and…hey…just a minute…
Having survived the last temptation of a very, very long week. I was shepherded to the table where I joined the waiting group (and the two girls from the bar) for the final countdown. For the record, in real time it was 8:30 pm.
After the big hurrah everyone was curious about how I intended to break my fast.
“What I would REALLY like is nice glass of red wine”, I replied, “but there’s something I want first,” then I grabbed a long slow kiss from the two girls – who it should be noted were a bit shocked by the unscripted moment.
Moral of the whole experience: With a little will power and perseverance, you can have your cake and eat it two.
The Daily Count:
Pints of Guinness: 8
Everything else is a blur
As I type this, I’m 36,000 feet in the air, en route home to Los Angeles. Chef Derry over-delivered on his promise and I’m munching on a pheasant, tomato confit and Gubbeen cheese sandwich – just one of the many delicacies in my well-stocked lunch box. To heighten the pleasure, and make up for lost time, I’m washing it down with a full-bodied Spanish Rioja that the flight attendant brought me from First Class in trade for some of my fois gras. My week’s experience has made me even more appreciative of the things I’m fortunate to take for granted, and it’s a renewed pleasure to be able to describe food that I am actually eating.
Glutton for Punishment airs on the Food Network in the U.S. at 9:30pm Tuesdays. In other episodes Bob Blumer enters a chili pepper eating competition, a flair bartending competition, the New York City waiter’s race, and attempts to run the Medoc marathon while sampling all 23 wines along the route.