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Take exotic food, a dash of humour and celebrity, et voila

A stove set on fire. A measure of yeast missing from the dough. A brilliant recipe turned into a disaster. These might resemble kitchen scenes from an ordinary family home, but for Petr Novotný there is a difference. At home, no director barks: "Back to your positions, we're going to shoot it again!"
For two years, Novotný, 54, a Czech comedian, has been doing battle with food and celebrities on Chuťovky (Appetizers), his weekly show on a Slovak television station. With the help of his director and tips from famous guests, he makes cooking look easy and fun, no matter what goes on between takes. His breezy manner and penchant for exotic recipes have made him one of Slovakia's most popular TV personalities. You can catch Chuťovky Sundays at 19:30 on the privately-owned Markíza television.
"I enjoy being a TV chef very much," said Novotný. "I didn't known half the interesting Slovaks before starting my show. And when I meet them I always get their recipes."


Czech comedian Novtoný cooks every Sunday on Slovak TV.
photo: Vladimír Vavrek

A stove set on fire. A measure of yeast missing from the dough. A brilliant recipe turned into a disaster. These might resemble kitchen scenes from an ordinary family home, but for Petr Novotný there is a difference. At home, no director barks: "Back to your positions, we're going to shoot it again!"

For two years, Novotný, 54, a Czech comedian, has been doing battle with food and celebrities on Chuťovky (Appetizers), his weekly show on a Slovak television station. With the help of his director and tips from famous guests, he makes cooking look easy and fun, no matter what goes on between takes. His breezy manner and penchant for exotic recipes have made him one of Slovakia's most popular TV personalities. You can catch Chuťovky Sundays at 19:30 on the privately-owned Markíza television.

"I enjoy being a TV chef very much," said Novotný. "I didn't known half the interesting Slovaks before starting my show. And when I meet them I always get their recipes."

Novotný begins his 25-minute-long show by introducing his guest. While the guest cooks his or her favourite meal, often an exotic dish, Novotný provides a running commentary, probes the celebrity for culinary tips and interjects interesting tales from the annals of food history.

He has hosted an assortment of Slovak actors and singers, including Africa-born singer Ibrahim Maiga. Maiga cooked tigadede, an African ceremonial chicken dish with bananas, peanut butter and garlic; actor Michal Dočolomanský prepared Liptov Rose, pork steak stuffed with eggs; fitness guru Zora Czoborová made venison with plums and rose-hip jam.

Novotný says his knees still tremble when he recalls the taste of the salmon in strawberry sauce cooked by Slovak pop singer Marcela Molnárová [see box for recipe]. And he will never forget how world-renowned Slovak opera singer Peter Dvorský arrived on his show straight from Scandinavia - with his own set of knives.

"A good cook doesn't trust anyone's knives but his own," said the portly tenor.

Through Chuťovky, Novotný persuades the Slovak public to cook with unusual recipes. He has collected 1,000 so far, including spaghetti with walnuts, apricots with onions, chicken with chocolate and a beverage made from candy.

"I want people to stop being afraid of weird combinations," he said. "I want to show them that preparing food is entertaining. Every recipe requires courage, but only one thing matters: whether it tastes good."

Novotný's Chuťovky is one of the most watched programmes on Markíza, Slovakia's most popular channel. One million people - one fifth of the country's population - follow the show regularly, according to Markíza. Its popularity has led Novotný to compile his recipes, kitchen tips, culinary facts and gustatory tales into a series of books. His third, Chuťovky z Markízy, was published this summer and remains in the top five on the Slovak bestseller list.

Novotný has grown so big that he his show affects Slovak food markets.

"I once prepared an avocado dish on my show," he said. "When I passed a vegetable shop the next day, a guy yelled: 'Great show! I just sold all my avocados. Next time can you do something with pumpkin, aubergine or kiwi?'"

A comedian, script writer and lyricist, Novotný began his showbiz career in student theatres. His 1990s variety show Novoty won Program of the Year twice in the Czech Republic. Then he and Czech actors Jiřina Bohdalová and Jozef Náhlovský came up with the idea of cooking on TV. When their contract finished on the Czech television station Nova, Markíza offered him a slot in Slovakia.

Although not a professionally trained chef, Novotný has cooked regularly since childhood. "My mom was a great cook. She travelled through villages near ours giving cooking lessons. Since she was often away from home, my father and I we were forced to cook," he said.

Shooting for a new season of Chuťovky will begin in January. This year Novotný has a challenge for his fans.

"Slovakia has too few celebrities," he said. "So this season viewers who send me the most interesting recipes will also be invited on the show."

If you'd like to make it on Chuťovky, send recipes - in English, Slovak or Czech - to libertyone@ti.cz

Strawberry salmon

600 grams of boneless salmon steak
100 grams of strawberries
100 grams of bananas
100 grams of tangerines
fresh spinach leaves
butter
nutmeg
salt
ground black pepper
ground caraway
sweet soy sauce
sweet and sour cream

Salt salmon and sprinkle with soy sauce. Melt butter in saucepan. Put salmon in saucepan. Add chopped strawberries, bananas and tangerines to one side of saucepan and salt. Add several spinach leaves. Turn salmon and add nutmeg to taste. Fry all ingredients until juice evaporates from pan. Remove salmon and fruits and put on plate. Leave spinach in saucepan, add rest of leaves and stew. Add sweet and sour cream. Pour spinach sauce into pot, mix into foam, add to plate with salmon and fruit.

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