If you see Baron Ambrosia on the streets of your town, be sure and say hi. You could well end up on his new show, the latest offering from Cooking Channel.
“The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia” features Baron Ambrosia, known as a comedian and cultural ambassador to the Bronx. His upcoming show takes culinary consciousness to a whole new level. His discerning palate and passion for flavor lead him on a culinary adventure, revealing America’s hidden heroes of culinary excellence. Along the way, the Baron finds himself tangled in stories of mystery, comedy and intrigue.
Born Justin Fornal in Killingworth, Connecticut, he went to school for film at the University of Pittsburgh before moving to the Bronx.
After writing and directing two independently produced feature length films, Fornal set off to Vietnam to document the world’s most expensive food condiment, Cà Cuống - a rare fragrant exudate extracted from giant water bugs.
While he said he enjoyed documentary film making, he felt it was a little too dry, so he designed a new genre that would combine his love for filmmaking and his passion for food.
And Baron Ambrosia, anything but dry, was born. With a pencil-thin moustache, soul patch and dark hair slicked back into a tight bun, Fornal’s alter-ego is somewhere between dashing hero and a mysterious stranger. With a cinematic brilliance that is alternately melodramatic and Fellini-like, the show takes the Baron’s outrageous personality onto the streets of various cities to seek out unique eateries.
The Baron first appeared in the Fornal penned culinary podcast entitled “Underbelly.” Unlike other food programming, “Underbelly” followed the humorously dramatic Baron on a fictional adventure that was set in real restaurants, markets, and chefs’ homes. Instead of just being discussed, the cuisine being showcased would play a pivotal role in the Baron’s dilemma.
Fornal wrote, directed, and produced eight episodes of the 10-minute show with his own funds all the while working as a tea master and tobacconist.
After becoming the number one food podcast on iTunes, the show was picked up by BronxNet Television. With its new budget and network support, Fornal rechristened the show ‘Bronx Flavor.’ The program set out to document the uncelebrated food scene and small ethnic enclaves of New York’s northernmost borough.
“The idea was to showcase mom and pop eateries in the Bronx,” Fornal told The Alternative Press. “The Baron would do things like stop a culinary supervillain from stealing restaurants. With the new show, the Baron is there, he’s involved in these adventures, but you also get a reality kitchen segment. That’s the exact formula we’re bringing to Cooking Channel.”
When not filming, Fornal can be found “urban spelunking” through the five boroughs, as well as embarking on research expeditions abroad. He has filmed and researched in such countries as Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Ecuador. He is currently a resident member of the National Explorer’s Club. He is also the creator and president of the Bronx Pipe Smoking Society, a culinary group who holds an annual small game dinner that showcases alternative protein sources prepared by top chefs.
But back to the Baron…
“To me, if it’s been done, I don’t want to waste the viewers’ time,” he said. “I want them to go to a place they’ve never seen on TV before, especially in the culinary sense.”
The restaurants Baron Ambrosia visits may be small, out of the way, unsung eateries, but that’s exactly the reason Fornal is featuring them on his show. In one of the early episodes, he visits Newark, with its large Portuguese population.
“The food you get in these places is authentic,” he said. “It’s the true spice you would taste if you went to Portugal.”
When people see him on the street, they definitely notice him, he said.
“When people first see Baron Ambrosia on the street, they stop and look, they get very curious,” Fornal said. “I love to engage anyone, anywhere, anytime. When you see someone like that, and you go over and start talking to them, you’ve got a fan for life.”
Fornal admits that although Baron Ambrosia is a character he plays, there’s a part of him that’s real. Really real.
“When people talk to me on the street like that, they know it’s not just a character I’m playing,” he said. “They know I’m out there, finding the magic. It’s fun on such a grassroots level to get people from the communities involved in the stories. You’re not just on a show, you’re part of a cinematic existence.”
And when those at home are finished watching the show, Fornal hopes they’ll go out and embrace the culinary adventures all around them.
“Find your inner Baron,” he said. “Go out and have a flavor adventure of your own. That’s what I want.”
“The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia” premieres Friday, June 1 at 10 p.m. on Cooking Channel.