Somebody said “GUN!” and the next thing I know, director Mo Fallon drops his camera, drags me to the floor of a crowded care and covers me with his body. A split second later, assistant cameraman Josh Flannigan piles on. Mo has his back to the potential shooter, shielding me. The danger passed quickly. Two car thieves, struggling with the ignition, had allowed their stolen vehicle to drift into the curb in front of the cafe where we were shooting a scene. Witnesses had tried to drag them out of the car — at which point one of them produced a weapon. After a tense moment, the two were (wisely) allowed to flee the scene unmolested.

As I got up from the ground, I think my first words to Mo were, “If your wife finds out about this, she is going to kill you.” My crew are not the Secret Service. And I sure as shit ain’t the president. This kind of behavior, while flattering — and well…frankly, heroic — was above and beyond the call of duty. I can — let’s face it — be replaced. I returned to the table and the scene to continue talking about the cuisine of Minas Gerais — but in the light of what had just transpired, I was thinking, “Damn! Now I gotta be nice to them.” What does one do for people who risk their lives for you? I was thinking a fruit basket wasn’t enough.

I don’t want you to think Minas Gerais, a beautiful and mountainous agricultural area of Brazil, is a dangerous place. Brazil can be dangerous for sure. It’s a country where the divide between the rich and poor is striking and severe. But shit happens. It could have happened in New York — or Dubuque. That is happened with us right there, cameras rolling, was one of the many flukes on the road. Travel long enough and you see stuff like this. A rule of the road, long ago learned, is that everything is fine. Until it isn’t.

Do NOT let this brief moment dissuade you from visiting Minas Gerais. It is beautiful. It is soulful, with a cuisine and a style all it’s own. It is unlike Rio or Sao Paolo or Salvador or Belem or anywhere else we’ve been in Brazil. It’s where so many of the cooks from the best restaurants all over Brazil come from — and when you spend time there, you will discover exactly why the best chefs in Sao Paolo will brag that their cooks “come from Minas.” It is truly a “part unknown” only in that it is relatively undiscovered by tourists — and the batshit crazy amazing art gallery, Inhotim, spread throughout acres of jungle — is reason alone to visit.

The food is hearty and comforting and delicious, reflecting the demanding appetites of hard working farming communities. The people are lovely. And the mix of blood and culture inspiring. Go there.

Parts Unknown: Minas Gerais
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