Dinner on the Diner

“The voiceover narration . . . [creates] a graceful flow and expansive rhythm, reminiscent of the cadence
of these vintage trains.”
— Jan Murray iCOM Magazine

When I was contacted by Jon Guilbert of Gandy Dancer Productions in 1999, he was at work on a “great trains, great chefs” travel series for PBS. The footage had been shot. He had some splendid visuals and dynamic on-camera celebrity chefs—but no narrative thread. My role was to provide a cohesive storyline, to add clarity, depth, and texture to Guilbert’s collage of images—incorporating along the way the distinct voices and commentary provided by each tour guide, four of America’s favorite chefs.

All aboard and bon appetit! Welcome to Dinner on the Diner, a journey through stunning landscapes and varied cultures, diverse peoples and distinctive cuisine – guided by four of America’s favorite chefs. Broadcast nationwide during prime time in the winter of 2000, the PBS series chronicles the travels of celebrity chefs aboard the dining cars of the world’s most elegant trains:

  • Graham Kerr rides the Royal Scotsman in Scotland
  • Mary Ann Esposito explores Spain aboard the Alesandro Express
  • Dorinda Hafner climbs aboard the Union Limited in South Africa
  • Martin Yan strikes out through Thailand on the Eastern Oriental

“The series combines the best of travel with the best of food,” says producer Jon Guilbert. Dinner on the Diner has aired numerous times since its initial release. It is also available through PBS Home Video.


Excerpt #1 | The Dining Car & the Track Gang

In this sequence, as the Royal Scotsman crosses high above Culloden Moor, viewers get a glimpse inside the civilized ambiance of the dining car, “every china plate, each carefully pressed napkin in its proper place,” while outside “another group of plate layers are at work—the track gang.  .  . For a split second our paths cross. Then we go our separate ways. The Royal Scotsman rushes north. And the keepers of the track walk on.” On board, lunch preparations continue, while up the line, the signals are being set for the approaching train. “If the signalman does his job well, his work is so finely tuned, so smooth, that travelers notice nothing.” Signalman George Hollyhead has worked for the railway all his life. “His signal cabin is a work of art, every inch of polished steel gleaming.”

Excerpt #2 | The Signalman

In this excerpt, host Graham Kerr visits the Nairn railway station, famous for its quarter-mile long platform. “By some quirk of history, the two boxes at either end are linked not by wires but by human endurance. Twenty trains pull in and out of this station each day, and the signalman, Sandy, cycles back and forth for every one of them—more than eight miles each shift—rain or wind, sleet or snow, controlling the comings and goings of these trains on his 12-speed bicycle.” Sandy’s platform is also the site of crates piled high with fresh ingredients headed for the train’s kitchen–and then on to the Royal Scotsman’s dining car.


Excerpt #1 | Chugging into the Night

In this short clip, the Union Limited steams through the night towards Worcester, South Africa. “Lulled by the rhythms of the wheels,” host Dorinda Hafner drifts off to sleep. When she wakes the next morning “the Langerberg Mountains loom out of the mist like great sailing ships.”

Excerpt #2 | Natural Treasures of Nisner

“The lush shores of the Nisner Lagoon curl around its still waters like an emerald ribbon.” Host Dorinda Hafner visits the South African lagoon, famous for its oysters and mysterious sea horses, and then goes in search of the lone surviving elephant roaming among the ancient trees of the Nisner Forest. “People have actually been known to disappear into this shadowy world, never to be seen again.”

Excerpt #3 | A Mountain Pass & a Glimpse of Ostrich Cuisine

In this excerpt, host Dorinda Hafner visits the engine shed where, “oil cans and grease guns in hand,” the drivers prepare the steam train to tackle Montague Pass. “Every moving part of this metal beast must be greased. This is the ritual of steam trains. And these are the men who understand the soul of the Union Limited. Each one knows his job and does it well.” The sequence continues as the train climbs through the mountains, traveling through seven tunnels “the longest one a half mile of hell for the driver and fireman.” From the top of the pass, the train descends to the arid lands of the Little Karoo. And the journey continues with a stop in Oosterville, a town built by ostrich feathers during the Victorian era. “When ostrich garb fell out of favor, the city fell on hard times, today ostrich is ‘in’ again.”