Gwyneth to Star in Show Backed by ... Chipotle?

Actress, a Famous Food Snob, Travels to Spain in PBS Culinary Series

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NEW YORK ( -- 2008 is going to be a rough year for Gwyneth Paltrow haters. First the actress lightened up her prissy image with her action-movie debut last week alongside Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man." Now the woman who notoriously branded herself as a macrobiotic food snob has expanded her diet to include eel, cheese and even -- gasp! -- fried churros, all to be chronicled in "Spain ... On the Road Again," a new docu-series making its debut in September on PBS.
Chef Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, food columnist for 'The New York Times'
Chef Mario Batali and Mark Bittman, food columnist for 'The New York Times' Credit: FrappƩ Inc.

The third season of the American Public Television travel program follows Ms. Paltrow as she travels across Spain with mega-chef Mario Batali, New York Times food critic Mark Bittman and Spanish actress/singer Claudia Bassols, culminating in an "Iron Chef"-esque competition emceed by Mr. Batali and Ms. Paltrow. In between visits to the Prado Museum in Madrid, an impromptu chat with starchitect Frank Gehry and countless trips in topless convertibles furnished by Mercedes, Ms. Paltrow lets her newfound appreciation for the less-refined side of food shine.

Gotta love her
Charlie Pinsky, the show's executive producer and president of production company Frappe, said, "Gwyneth's actually a very good cook, and when she took time off from the movies, cooking sort of became her creative outlet. She eats a lot of things despite her previous reputation, and in this show she shows people she's a pretty well-rounded food person at this point in her life."

Adding further credence to Ms. Paltrow's newly lax diet is the presence of the former McDonald's-affiliated chain Chipotle Mexican Grill as one of the show's main sponsors. But the marketing tie-in isn't quite as surprising as you may think. The burrito makers have made their commitment to using naturally raised meats, organic black and pinto beans and rBGH-free dairy items a core part of their brand slogan, "Food with integrity."

Jim Adams, the chain's exec VP-marketing, said it was important Chipotle's sponsorship be more of an alignment of marketing messages than an effort to make any of the stars shill for the company. "We've been very careful not to do celebrity endorsements. We've been approached by a lot of sports figures, and we don't want to put anything on one person. No one's talking about Chipotle in this show, so it's sort of a reverse on that."

New direction for Chipotle
"On the Road Again" does, however, mark Chipotle's first venture into TV advertising, a medium the brand has strategically avoided in favor of local-store marketing and user-generated ad contests on YouTube. "Most of our marketing is to spur on word-of-mouth, whether that means an outdoor board that prompts discussion or a radio ad you can sing along to," Mr. Adams said. "We knew this show was a way for us to sort of dip our toe into TV. Even though it's public television, it could possibly prepare us for future forays into more mainstream TV."

As for "On the Road Again," the show is currently seeking to add more sponsors to a lineup that already includes Chipotle, TurespaƱa and Freixenet sparkling wine. The unique public-TV model only allows for 90 seconds of sponsorship ad messages, 55 of which are already taken. The series' fall premiere will also be accompanied by a cookbook including recipes from the show and a feature-heavy website where sponsors will appear too.

Messrs. Pinsky and Adams have high expectations the 13-episode series will be a hit among viewers outside of PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" crowd, given Ms. Paltrow's star power and Mr. Batali starring in his first non-Food Network series.

"I don't want to use the word 'reality show,' but it's an unscripted, very smart show with bright people, putting them in smart situations and sort of letting things happen," Mr. Pinsky said.
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