Check out how she’s answered my 20 travel and food questions below. Two years old and eating oysters? You know she’s into food!
1. Who are you and how does food play into your travels? I’m an elementary school teacher, born and raised in New York City, and food has always been a big part of my life. My mother is from New Orleans and my father is from North Georgia (the state, not the country), so growing up I was fascinated by the different foods I found when I was visiting my relatives. My mother always liked to tell the story about the time I was two years old and ate an entire plate of raw oysters at a restaurant when her back was turned. A big part of the reason I travel is to try new foods. My favorite cuisines are French, Japanese, Brazilian, and regional food from the southern part of the United States, but I am discovering new cuisines and foods all the time. I am going to spend six weeks this summer traveling around six different European countries, so I am very much looking forward to all the new foods I will be able to taste. I write about my experiences traveling as a single female on my blog One for the Road. My twitter account is: https://twitter.com/MissKTravels
2. You’re at your favourite eatery with three companions (fictional, living or dead). Where (and when!) are you, and who are you with? When I was a kid, we lived around the corner from an old school Italian red sauce place called Rocco Ristorante. Every year my mother would take me there for my birthday dinner and the 200 year old waiters would sing to me as they brought out my tartufo. My mother died of ALS 6 years ago, and Rocco’s closed a couple of years later. It has since been replaced by a much fancier restaurant called Carbone. I’ve been once and I loved their updated versions of Italian-American classics, particularly their table-side Caesar salad. I would choose to take my mother there so she could experience our favorite joint all spiffed-up. I would want my mother’s sister and my best friend Liz to join us so it would just be a warm and fun evening with people I love.
3. What are your favourite foods? I have a big sweet tooth, and the only thing I love more than chocolate is finding new things to combine chocolate with. It’s wonderful on its own, but pair it with mint, raspberry, nuts of any kind, bacon, etc. and I am in heaven. My favorite place to get chocolate in New York is Li-Lac Chocolates. If I’m going for a healthier sweet, my favorite fruit is fresh cherries with nothing else on them. On the savory side, I wish I could say something terribly fancy for my favorite meat, but my preference is for barbecued pulled pork, especially if it’s accompanied by Brunswick stew at Fresh Air Bar-B-Que in Jackson, Georgia. My favorite seafood is salmon because it’s so versatile, but my preference would be to have it smoked on a bagel from Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side. I’m more of an eater than a drinker, but my favorite type of alcohol is definitely whiskey. I usually get it in an Old Fashioned because it makes me feel like Don Draper. My favorite whiskey experience was at the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland. I tried the 12 year old, which they insist they only serve on the premises. I’d be lying if I said I could tell the difference, but it was quite tasty.
4. Is there anything that you’d never eat? What is it and why? I would never eat anything that I suspected was spoiled. This is because of a really horrible experience I had with food poisoning. (See below.) Other than that, I will try absolutely anything. I used to not like scallops, so I cooked them for myself until I learned to like them. I’m very serious about being an adventurous eater.
5. What do you crave but can’t get whilst on the road? How do you satisfy the craving? The only thing I ever really crave is coffee first thing in the morning. I am an evil gremlin until I have had my coffee. For this reason, I try to stay in hotels that at least have free coffee, if not a free breakfast, but this isn’t always possible. In Japan, the hotels I stayed at either didn’t have coffee or didn’t have coffee that was strong enough for my taste, so I ended up getting my fix from canned coffee in vending machines. These machines are all over Japan, so the coffee was easy to find. At first I thought the vending machine coffee was too sweet and a little metallic, but now I kind of miss it.
6. What food are you embarrassed to admit you like to eat? I love generic movie theater candy. My favorite is Junior Mints, but I also love Gummi Bears and Sour Patch Kids. Some movie theaters in NYC serve fancy food, and I get so cranky about this. I don’t care how good the movie theater food is, I just want my processed junk! And don’t put real butter on the popcorn either!
7. What / where do you dream of eating, but haven’t yet had the pleasure? Until very recently, this question would have been really easy for me to answer. The first cookbook I ever read was Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters. I loved her magical tales of Fanny (her daughter) exploring the world of California cuisine. My favorite part of the book was when Alice tricked a customer who was a picky eater into eating a breaded pig’s ear. However, I finally got to eat at Chez Panisse this spring, so that dream has been fulfilled. I don’t think I have another dream restaurant/food waiting in the wings. If pressed, I would say Le Bernardin because it’s in my hometown and it’s supposed to be so special, but there are a lot of wonderful restaurants out there I’d love to try too.
8. Strangest meal? The strangest meal I ever had was at a restaurant called Minoko in Kyoto. I went there for lunch. The waitress didn’t speak English, but fortunately I speak enough Japanese to order. At this restaurant you don’t order your dishes, you just say how much you want to pay and then they bring out your food. When it came out, the food was presented in a gorgeous two-layered box filled with many different trays and containers, each with a different dish inside. The lunch was wonderful, but what made this meal so odd is that I have no idea what I ate. The waitress, probably figuring my Japanese wasn’t good enough, never tried to tell me and there are no menus. The best I can do to describe it would be to say that there were lots of different Japanese vegetables and types of seafood served with a variety of sauces. Not a very satisfying description, I know.
9. Ever had food poisoning while traveling? Any advice to share? One time I went on a trip with my aunt and uncle to ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad in northern New Mexico. On the way, we stopped in a town called Chama for the night. Chama is not usually a hotbed of activity, but there was a festival of some sort going on in town so all the restaurants were full. We stopped at the only restaurant that wasn’t full, and it very much looked like the worst restaurant in this town or any other town. I ordered the green chile stew because it is a New Mexican specialty. When the stew came out, it was grey in color and looked and smelled like a dead foot. I could only choke down one bite, but I became sick anyway. My best advice would be that if you are ever in a town and every restaurant but one is full, DO NOT eat at this restaurant.
10. Have you fallen so much in love with a foreign dish that you learned to make it at home? What’s the story? I went on a trip to Paris with my family when I was eleven, and it was my first time traveling to a foreign country. I came back determined to fix my favorite desserts: profiteroles, crème brûlée, and tarte tatin. I used my beloved Sheila Lukins cookbook, All Around the World. I never managed to get the profiteroles just right, (curse you pâte à choux!) but I did manage to make a decent crème brûlée, despite once dropping the bain-marie on the floor and scalding my feet. The tarte tatin was my only real triumph though, and I got it right on the first try. I think this is because it’s both very easy and very fun to make. I was so delighted when I realized I was supposed to put the pastry OVER the pan of cooked apples and then stick the whole thing in the oven. The fact that it came out perfectly seemed like a gastronomic miracle.
Ed’s note: Funny … I’ve had terrible trouble getting the texture of the sugar in crème brûlée right, but found profiteroles, which we made in grade 8 home ec. class, easy!
11. What’d the first thing you eat after returning home from a long trip? I promise I’m not a complete New York chauvinist. I think Chicago-style hot dogs are better than our dirty water dogs, and while I prefer New York bagels, Montreal bagels are yummy too. The one thing that New York does better than anywhere else, though, is a slice of pizza. I’ve had really good whole pies elsewhere, but our cheap slices are magical. I get a Spicy Spring from Prince Street Pizza.
12. Favourite foreign ingredient you wish your home supermarket carried? I went to Buenos Aires in February, and I got very used to having dulce de leche everywhere. I had it with churros, I had it in my coffee, I had it in ice cream, I had it spread on bread with queso crema, and most delightfully I had it in the middle of those fantastic alfajores sandwich cookies. Back home there is a lot less dulce de leche, and this saddens me. I also sometimes crave a nutty chocolate covered candy called paillardises that I have only ever encountered in a shop in Rouen, France called La Chocolatiere. If they exist other places, I would love to know about it.
13. Country / city where you’ve found the best food? Details please so we can check it out too! I’m biased, but I think New Orleans has the best food of anywhere in the world. There are amazing expensive restaurants run by chefs like Susan Spicer and John Besh, but there’s also incredible food that costs next to nothing. The city’s food culture is just so exciting and it is always evolving. My favorite cheap dish in New Orleans is the shrimp po’ boy at the Rampart Food Store, which looks like a front for a money laundering operation, but it serves insanely cheap and tasty food. My favorite fancy restaurant is Commander’s Palace. The first time I went here, I was a little girl and I ordered the scrambled eggs and ham, strawberries and cream, and praline parfait. I went every summer after that, and the restaurant would always make me the same meal, whether or not it was on the menu. Now that I am an adult, I always get the turtle soup and the bread pudding soufflé.
14. Country / city where you’ve found the worst? What made it so awful? I’ve never been to a place where I disliked the food! I had good food in small mountain towns in Romania. There’s good food in England now, so there must be good food everywhere. (I kid, I’ve actually always liked British food.) The only times I’ve had bad food have been the times when I’ve been forced to stop at a place on a tour. I remember having to eat lunch at a giant tourist trap somewhere along the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. At those kinds of places I usually just get the smallest and cheapest thing on the menu so I don’t have to waste money or calories on bad food.
15. What are your favourite markets for a) eating b) finding unusual things and c) for photography? a) My favorite market for eating was the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver. This was mostly because it was my introduction to the Montreal bagel, but also because I could find everything here from gourmet chocolate to magnets with images from the movie The Life Aquatic for a friend of mine who is a big Wes Anderson fan. I had some excellent foraged mushrooms at Edible Canada‘s market restaurant too. b) My favorite market for finding unusual things is the Takayama Morning Market in Japan. When I was there, I met a woman who was so insistent that I try her peach jam that she just lumped a big spoon of it in my hands without asking my permission. c) I have never tried to take a picture at a market! If I did, it would be at the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis because my friend and I accidentally met the Mayor of Minneapolis here and that would have been a sweet photo op.
Ed’s note: Hmmm …. that looks more like a New York bagel than a Montreal one!
16. If money were no object, where (and what) would you eat? I’m a big believer in saving up for restaurants, so I don’t think there’s any place or thing that I couldn’t eat if I put my mind to it.
17. Do you have any food regrets? Yes, I regret not eating more. I think that, until very recently, I’ve wasted some time worrying about not eating too much or gaining weight, and this has stopped me from trying as many foods as I could. I decided to just eat very healthy when I am not traveling, and that way I can feel free to experiment when I am on the road. So far this plan has been working, and I can still fit into all my clothes.
18. If you could invent any ice cream flavour, what would it be? (yes, I am looking for ideas to add to my ice cream repertoire!) I think there should be a bread pudding ice cream! In New Orleans bread pudding is traditionally served with a creamy whiskey sauce, so the ice cream base itself should be a whiskey cream. Then there could be bread pudding pieces and raisins mixed into the base. It would be like a variation on rum raisin ice cream.
19. What do you love and hate about food writing (yours and/or in general)? I love enthusiastic food writing more than anything else. I like reading pieces by writers like Robert Sietsema and Patricia Wells because it’s obvious how much they love food. I hate reading negative reviews of restaurants, and I try not to write them myself. I know that some restaurants are objectively bad, but I’ve had great experiences at places that I can see have gotten a bad write-up or two on Yelp, and I’ve had mediocre experiences at places that other people love. That’s why I try to write my restaurant reviews so that they look like menus. This way I make it clear that I’m not giving an objective critique, but rather describing a subjective experience.
20. You’re having surgery tomorrow and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll lose your ability to taste (oh the horrors!). What would you choose as, essentially, your last meal? This is an easy question. I would have the tasting menu at Taillevent in Paris. The foie gras with vanilla and cherries that I had there was probably the yummiest thing I have ever eaten. I know I wouldn’t be able to get that again, but I’m sure whatever they were serving would be equally amazing. The one item I could guarantee getting would be their fabulous gougères, and those alone would be worth making this my last meal. Also the service is impeccable, and both times I’ve been there I’ve been given a free drink. Given that I would probably be super depressed about never being able to taste again, I’m sure I would need the extra alcohol.