Food’s role in my life has, over the years, gradually changed. After university I spent four years living on the road in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, eating in street stalls and cheap restaurants, and dreaming about cooking for myself, even something as simple as breakfast. Once I had a kitchen – first in a mountain cabin, then a residence hall in London, then Barcelona - food became a tool, and I began using it to alter mood and recreate emotions, to find comfort, to give pleasure. It moved from the exotic to the domestic, from the unfamiliar to the familiar. Once I settled in Barcelona I reveled in understanding just how interlinked it was to Catalan culture. This has, if anything, profoundly informed on my continuing travels, especially around the Mediterranean.
Food is perhaps the single topic where everyone is an authority. Every person has memories and experiences and their own specialties. As a traveler, this is gold. This is conversation, connection.
I am like a jackdaw, collecting those stories and scraps of history, those dishes. And then back at home I try to convert them into words and into recipes.
Sometimes I’m asked about my process of writing recipes. In general there are two ways. The first is working backwards towards a memory, something I ate on the road. In my Barcelona kitchen, I try to recapture the tastes and textures. (I try to be faithful to the process but more important to the result. This is especially true with restaurant cooking which has a whole different way of building dishes.) Sometimes this is relatively easy, say when I had hovered over the cook’s shoulder and have six pages of notes. Other times less so. Few notes and less familiar spices, or even when there is a strong emotional attachment to the experience that taints the objectivity of my taste buds.
The other way moves in the opposite direction, forward toward a visualized taste. These can be new dishes or ones with changes. What if it was made with duck instead of hake? And added shoots of tender garlic? What if the paella was soupy and made with winter vegetables? Or they can be dishes that I have tasted half-a-dozen times and want my version to be have elements of each. The end result is often very different than I had anticipated.
Apart from my four cookbooks, I have developed recipes for Gourmet, Food & Wine, EatingWell, the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Tin House.