Through our Food for Thought series, we hope to learn more about other travelers’ journeys, and the role food plays. A new installment is published each Friday for the duration of the series. We find that in our own travels, one quick (and delicious) way to immerse ourselves in another culture is through its cuisine. Seeking out local specialties wherever we are is one of our favorite activities: markets, street food, or a lucky invitation for a home-cooked meal. Nat and Tim from A Cook Not Mad share this passion for travel and food. The partnership between award-winning chef and professional photographer provides their blog with an often hard to find combination. Their photos capture the beauty of food, ingredients and destinations, and the recipes are inspirational. A recent post on Som Tom (Green Papaya Salad) made us feel like it might be possible for us to recreate one of our favorite Thai dishes at home. The recipes in Tim’s recipe section are detailed and illustrated, making foods you might not think of tackling more accessible.
Together for close to a quarter of a century, A Cook Not Mad‘s Tim and and Nat have indulged their passion for life and experience to the fullest, but they feel most alive when traveling, cooking and eating. An award winning chef, Tim has dedicated his life and career to cooking and the pursuit of honest food. As a professional photographer, Nat records their adventures with incredible pictures of everyday life and the extraordinary. They believe that everyone should get to know a culture by learning about the foods they eat and living like locals as much as they can.
Food for Thought
The underlying idea of the “Food for Thought” series is that to truly experience a culture you must taste it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Absolutely agree, in fact our bio says just that, we believe people should get to know a culture through their food. History and culture can be retold through the foods of today. Think of Tuscan bread and why it’s not salted, you might get a different answer depending on who you ask but the majority will tell you that the reason is that at one point Florence put a tax so high on salt that bakers stopped using it, they just couldn’t afford it, and after a while people got used to unsalted bread. To this day they still don’t use salt in Tuscan bread.
What food do you identify with “home?” Does it reflect something about your own culture or upbringing? Do you crave it while you’re away?
Pasta, it has nothing to do with our own culture but to us it’s something we make often at home, it’s comforting and takes us back to one of our favourite places, Italy.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
Travel hasn’t really affected the way we think about food, we’ve always had an interest in food and where our food comes from. It’s interesting to visit the places where the foods we eat originated. Or to discover that a certain meal you’ve been having all these years isn’t the way people make it in the country where it originated, like your mother’s goulash. It took traveling to Hungary for us to discover a real goulash.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
Food tours and cooking classes can be fun but nothing beats talking to locals. Locals know who makes the best food, whether it’s a street food vendor or a restaurant or somebody’s mother. Go to the market and talk to the vendors, it’s amazing what you can learn about food and politics by talking to the people who grow and sell it. When you show interest, people love to talk, especially about food, it is one of the things everyone, all over the world has in common, we all have to eat.
Tell us about a memorable meal that was so special it is forever ingrained in your memory. Where was it and what set it apart? What was served, and who shared it with you?
We’ve had many a memorable meal but there are actually two that really stand out and they were both in Italy. The first one was at the Grand Hotel Rimini, we wanted to write a story about food and Fellini and since he was a regular there (he actually lived there for years) we wanted to have the “Fellini” menu which they stopped serving a while ago. They complied and we enjoyed passatelli, a tuna salad that we still dream of and so many other great dishes. It was a memorable meal and evening, it actually felt like we were in a Fellini movie at one point. The other was at a restaurant or we should say “the” restaurant in Borgo Garibaldi. There is literally only one restaurant and it’s open weekends only. There was a wedding happening in the village and the restaurant was catering it, it turned out that we were served the same meal as the wedding guests, out on a terrace looking over rolling hills. Beef tartare, flan with blue cheese sauce, confit style rabbit, it just went on and on and it was all amazing.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
Unless it’s a cultural tradition and we have to eat not to insult anyone, we don’t search out shock value foods. That said, the locals seemed shocked to see foreigners ordering lampredotto in Florence, it’s a sandwich made with a cow’s fourth stomach. The only other thing that comes to mind that may be controversial is foie gras. There’s a lot of misunderstanding around raising geese for foie. A lot of people believe the geese are force fed against their will when in reality the geese take the food willingly and most breeders do not mistreat the animals.
And just for fun, if you had to choose one country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
It would have to be Italy. The food, the foraging, the culture, the history, it’s the one place that we just can’t get enough of.