Two weeks ago, you met five new contributors to A Traveler’s Library. Today you meet a SIXTH. Brette Sember will be joining us each month for a feature called Tasty Travel. Do you plan your trips around food? Do you find yourself talking about the food on the trip when you get home? Do you like to recreate the dishes you sampled? Then Tasty Travel is for you. We could not have a better person talking to us about food and travel. The super-productive and energetic Brette is launching THREE cookbooks this year. She has loads of other books to her credit, which you can learn about at her web site, linked above. AND she loves to travel. But let’s talk directly to Brette and see what she has to say.
A Traveler’s Library: Brette, you have had an interesting career–from lawyer to writer about food. Would you like to explain how that came about?
Brette Sember: I need to start before law school to explain. First of all, I’ve always loved to cook and spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandmothers and mother, so food is just a huge, huge part of my life. As for my career path, I was the editor of my high school newspaper and literary magazine and I got my BA in English. So writing is my first love. I went to law school, practiced law for several years and then left my practice when my second child was born. I did the at-home mom thing, but started writing. I sold an essay (about at-home parenting!) and was invited to write a book about divorce in NY. My writing career took off with self-help law books, as well as a column I wrote about family activities. I did a girls’ quiz book for American Girl, wrote a fun book about money for kids, and started writing about pregnancy. I did lots of freelance magazine work. My husband and I co-wrote some business books, and my self-help books started moving into the family issues area (adoption, parenting after divorce, senior rights, unmarried families). I also co-authored several college reading, writing, and study skills textbooks.
I then wanted a change of pace and really wanted to write about food, even if it was just for fun, so I started a blog called Martha And Me where I informally apprenticed myself to Martha Stewart for a year, blogging every single day with my progress through her recipes, crafts, and world in general. It was like going to cooking school and was a real education. From there, I started writing my own cookbooks. And now you find me here, morphing my love of food with my love of travel.
ATL: Is there a particular dish that just sweeps you back to a specific place?
Brette: Steamed lobster with drawn butter, corn on the cob, and a little bag of potato chips. My husband and I ate that over and over at lobster pounds in Maine on our honeymoon. It tastes best when eaten at a picnic table right next to the ocean. I also summered in Maine as a kid, so lobster just means summer and ocean to me.
ATL: What is the key to discovering good food when you travel?
Brette: It’s important to first do a little research to find out what is the specialty of the area. What are people cooking at home there? What do they serve at festivals and gatherings? What dishes do they consider to be their local specialties? Find that out and seek that dish out when you’re there.
You also should think about what are the prime ingredients that you can find there. Don’t go to Colorado and order salmon. Get trout or Rocky Mountain lamb. Sample the regionally grown, caught, or raised foods to really get a taste of the area. Then be willing to try things you stumble on. I have to admit I might have been afraid to try the Kahuku shrimp that is sold from trucks on the roadside in Oahu, but I’m glad I wasn’t. It was the best shrimp I’ve ever had. Another tip is to ask the locals where to eat. And by locals I don’t mean the concierge desk. Ask the sales clerk in a shop. Ask the cab driver. Ask the bellman.
ATL: Were you ever in a place where you just could NOT eat their favorite local dish?
Brette: Yep. Puerto Rico. I just don’t like rice and beans and I also can’t stomach very spicy food. I sampled the Rocky Mountain oysters in Colorado (just one small bite). I did not taste the alligator in Florida though. Nor the haggis in Scotland!
ATL: On your cookbook shelf right now, which one is the most dilapidated (from use)?
Brette: [amazon_link id="0026045702" target="_blank" ]The Joy of Cooking[/amazon_link], which my mom gave me to before I got married. It has fallen apart into about 5 sections and has no cover or back, but it’s my go-to for basic recipes.
The cookbook I cherish the most though is not even on my cookbook shelf because it is so delicate. When my 99-year-old grandmother passed away, she left me her handwritten recipe notebook, which contains all of her specialties, as well as recipes she gathered from friends and family, throughout her entire married life. It’s more than a cookbook. It’s my heritage and my connection to her.
ATL: Do you tend to splurge on good restaurants when you travel, go to local joints, or eat street food?
Brette: We do all of the above. I enjoy good restaurants once in a while, but honestly I do get frustrated with them because I don’t care if my food is tall or foamy, I just want it to be unusually good. What I’m really looking for is authentic, really, really outrageously good food. Sometimes you get that at a 5-star, but mostly I am happiest when I find something that blows my mind at a casual restaurant that just has darn good food. Hash House A Go Go in Vegas comes to mind as the perfect example. They serve “twisted farm to table” cuisine that is just delicious. It’s casual but it’s food you don’t get anywhere else.
Thanks, Brette, for sharing this insider knowledge, and I’m looking forward to your yummy contributions to A Traveler’s Library. We’ll see you back here during Thanksgiving week. How appropriate!
All the photos here are the property of Brette Sember. Where there is a link from a book title to Amazon. com, it was put there for your convenience, but if you buy something while you are at Amazon, A Traveler’s Library earns a few pence. And it doesn’t cost you a dime extra!
If you would like to join our conversation here, see the questions I asked you in the first paragraph. And if you would like to ask Brette something that I forgot to ask, please feel free to do so.