Travelling is like being in love – you’re under the influence. The normal rules don’t apply... you’re more open, more tolerant, more reckless. You have no past and no future because no-one knows you. You can reinvent yourself. Travel cracks you open and pushes you over all the walls and low horizons that habits and defensiveness set up. The best way of discovering things is to get lost, a technique I have cleverly taken advantage of many times. Oliver Cromwell said, a person never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going.
Gastronomic travel writing is a romantic subject which has to do with recalling a world that has vanished. Behind every recipe is a story of local traditions and daily life in villages and towns. Recipes are about ancestral memories and looking back and holding on to old cultures – they are profoundly about identity. Traditional dishes are important because they are a link with the past, a celebration of roots, a symbol of continuity. They are that part of a culture which survives the longest, kept up even when clothing, music and language have been abandoned. Cooking in a place like Morocco for example is passed down through the genes and the fingertips. Like love, it has the capacity for change and for passing on new experience from one generation to another.
The great joy of travel writing is simply the luxury of leaving all your beliefs and certainties at home and seeing everything you thought you knew in a different light. Also, a good travel writer always gives back. It’s very handy if you have some sort of God given talent like dancing, drawing or tight rope walking because then people don’t feel you’ve just walked into their lives, sucked the soul out of them and sailed off to make money from their stories. In my travels people give me songs and recipes and love and I give them back songs and recipes and love. But also you carry values and beliefs and news to places you go, and in some parts of the world you’re a walking newspaper or movie, taking people out of the closed limits of their lives. In a small village in India you become the ears and eyes of the people you meet. A traveling person imports and exports dreams, hopefully with tenderness and generosity. And that’s why I teach traditional recipes.