Name: Jennifer Cockrall-King
Occupation: Food Writer
Where were you born?: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Where do you live?: Edmonton, Alberta and Naramata, British Columbia
Jennifer Cockrall-King is the author of Food and the City (Prometheus Books, 2012) and Food Artisans of the Okanagan: Your Guide to the Best Locally Crafted Fare (TouchWood Editions, 2016). She writes for magazines such as Maclean’s, NUVO, Western Living, and enRoute. She is the food columnist and a contributing editor for the multi-award winning Canadian narrative journalism magazine, Eighteen Bridges. She founded and organizes the Okanagan Food & Wine Writers Workshop in beautiful British Columbia’s wine country every year.
How would you describe your travel style?
For leisure travel: adventurous and outdoorsy. I am an avid skier (downhill, cross country, backcountry), hiker, windsurfer, paddleboarder. I gravitate to fresh air, snow, and beaches. When I travel for work: I’m usually overfed!
What’s your earliest travel memory?
Climbing up and out of the playpen. And beyond that, a trip to the Columbia Icefields on a family road trip in the Alberta / BC Rockies when I was very young.
When researching travel destinations, how important are food/drink choices and experiences to your overall decision-making process?
I try not to go places where there isn’t good food. And the restaurant or cafe doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, I prefer great street food and rustic cooking to anything too overworked. Usually, I can sniff out where the good food is. Cuba has been a challenge the couple of times I’ve been. So was Russia. I was about 50/50 on a trip to St. Petersburg a couple of years ago.
Culinary traveler or food explorer? Which do you relate to more?
Interesting, I definitely identify with being a food explorer. I have ended up in some far-flung places to interview cooks, farmers, and chefs. It’s the sense of adventure that I like when following a food story.
If we ask your best friends if you’re a foodie, what would they say?
They’d say “Definitely.” But honestly, I can’t understand how someone isn’t interested in food to the same extent I am. How can you not put a little effort into what you will be eating or feeding to someone at your home? What some people call “foodie” I just call “normal.”
What’s in your carry-on? Any essential food or kitchen tools you won’t leave home without?
I always carry my own tea bags and I have a lime-green Bodum travel kettle that is indispensable. As a tea drinker, I don’t take chances with whatever tea choices might be available wherever I end up. I think I’m as obsessive about high-quality tea as a coffee snob is about her/his beans. I also have good dark chocolate with me. And I mean, within arms’ reach at any given time.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
I was just in Norway and was served Minke whale with a chanterelle cream sauce. (Yes, I ate it. It is very dark meat and a bit chewy. There was a fatty gamey flavour.) I had deep-fried lichen at a dinner in Alberta last fall which was surprisingly delicious. I’ve also eaten fresh Szechuan (Sichuan) pepper berries off of the tree – in a garden in central France of all places!
If we handed you a ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Oaxaca, Mexico. Like many people, I am so obsessed with Mexico’s regional cuisines. And Oaxaca is definitely on my list.
What’s the best culinary travel experience you’ve ever had?
I’ve had so many. Eating at the lunch counters in Barcelona’s Boqueria food market; Mexico City’s 5000-stall Mercado de la Merced; Joy Road Catering al fresco dinners at God’s Mountain in the Okanagan; street corner tacos just about anywhere in Mexico. But here’s one from a memorable road trip.
My husband and I drove down to Baja California, Mexico, a few years back. We took a few days of a detour, off of Highway 1, to explore the wine route near Ensenada. I had scribbled the directions on how to get to a restaurant called Corazon de Tierra. We definitely thought I’d made some transcription errors as we drove down sand roads, seemingly further and further away from any main roads, for what seemed about 30 minutes. It was just us, the cactus and the odd donkey. The directions were correct, however. When we arrived, we marveled at the beautiful new modern restaurant, with a huge vegetable garden. The young chefs would zip back and forth between the open kitchen and the garden, and we literally watched them picking vegetables, flowers, and herbs that, 10 minutes later, would arrive on our plates. The local Valle de Guadalupe wines were surprisingly sophisticated and everything—including the Sonoran beef rib eye with pickled watermelon— made total sense! It still remains one of my favourite meals to date. That one meal was worth a seven-day drive! We’ve been back since, and the second time didn’t disappoint, which means that it wasn’t a one-off or just sheer relief of not being lost and hungry in the Baja desert.
Any great travel tips to share?
Do some research before you go, so you’ve got a fall-back list of places to eat. But once you’re there, talk to locals. Don’t ask them where they think YOU should eat. Ask them where THEY eat (and WHAT they eat). And obviously, if you see a line-up at a great street food cart, join it! If you come across a food market or farmers’ market, check it out. Be open to the local angle. What’s the point of travel if you end up eating at a chain?
Favorite Culinary Destination: Mexico City, Montreal, the Okanagan Valley
Favorite Cuisine: anything from a garden, wherever I am
Favorite Restaurant: Corazon de Tierra, Mexico – because it had so much adventure wrapped around it with one of the best meals of my life, and it was also with my husband.
Favorite Street Food: a taco – whatever the local version of it is when I’m in Mexico
Favorite Food Market: I have to say the Penticton Farmers’ Market, because of the incredible food and running into so many friends there – both farmers and foodies.
Favorite Gourmet Shop: The Cookbook Co Cooks in Calgary is nirvana for me. Cookbooks, food magazines, kitchen items and incredible little food treasures.
Favorite Winery: No way! I can’t say. I do wish that Canadian wines made lower-alcohol wines like they do in France. The alcohol levels really are beginning to limit my enjoyment of many North American wines.
Favorite Brewery: Again, can’t say! I have too many favourites. I love the certified organic ales of Crannòg brewery, from Sorrento, BC. They grow their own product, pull water from their own well on their property. They raise pigs and livestock on the spent mash, and they only deliver to restaurants and pubs within a reasonable driving distance. Oh and their beer is outstanding.
Connect with Jennifer
Website: foodgirl.ca and foodwinewriters.com
LinkedIN: Jennifer Cockrall-King
Want to visit one of Jennifer’s favorite culinary destinations? Book a getaway at Hotel Habita in Mexico city’s Polanco neighborhood. This area is known as the foodie region of Mexico City and puts you smack dab in the middle of the city’s best restaurants, bars and clubs.