Name: Bryan Richards
Occupation: Freelance Writer
Where were you born?: Youngstown, Ohio
Where do you live?: Charlotte, North Carolina
Bryan Richards is a food, travel, and craft beer writer. He’s passionate about encouraging readers to explore new places and tastes in a way that inspires curiosity and motivation, and not just boredom. For more info, please visit The Wandering Gourmand.
How would you describe your travel style?
It varies depending on our mood at the time. Sometimes we enjoy organized tours, and other times we prefer self-exploration. Sometimes we stay in one city for a week, and other times we city hop to explore more of a country or region. It depends on what we’re looking for. Is the goal of the trip relaxation or exploration?
What’s your earliest travel memory?
My first travel memory was a trip to Cancun. With its high-rise hotels, corporate restaurants, and cheesy dance clubs, I know that may not sound exciting, but I was seven. Cancun was a big deal to a seven-year old. As my Dad took me to the barber the day before the trip, I remember telling everyone that I was going to Mexico. The very next day I would be in a different country! How freakin’ cool was that? (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t using the world freakin’ back then, but work with me…) The idea of boarding an airplane and being transported to someplace that required a passport blew my mind. To a place that didn’t even speak the same language as me!
When researching travel destinations, how important are food/drink choices and experiences to your overall decision-making process?
The food and drink are essential to our travel planning. Even when we planned a safari to Africa, we made sure that it was a tour with a culinary twist. We traveled with a pair of chefs, stayed on a winery for a few night, enjoyed cooked classes, and even participated in a “master chef” style competition with the kitchen staff at AfriCat. Incorporating food is so important to us because I truly believe that you can’t learn about culture without engaging in food and drink. Even better if you can combine that food with the local people in a shared meal.
If we ask your best friends if you’re a foodie, what would they say?
Definitely a foodie. I’m their go-to for food, restaurant, wine, or craft beer advice. Some won’t allow me to bring a dish to dinner parties for fear of showing them up (true story)!
What’s in your carry-on? Any essential food or kitchen tools you won’t leave home without?
Carry-on: Journal, laptop, Kindle, phone charger, a granola bar or piece of fruit (I get cranky when I’m hungry), clean underwear in case the airline loses my luggage, and any valuables as we’ve been robbed while the airlines had our luggage.
The only kitchen tool I’ll bring is a wine bottle opener. This goes into my checked luggage as I haven’t found one that will get past airport security yet.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
I ate a guinea pig in Ecuador and have craved it ever since. I keep suggesting to my wife that we go to the pet store and buy one to prepare at home, but she says no.
If we handed you a ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Right now I have Scotland on my mind. I’ve been wanting to do some distillery hopping there for quite some time, but it keeps getting bumped further down my bucket list.
What’s the best culinary travel experience you’ve ever had?
Recently, I was on a daylong press trip in Palafrugell, Spain to attend an annual arts festival. The highlight of the day, and my culinary travel experience, was our “lunch with the locals.” We sat at a single table with 100 locals that ran the length of the alley. It’s a dinner that only occurs once a year and is very special to the village. Everyone on the press trip was seated at the far end of the table. As I was late to the lunch (lost the group during the city tour), I was seated towards the end of the group closest to the locals. Over several bottles of wine and a three-course dinner, I used my broken Spanish to make friends with those around me. We shared many laughs and a meal that was truly special. When we left, the teenagers next to me asked our tour guide if I could stay longer! Notice I mentioned nothing of the food. The food was good, but it was the people who made this experience.
Any great travel tips to share?
Travel is so much more than poolside Macarena dances at an all-inclusive resort! Yet, this is what most people default to when planning a vacation. The world isn’t as scary as we think. Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path and explore. Often, you’ll find the people friendlier and the area safer than the tourist hot spots.
Favorite Culinary Destination: Cape Town. From cutting edge to classic, the city has it all. French, Dutch, Cape Malay, Africa, and others cuisines are a plenty. Plus, the wine is delicious and the craft beer scene is about to erupt.
Favorite Cuisine: I grew up on Italian American cuisine in my grandfather’s kitchen, and it will always be my favorite.
Favorite Restaurant: For my favorite restaurant, I want to name someplace exotic so everyone reading this knows how cool and worldly I am. My favorite restaurant though is right here in Charlotte, North Carolina – The Liberty. I like The Liberty because it’s one of the few craft beer forward restaurants that pairs beer with more than just pub fare. They challenge the notion that quality food should only be paired with wine.
Favorite Street Food: Gyros. When it comes to gyros, the greasier the better, and the greasiest come from street food vendors.
Favorite Food Market: This is a tough one because I mostly stay in hotels and don’t have a facility to cook in. My answer is any farmers market that is teaching people to eat local and fresh. Corny, I know, but eating local is so important to our health and environment.
Favorite Winery: Maison Estate in Franschhoek, South Africa. The wines are world-class, the tasting room is quaint, and they have a gourmet shop on site. You can pick up ingredients for dinner and wine directly from the source.
Favorite Brewery: I have to go with another hometown favorite. NoDa Brewing here in Charlotte. Their Hop Drop and Roll IPA and Coco Loco Toasted Coconut Stout are two of the best beers in the US. The World Beer Cup agrees with me as Hop Drop won a gold medal for Best IPA.
Favorite Cooking Class: Recently, I spent a couple of nights with some friends that run a cooking school for tourists in the Loire Valley, France. They ran me through a simulation of what their students would go through on an average day during their weeklong program.
Yes, it was a cooking program, but it was so much more. More so than anywhere else in the world, food is the culture in the Loire Valley. I learned more about the people and the surrounding area than I did in the kitchen. But as the instructor kept saying, that is the point of a cooking school. You don’t attend a cooking school to learn a recipe, that can be done from a cookbook. You attend a cooking school to learn the culture, the way of life in the region. I want to go back with my wife for a week. Maybe I should change my answer to the previous question…
Favorite Food/Tasting Tour: I went on a weeklong culinary tour in Tuscany. It was more eating than cooking. Our guide reminded me of my grandpa as he led us to his favorite regional restaurants, wineries, and producers.
Favorite Culinary Tour Operator: Sidney and Allison Bond of Le Calabash. They led my tour in South Africa and run the program in the Loire Valley. They have a deep passion for both food and travel.
Favorite Travel App: Google Maps. I don’t leave home without it.