Name: Michaela Morris
Occupation: Wine writer, educator & presenter
Where were you born?: Ottawa, Ontario
Where do you live?: Vancouver, British Columbia
After modeling in Japan then cycling and working her way around Europe for three years, Michaela returned to Vancouver to earn a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and French. A one-year exchange program led her back to France where she discovered the region of Burgundy and decided to pursue a career in the wine industry. She’s worked in all aspects of the industry from serving in fine dining restaurants to selling and importing wine. She earned her Diploma through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a certified Italian Wine Ambassador through Vinitaly International Academy. Besides teaching and writing about wine, Michaela also performs sabering demonstrations, manages wine cellars, leads wine tours, makes regular television and radio appearances and judges and speaks on wine panels locally and abroad.
How would you describe your travel style?
Let’s go! I do love researching the destination before leaving. It’s part of the trip. I also poll my friends to see if they have any recommendations for food, drinks, music and shopping. If it isn’t for business, I try to plan less and play it by ear when I’m there. Looking back, my favourite trips have been the ones with the loosest itineraries.
What’s your earliest travel memory?
Going to England with my family when I was 4 then again when I was 7. The two trips have blurred together now but in particular I remember the dress my mother made me for my first plane ride and meeting all of my relatives for the first time. They had funny accents but teased me about the way I spoke. I was already intrigued by ‘exotic’ beverages at a young age and still recall my fascination with Dandelion & Burdock, Ribena and fizzy lemonade.
When researching travel destinations, how important are food/drink choices and experiences to your overall decision-making process?
I’d say it’s pretty huge. Wine influences most of my travels. However, I have been on a few trips that weren’t motivated solely by my taste buds like Egypt, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala. Of course, I enjoyed ferreting out the weirdest and most wonderful things to eat and drink while there.
Culinary traveler or food explorer? Which do you identify more closely with?
I would say I am a wine traveler and a food explorer. Most of the business trips I go on are to learn about a specific wine region or taste the new releases. The food is a big added bonus and of course usually so linked to the wine culture. I love reading about the local specialties when I am en route on the plane and am open to try it all when I get there.
If we ask your best friends if you’re a foodie, what would they say?
They’d be more likely to call me a wino who loves eating.
What’s in your carry-on? Any essential food or kitchen tools you won’t leave home without?
I always make my own meal for the plane. Usually it’s a healthy but delicious quinoa salad but on my last trip it ended up being a huge pâté sandwich with lots of arugula and grainy mustard. I got a lot of jealous stares. I also always pack some fruit, vegetables and nuts to snack on.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
Perhaps a cow spleen sandwich in the Mercato Ballaro in Palermo. I think the idea of it was more unusual than the taste. It was a bit chewy and greasy but a squeeze of lemon helped. I was glad I was sharing it. Half was enough. That being said, you gotta try it if you go there.
If we handed you a ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Croatia. It looks beautiful and I am very curious about the wines. Not many make it to BC but I believe there’s great potential. They have lots of cool indigenous grape varieties, many of which are not found elsewhere in the world. I am also told that the food is even better than in Italy. I need to verify that myself.
What’s the best culinary travel experience you’ve ever had?
Oh, too many! Bedouin baking bread in the sand in the White Desert in Egypt… Visiting Piedmont for the first time during white truffle season… Fishing in Mexico with a friend who’s a chef. He made the best ceviche ever from our freshly caught bounty.
One of the most memorable experiences though was eating freshly shucked oysters on a market street in Paris. My travelling companion and I were drooling pathetically over the oysters at a ‘to-go’ stall so eventually the vendor told us to buy some wine and a baguette then come back. We happened to find a rare bottle from one of my favourite Chablis producers and when we returned the oyster guy had set up a table with two chairs and wine glasses for us. He then served us two dozen of the most succulent oysters I had ever eaten. We were the envy of Parisian market-goers that morning.
Any great travel tips to share?
Don’t try to do too much. I find by staying in one place you experience more. And ditch the GPS. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Asking people for directions is way more fun and gives you a chance to meet locals. In terms of dining, if you are visiting wineries, ask the wine makers which restaurant they eat at. They’ll likely lead you to the tastiest, most authentic places.
Favorite Culinary Destination: It is a toss-up between Piedmont and Sicily.
Favorite Cuisine: Italian and almost all Asian. I think Italy is the best place in the world to eat. It’s easy to get a good meal there even at the simplest of places and each region offers its own unique specialties. Whenever I return to Vancouver though, all I want is sushi, pho and Chinese food.
Favorite Restaurant: I have plenty of ‘favourites’ all over the world but here in Vancouver I love La Quercia and La Buca for Italian as well as Phnom Penh (Cambodian/Vietnamese) and Maenam (Thai) for Asian.
Favorite Street Food: Fish tacos are my default.
Favorite Food Market: The Fish Market in Catania, Sicily. I was amazed by the size and quantity of tuna. I also loved watching the local men standing around waiting for the vendors to toss them the scraps to eat raw.
Favorite Gourmet Shop: Les Amis du Fromage in Vancouver. I have been buying cheese from them religiously for about 20 years now and they always have something new for me to try.
Favorite Winery: It’s impossible to choose just one or even narrow it to a few. We’re so lucky to have a beautiful wine region in our own back yard. I always love stopping by Little Farm and Orofino in the Similkameen Valley as well as Tantalus in the Okanagan. Outside of BC some of my most memorable visits include:
- Hendry Family Vineyard in Napa Valley
- Produttori del Barbaresco & Marchesi di Gresy in Piedmont
- Domaine Weinbach in Alsace
- Vincent Dauvissat in Chablis
- Felton Road & Rippon Vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand
but there are so many more!
Favorite Brewery: I JUST started tasting beer so I really don’t have an opinion on this.
Favorite Cooking Class: In Vancouver, anything the Dirty Apron Cooking School puts on. The instruction, equipment and results are top-notch. Also, the lovely Villa La Favorita in Alba, Piedmont arranges cooking classes for its guests with Rita, a local chef and sommelier. I led a wine tour there last year and this was definitely one of the highlights for the group.
Favorite Food/Tasting Tour: One of the best wine and food festivals in the world is the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville Oregon at the end of July. It’s open to all wine lovers: enthusiasts, trade and media and draws some of the greatest Pinot producers from around the world. Local restaurants do an incredible job preparing amazing meals for hundreds of people accompanied by impeccable wine service from a team of enthusiastic sommeliers.
Favorite Culinary Tour Operator: I’ve never used one.
Favorite Travel App: I don’t use them.
Want to visit Michaela’s top culinary destination, Piedmont, Italy? With over 50 Michelin star restaurants, it is hard to choose where to stay to enjoy the region’s culinary scene. The Grand Hotel Sitea perfectly compliments any visit, though. Opened in 1925, celebrities like Louis Armstrong and Nobel prize winners have chosen this regal hotel over and over. Enjoy the hotel’s restaurant tasting menu to get the full Piedmont cuisine experience.