Europe for Foodies 101 with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks


[ music] [applause] Cameron Hewitt: Hi there. Thank you very much for coming, and
thank you very much for watching. My name is Cameron Hewitt. I love to incorporate food
in my travels around Europe. Let me explain to you
why by way of a story. I’m going to go for a walk
with you through one of my favorite hill towns in Tuscany,
a town called Montepulciano. This is an adorable little hill town where you are on the main square, and walk with me downhill just a
couple of blocks on a cobbled lane. Suddenly, you come across a
perfect little trattoria. You step inside. It’s one of these places
where the second you walk inside, you know this is
a really special place. People are having a great meal. Then in the back a few steps,
you see the owner Julio. He’s hacking giant
chunks of beef that he’s serving out to
people as they order. You take a table. Julio comes to your table. He says, “What do you want?” You say, “We want the steak.” Julio goes to his cleaver, and he
hacks off a big chunk of steak. Then he puts it on a piece of paper, and he brings it to your table. He says, “Is this okay?” You say, “Yes. You bet it’s okay.
Sure.” Julio just appears up into the
kitchen for a few minutes. Then they bring out some of the most delicious pastas that
you’ve ever had. Just when you think you
can’t possibly eat anymore, Julio comes back with this
fantastic chunk of steak. He doesn’t ask you how
you want it done. Julio knows how it’s done. This is Chianina beef,
top quality Tuscan beef that was sourced
just a few miles away. How it’s done is a little
bit of course salt, seven minutes on one side, seven
minutes on the other side. If you don’t like it rare, you can
go to the place down the street. You look at the steak and you think, “There is no way after having all that pasta I can also eat
this enormous steak.” Yet, somehow you manage. You can understand why I think food
is one of the great joys of travel. My name is Cameron Hewitt. I’ve been working with Rick
Steves since the year 2000. I wear a lot of hats
around the office, and I also get to travel about
three months a year. Most of the time when I’m in Europe
I’m researching our guidebooks. I’m the co-author of
a few our guidebooks and a contributor to several others. I’ve done guidebook work in probably 30 or 40 different countries. No matter where I go I’m just
captivated and fascinated by how Europe involves
food in their culture. It’s something’s that’s fun. It’s something that hedonistic,
but it’s also more than that. It can tell you a lot
about interesting places. I want to talk for one thing
about this word “foodie.” The title of this class
is Europe for Foodies. It’s taking me a while to
embrace this word foodies. Foodies is a little
bit of a silly word. It sounds kind of pretentious,
but I’ve decided I’m going to grab this word with gusto
and really make it my own. Being a foodie is simply
somebody who prioritizes food in your life and especially
food in your travels. It’s somebody who sees
the value in food. It’s somebody who doesn’t
just eat to live. You live to eat. That’s the way I live my life. That’s the way that I travel. This talk is a little bit about what that means in practice in Europe. I want to talk about
why food matters. I want to talk about
what you should eat in Europe and where
you should eat those things, and I want to
talk about how you can incorporate food
into your travels. Now, I’ve talked already a little
bit about the sensory experience of having great food in Europe,
the hedonism of delicious food. I think what’s really interesting
to me, what’s truly exciting to me, there are opportunities to use food
to stimulate your brain as well. I’m going to challenge
you to always look at food through the lens of culture. What can the food tell you about
the culture and vice versa. You’ll see all of my examples
throughout this talk. You’ll notice that’s
a running current. There’s delicious food, but there’s always a story behind
the delicious food. For example, let’s start off
with the word association game. Finish this sentence. Swiss cheese. This is a country that
is 100% associated with a very specific food
product, Swiss cheese. Everybody in the world knows
what Swiss cheese is. It’s these giant wheels of mountain
cheese with big bubbles inside. The Swiss people are
very proud of the fact that people know them
for their cheese. There’s a whole culture around Swiss cheese-making and raising cows. If you go to Switzerland,
you’ll find that the government actually
subsidizes cheese-making. Every spring, a bunch of cow
hands and cheese makers parade their cows from the low pastures
up into the high mountains. They camp out all summer long
at the scalps of the Alps. They live in little huts. They hang the ceremonial cow bells from the eaves, and the cow hands have to get up every morning
at five o’clock in the morning, rain or shine. Doesn’t matter how tired you are. Those cows have to be milked. Every single day they have to
make the cheese in the afternoon. After about a hundred days of that,
when the weather starts to change, the cows come back from the high
mountains down into the pastures. You never know when it’s going
to happen, but I’ve actually been in Switzerland fortunately,
a couple of times in late September where suddenly, you’re
in a little village and you hear this clanging chorus of
cowbells coming down the street. That’s the sign that the cows are
coming back down to pasture. You look up and it’s this proud
celebration of Swiss culture. It’s something that’s
really inspiring. Not to put too much of a fine point
onto it, but of course this is an example of how food and culture
are so very much intertwined. All of the Swiss cheese also makes
up some of the greatest Swiss culinary treats: Cheese fondue,
raclette, even Swiss chocolate. If you had a Swiss association
word game, the other word you might have
thought of is chocolate. Of course, Swiss chocolate
is distinguished by being very milky, creamy chocolate
from those same cows. Let me give you another
example of the way that culture and cuisine are very much tied together as they are with landscape, as they are with climate. It all is part of the same piece. Let’s talk about Spain. One thing that Spain is famous
for — If you’ve ever been in Spain in the summer, you know that it
has a blazing hot climate. This is not the place where you want to be out at mid-day in the hot sun. In fact, people organize their
entire lives around being out of the hot summer sun
in the middle of the day. Then what happens in the
evening as the sun sinks low and it’s finally cool
enough to go out and wander around, people get
out into the streets, and they wander up and down
these pedestrian streets. It’s this beautiful
Spanish custom called the paseo, that you
might have heard of. It’s a celebration of life. It’s a social event. People bump into their neighbors,
their relatives, their friends. Now, this obviously is an important
part of Spanish culture and Spanish custom, but it ties directly into Spanish cuisine and cooking and food. What, when we think of food, is the thing
that you think of in Spain? Tapas. Tapas culture. Small plates. That ties perfectly in
to this lifestyle that they’ve created around
this blazing hot climate. When Spaniards are out
walking, the last thing they want to do is to go in to a restaurant and seat
at a table for an hour and a half and have a full meal. They’ve been crammed
in their apartments all day long trying
to avoid the heat. No. They want to be able to wander into
a bar, pick up a few little dishes, wander up the street to another
bar, bump into some other friends. Then go to the next bar and
get a few other dishes. That’s why Spain is famous
for its tapas culture. These are just examples of the way that you can think about food beyond just food, but also as culinary
education and cultural education. There’s also fun little customs with all of these food customs as well. For example, in Spain when you’re
finished with your garbage at the tapas bar you just
literally drop it on the floor. That’s considered sanitary because
the last thing you want to do with a dirty napkin is put it on
the counter where the food is. That seems rude to us, but
it actually makes a lot of sense in the Spanish
way of looking at things. I took a cooking class
once in Tuscany with a wonderful chef named Marta. She taught me how to
make the most delicious Italian tomato sauce
that I’ve ever made. She stressed to me how important
it was, how simple this sauce was. It has five ingredients: tomatoes,
olive oil, garlic, salt, and a little bit of red pepper flakes
for a little bit of spice. That’s all it takes. It’s delicious. It makes everything that you put
on it absolutely delicious. Now in contrast to that,
let’s look at France. I took a great cooking class
once in France in Burgundy which is a very food-focused
region of France. It was the exact opposite. It was all about complexity. It was almost how many different ingredients can we put
on this plate. How complicated a technique
can we use to make this work? French chefs are not just slamming a bunch of beautiful produce on a plate and saying, “There’s your dish.” They take pride in
being technicians. They take pride in their technique,
in being innovators, and coming up with creative and
interesting ways to present food. They use the word compose,
composé, a lot in French. Dishes are composed. Chefs think of themselves
almost more as artists than they do as
culinary technicians. The other thing that’s
interesting about France is when you’re really that technically adept, and when you have chefs that like to
rise to a challenge. The French have a knack
for turning inedible things into really delicious foods. Think about escargot, which is maybe the most stereotypical French food. It’s literally snails that are
simmered in butter and garlic. Somebody had to have
the idea, “You see those snails crawling
around over there. I wonder what we could do
to make those delicious?” This applies to a lot of
very famous French dishes. Coq au vin is rooster
in a red wine sauce. Nobody eats a rooster. Rooster is a very tough gamey meat. Chefs in France figured out a way
to make it absolutely delicious. Beef bourguignon is a
very similar concept. Duck confit, this is a duck
that’s been preserved in its own fat and put in a can as long as
you need it be put in a can. Then you open it up, and you
cook it in that same fat. It’s really absolutely delicious. This is a really impressive feat
of engineering for French people. Italians would say, “Why are
you making it so complicated? Just put delicious things on a
plate and people will enjoy it.” I’m just challenging you when you
travel to think about the larger themes in the cuisines of the
places that you’re going to. I want to talk a little bit
about European foodie concepts. What’s really interesting to me is a lot of the things that are trendy in today’s American foodie world are coming directly from
European culture. In a lot of cases they’re very, very old aspects of European culture. There are nothing new to Europeans,
and today they’re very trendy. Here’s an example. Europeans embrace this concept
called “terroir.” It comes from the French
word “la terre,” the land. It basically means that the qualities of food, the qualities of certain ingredients are deeply rooted in the very specific place where it’s grown. If you go to Burgundy, the
vineyards of Burgundy in France and you look
at these vineyards. Somebody who’s a purist
in France would say, “The wine that is grown on the
left slopes in this picture will have subtly but
importantly different qualities than the wine on the right
slope of the same valley. They really believe that
food is rooted that specifically to the
place where it’s grown. This sounds kind of familiar
to current American foodies. We use terms like locally
sourced, farm-to-table. European foodies talk
really in a trendy way these days about
zero-kilometer. It’s the idea that the best
food is food that’s produced within less than a kilometer
of the place where it’s eaten. I went to a farm in Tuscany once and they were very proud
to serve me a zero- kilometer meal where
I had prosciutto and pecorino cheese and
wine and olive oil. Every bit of what was on
the table was produced within less than a
kilometer of that place. What’s interesting to me about some of these concepts that are so trendy these days is they are accidentally
foodie places all over Europe. Some of the most rustic
and remote corners of Europe do these things as a sense of necessity, not necessarily because they’re trying to be
trendy or foodie. I went to a very remote
corner of Romania, where I visited a very,
very humble goat farm. You see these guys hunching
down a couple of times a day, they have to milk
their flock of goats. Then they walk across the field
to a little shed where I watched them literally hand form
cheese right before my eyes. Then we pulled up some
chairs at a table and had some of the cheese
that they had just made. I thought, “Jeez, it doesn’t get more
farm to table than that, right?” There’s the farm and
there’s the table. My point is that all
the things that I think American foodies,
American chefs strive for is something that is very much integral to the
European food DNA. This is just something
that they do naturally, and in some cases,
purely out of necessity. Another thing very
important to Europeans is it’s important to
eat with the seasons. If you go to a place that
produces a lot of truffles, for example, Northern Croatia
and you try to get white truffles outside of the
season, some places will sell them to you, but they’re
going to be preserved. Any truffle purist will say, “If you want to get white
truffles, you have to go starting in late
September, and you can only get them through November. That’s when they’re fresh. That’s when they’re
straight out of the ground. If you don’t get them at
the right time, you’re going to get something
that’s been preserved, and won’t have the same flavor.” This is very important to
Europeans who care about food. You don’t want to go to Paris in the summer looking for French onion soup. Because French onion soup is
a winter dish for Parisians. This is a big bonus in terms
of finding and discovering some great foods that you
wouldn’t have otherwise tried. I was in Tuscany once
in November, and I noticed that the spindly
branches of all of these trees around the
Tuscan countryside were heavy with big
fat ripe persimmons. Then I went to a restaurant
where they served me an amazing dessert of pureed
persimmons with chestnut mousse. All the ingredients that were very
much in season at that moment. This was not necessarily dessert
that I crave all the time, but it was the perfect dessert for
that place and for that time. Italians brag, “If you show
me a menu by a good chef, I can tell you not only what
part of Italy that menu is from, but what season it’s from.” Because Italians and
a lot of Europeans really focus on seasonality of food. In fact, in Italy, it’s
illegal to have frozen ingredients in your food
unless you say on the menu, “This dish has
frozen ingredients.” That’s how carefully they
take this sort of thing. Another thing I want to encourage you to do is learn about
local specialties, but go beyond the cliches, not
just the basic local specialties. Become a connoisseur in
the local specialties. If you go to Spain, you
might know already that one of the classic
dishes of Spain, I would say it’s sort of the
staple of the Spanish diet is Jamon, which
is an air-cured ham. It’s a little bit like
Italian prosciutto. If I go to the supermarket
in the United States to the deli case, they might have
one kind of prosciutto. If you go to Spain, there is a
whole rainbow of prosciutto. There are so many different kinds of prosciutto or Jamon as they call it. In fact, the Spaniard will say
well there’s Jamon, but if you want the really best Jamon, it has
to be Jamon Iberico de Bellota. This is the Jamon made
from black-footed pigs who graze in free-range eating only acorns in the area
between Madrid and Portugal. This Jamon is completely
different from any other Jamon you’re going to have and it’s
worth paying double for. That sounds a little crazy
to us, but become a connoisseur of the foods and
the places that you go. It’s really important and a great
way to connect with those cultures. Look at pastas in Italy. Of course, when we think of
Italy, we think of pasta. Have you ever been to one of those
restaurants where you walk in and there’s a menu and it says,
“You can choose any of the noodles from this half of the menu and
any of the sauces from this half of the menu and we’ll throw them
together and make it for you.” Is this familiar to you? You did not go to that
restaurant in Italy. Italians would never do this. Italians have hundreds
of different kinds of noodles and each
one is specifically engineered to highlight the sauce or the other ingredients
that go with it. It’s really fun to kind of
geek out on this a little bit. Get to know now why is it that they
do spaghetti always with clams. It’s because an Italian chef knows
that the spaghetti is the perfect noodle for conveying the flavors of the clams and the sauce of the clams. I love to go to the Cinque Terre
on the Italian Riviera. There’s two things that
you’ll have there. One is pesto, this
absolutely delicious paste that’s made of
pine nuts and garlic. They always serve it with a very special kind of noodle called trofie. Why trofie is special
is it’s designed to be a really thick,
chewy little twist. It’s got a little spin to it
and it’s designed to pick up all of that pesto on its way
from the plate to your mouth. Italians would think it was crazy
to eat pesto with anything other than trofie, especially Italians
in this part of the country. There’s a whole world of
great pastas in Italy that go beyond spaghetti
and meatballs. It can be really fun to learn about
these and to understand why they exist in that place and what the
pasta is designed to accomplish. There’s a whole similar world of
cheeses in France, for example. If you want to become a
cheese aficionado, France is the place and it’s
the same idea there. I also would encourage you not just
to look at big national or regional specialties, but really drill down
to very specific local specialties. This is a deep-fried artichoke, which is very specifically the dish not of the city of Rome, but of the
Jewish ghetto in the city of Rome. That’s how specific Europeans
get with their specialties. It’s right down to a
neighborhood sometimes, and it’s fun to
discover what that is. I think the only place I’ve ever
had this was in the Jewish ghetto in Rome and it was the perfect
place to have it for that reason. If you’re walking along the beach
in Portugal, you’ll see all of the fisherman’s boats all
pulled up onto the beach and nearby, you start to smell it before you see it, but there are a
bunch of racks of little fish, the day’s catch, that are
all sort of crucified and laid out to dry in the sun. This is a good reminder that
Portugal has a very strong tradition for sardines and
other kinds of preserved fish. This is segueing into my next
topic which is, be adventurous. It’s easy to get excited
about pasta, it’s easy to get excited
about cheese, maybe. It might be a little harder
to get excited about sardines, but I make a point
to be a cultural chameleon. If I’m in Portugal, I am going to become an aficionado
of sardines, even if I would never eat them back home
and I’m really going to enjoy that. That’s part of my trip,
part of my experience. Be willing to try anything, even
if it’s mysterious, or strange. I have an ethic. I’m willing to try anything once. If I don’t like it, that’s fine. I might discover that I love it. If not, that’s okay, too. For example, I was driving
through the mountains of Slovenia with a
Slovenian friend of mine, and he pulled over the
car and he said, “This farmhouse, I think, has
kislo mleko. I want to make sure
you get to try this. It’s so important to me.” We went into the farmhouse
and we sat down to the table and they
brought me a dish of kislo mleko, which
basically looks sort of like a yogurt with
a yellow film on top. I thought, “Jeez, I trust my friend, I’ll give it a try.” I took my spoon and I broke through the film on
top and discovered a creamy yogurt below and I lifted it
to my mouth and I got a taste of a really tart yogurt with
sort of a barnyard aftertaste. Only then did my friends say
is, “Yes, kislo mleko, it’s the best.” The translation is soured milk. This is a tradition where they put
unpasteurized yogurt basically in the barn for a few days to let it
pick up the flavors of the farm. I’m not saying I get a craving
for soured milk every time I’m in Slovenia, but
it was a great memory. Even if you don’t enjoy the food,
you’re creating a great memory. If you’re in Scotland try
the haggis, give it a try. Here’s a challenge. If you’re in Florence
and you want a quick bite, you could just
go to a pizza window. There’s millions of
those around Florence. Or you could eat what
the Florentine’s eat. You could have a tripe sandwich. There are several little
kiosks all around Florence, including one
at the Mercato Nuovo which is a beautiful historic market hall right
in the center of town. It’s a little bit
hard to get your head around the fact that
you’re eating tripe, but once you get past it,
they dip it into the delicious sauce and
it’s really fantastic. If that’s not good enough
for you, you can think, “Michelangelo ate the
same tripe sandwich.” I’m not joking. His workshop was right
around the corner. 500 years ago, he came to
probably right about here and ordered basically the
same thing that I just had. My point, don’t be afraid to
try scary or unusual foods. The other thing I wanted to talk
about in terms of Europe is, in addition to all of these sort of
foodie concepts historically, that have come from Europe, a lot
of the most cutting-edge trends in recent culinary thinking
have come from Europe as well. If you really are into food, it’s fun to get to know where some of these things come from, that
are becoming very popular even now with American chefs. For example, deconstructivism
was basically started by a Catalan chef in the region around
Barcelona named Ferran Adria. He had a very famous
restaurant called El Bulli. He figured out ways to
basically use science to bring out a whole new level of
sophistication to food. Sometimes this is called molecular
gastronomy or modernist cooking. Those are related fields. The best example that Ferran Adria
came up with is the liquid olive. I went to one of his restaurants
in Barcelona recently, and they brought this — and it
really looks like an olive. You think, “Oh, it’s just an olive.” When you bite into it, what you
discover is it’s a thin gelatinous layer surrounding an
extremely powerful essence of olive that he’s distilled
from actual olives. This is the thinking
behind deconstructivism. It’s taking the component parts
of food apart, doing different things with them, becoming a little
bit experimental and scientific with how you deal with them and coming up with a food that resembles the original food but is a
completely different experience. A similar restaurant also by Ferran
Adria, I had this delicious cheese cake which was shaped like a little
wheel of cheese but you could actually take that cookie and dip
it right down into the middle of that and when you tasted it, it
tasted like a great cheesecake. This is a really fun
thing that started in that part of Spain
and spread quickly over Europe and now it’s very popular of course stateside among
big-name chefs. Another school of thinking
that started in Europe that’s become popular in a lot of
other places is New Nordic. This was invented by Rene
Redzepi who has a very famous restaurant in
Copenhagen, called Noma. Basically, it’s not
being afraid of modern techniques, some of the
things I just talked about but also being really
careful to root your food very much in the place
where it originates. He wants to evoke
traditional foods even if the presentation
looks very modern. In the case of Rene
Redzepi, he does a lot of his ingredient sourcing
simply by foraging. He’ll go out to the
beaches around Copenhagen and most of what you see on the plate is something that he
was able to source right there in the city of Copenhagen. This is something again that’s
catching on stateside as well. Now, talking about all of
these big-name chefs you might think jeez, this
sounds way out of my budget, but one of the things I
really want to emphasize is that foodie doesn’t
have to mean expensive. I am somebody who really
appreciates being on a budget. I’m a really thrifty person
and some of my favorite food experiences in Europe have come
with a very small price tag. For example, this street
corner in Naples, Naples, of course, is the
birthplace of pizza. It’s this grubby little
corner of the city and there’s traffic pushing
by you and it’s actually hard to get to it but you
might see right here there’s a little window where
they’re selling pizza. If you go up to that
window you can get the most delicious pizza that you’ve ever had for $5 in the birthplace of pizza, in the place
where it came from. One day I went there
and the line was too long for the pizza
and I thought I just need to grab a quick
bite, so I ordered an arancino for less than a dollar. This is basically a deep fried
ball of rice and mozzarella cheese and ragu and peas and
they dip it in the deep fryer. It’s one of the most
delicious things I ever had and it cost me
less than a dollar. Don’t think that you can’t be a
foodie if you’re on a tight budget. In fact, it’s kind of a
fun challenge and I’ll have some more ideas
about that later on. One of my favorite restaurants
in Poland, a country that I’ve been to a lot, is a little
no-name hole in the wall. You have to literally walk past a big glitzy pizzeria down
an alley to find it. You step inside and I’ve had the best Polish food I’ve had anywhere in this little out of the way restaurant for less than $5 for the complete meal. Just because you are
on a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t be a foodie.

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