It’s the blog’s 12th birthday today. I published my first post on 25 July 2011: The Single Gourmet Traveller & Greek Aubergine Salad. I’d recently returned from a lovely solo holiday to Greece and decided to write a blog about travelling and eating alone, with a particular emphasis at the start in finding places where women were comfortable alone, having heard some disturbing stories about how some hotels and restaurants treated women on their own quite badly. So, The Single Gourmet Traveller blog was born.
Blogging was fairly new at the time; solo travelling wasn’t the ‘in’ thing it is these days. Though for me, solo travel has always been about travelling actually on my own, not going with a group of solo travellers. By 2016, I realised the blog had become much more than my initial plan for it with articles involving pretty much anything that had a connection to food and travel and sometimes, indeed, I ate and travelled with other people! So I changed the name to – Travel Gourmet. Which, to be honest, was much easier to say when people asked me my blog’s name!
Back in 2011, I certainly didn’t look ahead and imagine I’d still be writing the blog twelve years later. It was rather a spontaneous thing and I barely gave it any thought before I got started. Blogs come and go. Some don’t go far at all but there are some I’ve followed from my own beginning which are also still going strong today. So what keeps us going? Why does blogging become an integral part of some people’s lives? I think there are different reasons for different bloggers. Of course, if you write a food blog you have to have a passion for food; if you write a travel blog you have to love travelling. But I think it’s more than that, so here are some thoughts on why it’s become so important to me.
Born into a world of food
When I was born, my parents were running a pub in the Charing Cross Road in central London, which had a restaurant. I lived there until I was two. Pubs were part of my father’s life. He was a flight engineer in the RAF, was offered a job by BOAC (the pre-runner to BA), but decided to become a publican instead. He was the youngest person to gain a licence to run a pub in London at the time. I could say it was in his blood. The youngest of six children, he told me his mother ran a pub when his father died (my dad was only 13) as a way of supporting the family. Quite why she chose this, I don’t know, but it couldn’t have been a very obvious choice for a widow back in the 1940s. Perhaps the pub connection goes further back in the family? Anyway, of his five siblings, one brother and one sister also followed the pub route.
I don’t remember this first home, I was far too young to do so, but I think what it gave my parents, living in the Soho area, was access to and a love of good food, food that often wasn’t available or even known outside London. So even after they moved out of central London, there were still weekly visits to Soho and Covent Garden (before the flower and vegetable market relocated in 1974). We’d have breakfast in the original Patisserie Valerie in Old Compton Street where they put a basket of croissants on the table, you took what you wanted and told them how many you’d had at the end; fabulous cakes at Madame Bertaux where you climbed a winding, narrow staircase to find a table on the first floor to eat the gorgeous pastry you’d chosen from the window display. We’d buy ciabatta in Italian delis before it was a supermarket staple; gloriously gooey Gorgonzola cheese when most people rarely ventured from standard Cheddar cheese; slices of Parma ham. There would be treats from time to time at well-known restaurants too where, even as a toddler, I apparently learned to sit up well, use my knife and fork properly and enjoy great, sophisticated food! Wheelers for fish was a regular haunt, I remember. So, I think I could say that I was born into a world of food.
Early food memories
After we left Charing Cross Road, my mother got a non-pub job and my father worked as a manager at a huge pub in south-east London where his sister and husband were licensees. It had not only a restaurant but a ballroom too. Sometimes my dad would take me there rather than to my maternal grandmother’s who usually looked after me while my mother was at work. I loved that choice! Even now – and I would have been only about three or four at the time – I can picture standing on a stool in an enormous kitchen and the cooks letting me do little jobs to help them.
My first trip abroad was when I was eight. We drove from Kent to a seaside town near Barcelona. It was before there were motorways. It took us three days to get there, driving right across France to the deep south and into Spain, and we’d stop at some random hotel once it was getting late, stay the night and then move on the next morning. I remember the strangeness of being given long chunks of thin bread (baguettes, of course) for breakfast with butter and jam; hot chocolate and my parents’ coffee in bowls, rather than cups. Once in Spain, I discovered foods, like red peppers, that I’d never seen or tasted before. Red peppers are still associated with Spain in my head and I remember the awe with which I enjoyed this new taste. Childhood holidays were always in Europe after that: Black Forest Gateau in Bavaria; Schnitzel in Austria; cheese with holes in it in Switzerland; apple pie in the Netherlands. Exciting and different food always stood at the top of what we were looking for and the best would become the subject of conversations for years after. Do you remember that amazing …?
I was also learning to enjoy cooking, though still young and at school. I had an ‘international cookbook’ from which I taught myself to make Goulash, Stroganoff, etc. I also learned to make pretty wonderful choux pastry and chocolate eclairs! These weren’t dishes my mother cooked. I took on a different role to hers in the kitchen and while she made fantastic roast dinners, etc. our home food was very traditional. I, however, explored a more adventurous foodie road. Maybe it was all those restaurants and cafes I’d been taken to that inspired me, and the holidays in Europe.
By this time my parents were running a pub in Kent (though actually officially Greater London) which also had a restaurant and hall where wedding and other events were catered for. As soon as I was old enough, I started earning pocket money helping in the kitchen, then as a waitress. The big event in my food experience at this time was my youngest brother’s arrival when I was 17. He was born in July and I spent my summer holidays taking over as ‘cook’ in my mother’s place, cooking for the restaurant and weddings alongside my dad. Thus, I’ve never been intimidated by cooking for large numbers!
Serendipity and working with cookery books
After A Levels, I did a secretarial course at the City of London Polytechnic. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to do this work. However, the course included Law and Economics, which I enjoyed, so I decided to do a Business Studies degree and started looking at where to study. Then one day, by chance, I looked at the noticeboard where jobs for those of us soon to graduate from the secretarial course were advertised. My eyes were drawn to an advert from an editorial director of a major publishing house who was looking for a secretary. It would give the person who got the job an opening to becoming an editor. Now, I’d always loved books (that’s for my publishing blog sometime!), but I’d always been told at school that wanting to get into publishing or journalism was unrealistic – not many people managed it. But now? Was this my chance? I rang the number. I got through directly to the editor. Would I like to go and meet him that afternoon? I looked down at my student wear and said I couldn’t manage straight away, perhaps tomorrow? Yes, it was agreed. Twenty-four hours later I had a job in publishing.
It did indeed prove to be a wonderful opportunity. I quickly progressed from secretary, to editorial assistant, to junior editor and finally – before leaving to have my first child seven years later – a senior commissioning editor. But where does food fit into this? Now, at the junior editor stage I was working for a lovely editorial director who was setting up a paperback list, an offshoot of the imprint I was working for. There were just the two of us. One day he came to me and said someone had bought a Chinese cookbook while in the US that was a bestseller, and it was for our list, so we’d better find some more cookery books. We couldn’t publish just one. But he couldn’t toast bread without burning it, he went on, so I would have to do it. I would have to create a cookery book list. Really, this is the stuff of dreams. I took on my new role with a passion. I’d spend hours in Foyles and other major bookshops looking at hundreds of cookbooks; I’d look through food pages in magazines; I found out all I could about cookbooks and started writing to authors. After a while, I had six titles – all international cookbooks – by authors who were well known for writing cookery books at that time. This was long before the days of TV chefs. It started a long series of cookery books that I commissioned or bought (from agents or US publishers). That early passion for food had transformed into a job I loved.
A home cook
I’ve never stopped working in publishing. Since leaving my full-time job to have children, I’ve worked continuously as a freelance editor. At first, I worked on mainly non-fiction as I’d been a non-fiction editor, but gradually fiction came my way and now I work almost exclusively on fiction books. Which I love. So cooking and food became more about cooking for the family and friends and discovering new foods and restaurants at home and on holiday. And while this doesn’t sound as glamorous as editing books and lunching with authors and agents in Soho restaurants, as I did when working full-time, nor as demanding as working in my family’s pub kitchen, it’s just as important. Maybe even the best. Sharing food with family and friends is one of the most wonderful things in life: food lovingly prepared, the people who matter most to you sat around your table. Food talked about. Recipes shared. Teaching your kids to cook. This is what fed my appetite for eating, cooking, talking and finding out about food.
And then came the blog …
A world of blogging
As I said at the start, beginning the blog was no great plan and more of a spontaneous thing. But there’s more to why I’ve kept going. It’s all the things above, that long love affair with food, not just eating it but learning about it, trying new things to cook and eat, discovering different cuisines in other countries – or simply some great Chinese food in London’s Chinatown! But I’ve always lived and breathed food. One of my first thoughts in the morning is what am I going to eat that day? What am I going to cook for supper? We talk food in my family. We send photos from our phones of food we’ve cooked or enjoyed in restaurants. Food is part of who we are. But the written word is part of who I am too … an avid reader from a young age … a career as a book editor … So combining both loves into a food & travel blog makes a lot of sense. The blog gives me a chance to share my passion for food and travel but also gives me a chance to write. I like the instant nature of blogging. It’s stream of consciousness stuff. I don’t write drafts; I might give a post a bit of thought as I’m cooking or when I’m travelling (and the blog does encourage me to explore and research more when I’m away) but basically I just sit down at my laptop and write. Read it through. Publish. It’s a kind of writing that’s completely different to my work where books are carefully edited, clunky sentences rearranged, repetition taken out; where words are not just thrown together but brought into some kind of order. Blogging – well, my kind of blogging – isn’t like that. It’s spontaneous, it’s of the moment; it hopefully comes across – as I think blogs should – in just the way I might talk to you, tell you what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been eating or cooking. I hope there’s a friendly side to how it reads. It’s certainly been the source of friendship – friendships made, lovely comments shared. It’s become a way of life, part of who I am, and perhaps I’ll still be here in another twelve years’ time!
A big thank you to all my supporters and followers over the twelve years. It’s a bit of a cliché I know, but true to say that without you, I wouldn’t be here. If no one read it, even given all the above, I don’t think I’d still be writing the blog. So long may you all continue to journey with me.