In 2005, Bill and Cheryl Jamison decided to live out every foodie's dream: to travel the world for three months, seek out gastronomic delights and write about them.
In the publishing world, the Jamisons are considered specialists in American home cooking. They've written books on everything from grilling and breakfast foods to regional cuisine. But when the New Mexico-based couple set up this vacation, their editors at HarperCollins pitched the idea of extracting a book from it. The result is Around the World in 80 Dinners, a brand-new book serving as a kind of how-to guide for those interested in exploring different cultures through food.
The couple started in Bali, where they found a cooking class in which the chef taught them how to make base gede, a spice paste that forms the foundation of Indonesian cooking. After Bali, it was on to nine other locations, where either through local connections or by accident, the Jamisons got to "eat the world."
In each place, they looked for the defining element of the culinary scene. In Singapore, that meant street food. In Australia, sophisticated cuisine and a complex wine culture. In Provence, regional, rustic food found in a small country inn whose menu expressed bold Mediterranean flavors.
For those familiar with the Jamisons' work, Around the World is a departure. Their editor sold them on doing a book of stories, one that "pushed them in a different direction," according to Cheryl. The book has few photos, and only a single recipe at the end of each chapter that best captures the cuisine of the region.
While Americans haven't stopped going abroad since the Iraq war began, many expect chilly receptions when they do travel. The Jamisons, however, found warmth and hospitality from everyone.
"People were so generous with their time and expertise," says Cheryl. "Even [a] cab driver invited us home for dinner."