Krista Simmons is a food reporter, avid cook, and culinary adventurer. She covers the world's diverse culinary scenes using food as a getaway to explore local culture. She has been a regularly occurring judge on TV shows including Knife Fight, Top Chef Masters and Hells Kitchen, contributes to national publications such as Departures, and the Today Show and today joins us as our newest Guest Editor!
How did you find you passion for the culinary industry? Was there one moment where it just clicked or a culmination of different things?
My career started out like a lot of great things do — with a wildly different objective than what actually panned out. I’ve always worked in the industry in some way or another, but it really started to click in college. I went to UC Santa Cruz, a pretty hippie trippy place as we all know. While studying there I drank the Kool Aide: I lived on a farm, became really involved in food policy on campus, and had a part-time job working at Bonny Doon Vineyard. After graduating, I wanted to travel to learn more about winemaking and how farm life really worked, so I sold my car and most of my belongings and hit the road to work my first harvest in South Australia.
After hoofing it around AUS, I realized it wasn’t just wine I was interested in. Each night I’d scribble away in my Moleskine, recounting the stories of the people I’d met and how their culinary pursuits spoke to the local culture, documenting the recipes we’d make together over great conversation. I continued on my journey around the globe, aiming to connect with every area of food production — from making honey to cheese and everything in between — writing and shooting along the way.
At the time I didn’t even realize that it could be an actual job, but fellow travelers I’d share my work encouraged me to start pitching pieces, and so I did. It’s one of those classic examples of finding what you love, and then figuring out a way to make money doing it.
We love the prospect of Culinary Adventure! What’s been your favorite so far and what destination are you dreaming of visiting?
Ah! That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. I think the best journeys are the ones that challenge you, yet somehow leave you feeling more whole. I’ll always love Australia because that’s where I first understood the value of traveling solo, and where I came into my own as a culinary adventurer. I also had a blast spearfishing with a random Rastaman in Barbados recently, and foraging for native Oregon truffles in the Pacific Northwest with some adorable little pooches.
As far as future travel goes, the trifecta of Bucket List destinations for me is Japan, India, and the Maldives. I’m so freaking giddy that I just booked a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. I’m completely fascinated by Japanese culture — the pursuit of excellence, the attention to detail, the eye for design, and the reverence towards food. I mean come on, my dog is named Bento for Pete’s sake! How could I not be stoked?
It’s April! What are some of your favorite seasonal ingredients and preparations?
It might sound like I have a predisposition for the letter “a,” but for me, spring is all about artichokes, apricots, and asparagus. I am a total artichoke hoarder this time of year. This might sound old fashioned, but my favorite way to eat them is to trim them, stuff a few cloves of garlic in between the leaves (the more the better, my dad’s from Gilroy), then steam them with halved lemons and salted water. I just pluck off the leaves one-by-one, dipping them in homemade mayo, scraping off the meat with my teeth. If anyone’s lucky to get a bite of the heart, I must really love them.
As for the asparagus, I keep it simple and just grill them and top ‘em with a poached egg. And those apricots. Is there any question? Cobbler.
What’s the most important thing to throw a perfect dinner party?
A diverse crowd, solid cocktails, and a great playlist.
You’ve been featured as a judge on many amazing cooking shows, which must be equally exhilarating and difficult. Are there any key things you’re looking for when critiquing a dish?
It is a lot harder than it might seem! Talking about food in a way that makes it come alive to the viewer is a skill that’s been fun to develop over the years. It’s not like writing where you can meditate on a concept and edit yourself; in an instant you’re expected to create some sort of brilliant one-line assessment about a dish that someone poured their heart and soul into. The viewer is seeing a flat image on a screen, whereas I’m meant to be a translator for the remaining 4 senses. And fast!
I love it when a chef showcases a sense of place, creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in their cooking. Obviously flavor and technique come first, but to me food has the potential to be so much more than that. It’s really an incredible medium.
It’s Happy Hour. What’s your drink of choice?
Depends on my mood and the time of year! Thankfully for my ADD drinking style, I always keep a well-stocked bar cart.
Do you have a favorite local artisanal treat?
I always keep Jacobsen’s sea salt in stock. It’s truly the best salt out there.
Midnight snack of choice?
I’m such a California girl: half an avocado with lime and salt, or if I’m out and about, tacos. Always tacos.
You also cover restaurants and food for a multitude of outlets. What food trends do you think will be huge in 2015? What’s the one you wish would go away?
I think more and more, people are going to be interested in regional international cuisine. So, for instance, instead of Italian people are diving into the intricacies of Southern Italian, rather than simply Chinese there’s a heightened interest in Sichuan cooking, or delving into Oaxacan cookery instead of just a blanket idea of Mexican. I’m totally down for the type of geekery, and honoring various regional traditions.
In terms of what I’m ready to part with, I’m definitely ready to see the trend of tattooed white male chefs running the show go. Early last year I did a video series called Women in Food, and was so inspired how many unique stories there were that simply weren’t being told. Same goes for the travel industry. I wish the media would make more of an effort showcase badass women doing incredible things, because when our voices aren’t represented it perpetuates the cycle.
I’m also over schizophrenic, masturbatory menus with no focus. It’s easy to do that under the guise of “New American” or “California bistro” cooking, but ultimately you just end up with bunch of menus that look the same. Every restaurant these days has some take on roasted cauliflower, kale salad, crudo, fancy toast, charcuterie, a Southeast Asian twist on moulles frites, handmade pasta, and an overpriced behemoth cut of meat. Those are all tasty things, but if you close your eyes you could be anywhere. I’m so much more interested in food with a sense of place and perspective.
What’s up next for you? Any exciting culinary travels or ventures to share?
I’m really excited to be producing more culinary travel videos with my younger brother Danny. We did a lot of travel together in 2014, and are going to some pretty neat spots in the next couple of months including Mexico and hopefully French Polynesia. It’s really exciting to be in a place in my career where I can bing my family and talented friends into the fold to make quality content that I’m truly passionate about. I really hope this year allows for more of that.
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