There are many reasons why Leila Hamilton of My Barbarian Table seems like someone with whom I’d get along very well in person. Not the least of these are her interest in comic books, her thoughts on killjoys who begrudge food lovers their enjoyment of all the world has to offer, and things we’d do for the chance to make a living traveling the world on our stomachs like a certain outspoken chef does on the Travel Channel. Leila recently indulged me (and by extension, indulged food lovers everywhere) with answers to nine Food Adventurer Queries.
Flavorful World: What do you say to those who equate what some would perceive as an excessive love of food with moral deficiency (as in eat to live, don’t live to eat)?
Leila Hamilton: “Get a life!” Moral deficiency? Really? I find joy in something that my body requires a daily partaking of, in this day in age, that’s asking very little. With everything else that’s wrong in this world, people speaking of moral deficiency in regards to food obsession have nothing else to do. Go solve something more pertinent to the state of human moral decay.
FW: Does the term “Food Porn” offend you? Tell us why or why not, then tell us what the term means to you, and what phrase might be used to replace it.
LH: No not at all. But the term porn doesn’t offend me either. Food porn to me is very well articulated and styled food photography that gets foodies all hot & bothered. The only thing that bothers me about it is that I don’t have the equipment to produce my own!
FW: Who is your greatest deceased influence with regard to your kitchen capabilities, and how did they help shape/develop your skill set? Who is your greatest living kitchen influence, and how did they help shape/develop your skill set?
LH: [deceased influence] MFK Fisher. Her approach to food was essential to how I looked at enjoying a meal. Without that understanding you cannot begin to know how to cook a meal.
[living influence] I wish I had a sensationalistic grand chef to mention, but honestly, it was my chef-instructors at the CIA that shaped my skill set. Diligence and consistency in knife skills, mis-en-place, cleanliness are with me to this day after 10 years. Everything else is self-knowledge and the application of those solid learned skills.
FW: As a cook, are you primarily self-taught or did you receive formal training? If formally trained, where did you study?
LH: I learned how to cook from my father, who used it as a way to connect and nurture my sister and I after the death of my mother at 13. It wasn’t all that starry-eyed and sweet though, think of me as the unwilling guinea pig to his vegetarian exploring ways. When I was 25 I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY where I received my formal training.
FW: What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about food enthusiasts, and what response do you offer to that misconception?
LH: That food enthusiast aren’t as educated as trained chefs. Nowadays, people are very self-educated and may know more than you think, even more than those in the kitchen. My response, keep a mind open and be open to suggestions. Food enthusiasts are big eaters, meaning they eat out a lot, cook themselves and read an immense amount of books, you may learn more than you think from those followers and diners.
FW: How much importance do you place on your food’s point of origin when you’re selecting ingredients such as fresh produce and seafood, and why?
LH: Quite a bit, with the huge Slow Food Movement growing and everyone into sustainability, its important to utilize what can come in your own back yard (or from your neighbors tree!). I’m lucky I live in the American Riviera—the Central Coast of California, where seafood is bountiful & fruit and produce have a 10-month growing season. There’s no reason to source ingredients from anywhere else. But if I didn’t live here, you could bet I’d be making use of whatever was locally available, it just makes a better end product
FW: Choose three professional culinarians living or dead with whom you’d want to share a group meal (excluding persons with whom you’ve already done so) and tell us why you chose them.
Julia Child– Come on, who wouldn’t? I met her once at Culinary School and she still had that high pitch voice and a down to earth approach. Plus I grew up in the 70’s & 80’s watching her T.V show on P.B.S. I loved it when she chopped whole raw chickens with such gusto!
Anthony Bourdain– I know, I know…obnoxious world-wide celebrity chef, but honestly, I’d kill to have his job. He smokes, drinks, curses, eats, travels and meets amazing chefs the world over, all while being the kind of chef I actually worked with in NYC, kind of an ass. But I respect him.
Fred Plotkin– He’s a gourmet food traveler & writer that knows a lot about Italy. He was a very close friend of the owner/operator of a restaurant in NYC I used to work at. His knowledge and experience about Italy surpasses anyone I know (yes, more so than that orange clog-wearing chef) and he’s the one you want to be friends with and traveling buddies with when cycling through Italy.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits.
LH: The Urban Farmer. I’ve lived in metropolitan areas all my life but find it important to be able to grow your own food and make use of it, regardless of spatial restrictions you’re confronted with. Just to be connected to your food source gives you a different outlook at what you’re eating.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
LH: Reading lots of fiction, playing fantasy football, growing hops, brewing beer, hanging out with my hubs & Great Dane and hopefully napping lazily in a hammock.
*Note to readers: Catch more culinary/food-related insights tastefully garnished with humor and stunning food photography in three easy steps: 1. Visit My Barbarian Table and partake in some delightful food porn (There. I said it.) 2. Throw some “Like” across the site’s Facebook page. And if you’re willing to go that far, take the affection one step farther by 3. following along on Twitter.