Insight into the world of a fan of all types of cuisine
Travelling means discovering other places with all your senses. Eastern countries, the Middle East, Africa: Anne Coppin set off on an adventure at 20 years old, in a scantily equipped van, to seek out cuisines from other places. After a few years and a great deal of travelling, the author of Happy World Food shares a few memories and her vision of food which takes you places. Interview.
What does setting off on an adventure mean to you?
Adventure is something unexpected, not knowing what will happen in the next few hours or days. And then it’s the unknown, with a slight element of risk, beginning with the likelihood that nothing will happen as planned.
Is taste the strongest trigger for your memories?
Yes, closely followed by smell. The fact that an olfactory memory is completely intangible plays a part in this magic. Taste also has an instantaneous and ephemeral aspect which plays a part in its poetic charm. And then the setting, state of mind has a strong influence on perceptions, in particular, those related to taste.
When you remember a place is a taste often associated with it?
Yes, I have clear tastes which come to mind when I remember significant moments in my life. I’m thinking for example, about my first trip to Thailand when I was 12 years old. The smells and tastes which I discovered there often come to mind abruptly when I think about that country.
What is your oldest memory linked to a dish?
When I was very young, my grandma secretly gave me a Calisson d’Aix, a sweet speciality from Aix-en-Provence made of almonds and candied fruit. I remember, with the full weight of my 2 or 3 years, saying to myself that it was the best thing that I had ever tasted. My aunt criticised my grandma for giving this “expensive” sweet to a child who could not appreciate its finesse. My grandma replied that she was wrong. This Calisson was a significant event in my life, as I realised the strength of emotions linked to tastes. The memory I have of it still makes tears come to my eyes. It’s the link between food and love, the mouth and the heart, flavours and emotion.
What is the strongest emotion you have felt while eating a dish?
The first starred chef whose food I ate was Thierry Marx. I have a memory of being dazzled by this dinner. It was during this meal that I felt one of my strongest emotions linked to taste: a pink drop, on the side of the plate, which could have been taken as simply decoration, but a little bit on the tip of a knife provoked exquisite sensations on the palate. It was a grapefruit concentrate: the balance between sweet, sour and bitter, so important in Asian cooking, was perfectly attained.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
I particularly like cooking tom kha kaï, chicken soup with coconut milk. This dish symbolises the perfect balance between cream soup, spice, sweetness and sourness. All of Thai subtlety is concentrated into this delicacy.
Your favourite ingredient?
Above all, I love sour flavours: lemon is something I don’t get tired of. I also love coconut milk, it provides unparalleled creaminess.
What is the main quality needed to be a globetrotter who loves food?
You need to be curious, open and ready for discovery. Try new things, it’s about being daring in what you try! Especially since taste can be a real way of engaging with people. The best travel memory is often when you’re invited to share a meal.
Can you head off on an adventure by cooking from home?
I have thought about this a lot, and I think that you can really make your guests feel far from home by cooking. An authentic recipe, a surprising flavour, a smell distantly recognised, and you can head thousands of kilometres away, in your memories or in your dreams. On the other hand, there are real culinary adventurers, who explore unknown fields and are naturally curious about new flavours. Giving a new lease of life to your culinary routines is already a journey!
Besides trying the local cuisine, what else do you like to do when travelling?
I like to visit the markets, which are fabulous lively places, and to spend time in cafes. And I walk all day long, it’s my favourite activity. Also, it whets my appetite!
Anne Coppin, Happy World Food, Umai Éditions.