With a four-word mantra—“go everywhere, eat everything”—and a mission to discover what it means to be an American, Simon Majumdar set off on a culinary pilgrimage across the U.S.
One year and 300-plus pages later, not only is the British-born television personality a fully-fledged citizen, he’s also the author of Fed, White, and Blue, a new collection of travel essays detailing the American experience through food.
“He figured that if he was going to join our star-spangled club he should take a little road trip and discover his new country the way he has the rest of the planet: with his stomach,” wrote fellow Food Network star Alton Brown in the forward of the book. “Simon has done here what he does best: eat, talk, write repeat.”
Now hear the story from the man himself.
Below, T+L talks with the author about American cuisine, his citizenship celebration, and the best eats of his journey.
Why did you take this trip?
The journey for Fed, White, and Blue is in many ways the culmination of a trilogy, one that began with my first book, Eat My Globe, which came out in 2009. I quit my job as a publisher in the United Kingdom and traveled to 31 countries in a year. On that journey around the world, I met my now wife, Sybil, and we got married in 2010. I’m not someone who likes to do things by half-measure, so I didn’t just want to become a resident of the United States, I wanted to become a fully-fledged citizen.
This journey was a way of finding out what it means to become an American. I was using food as a prism to really connect to the people in this country, and it worked, it absolutely worked. By doing that and traveling all over the country and sharing food experiences, I created this network that I call my new American family.
How did the food journey differ from those of the past two books?
I think it this journey was a lot more personal. The first journey, I called myself an accidental explorer. It came from a very dark place—my mother had died, I was suffering from real, very serious depression, when the publishing company I was helping to run was failing. I found a notebook where I had written down all the things I wanted to do when I turned 40, and in it were notes like go and have a suit made, and run a marathon, but at the bottom I had written four words: ‘Go everywhere, eat everything.’ So that first journey was me saying ‘to hell with it.’ I’m going off around the world and whatever happens, happens. Almost by accident, I ended up doing what I do now.
For the second book, I wanted to rescue British food from its bad reputation, and go and find out the best of what we have to offer. And I did that by spending a year traveling and finding the wonderful people of Britain who make and grow, and produce and brew really amazing stuff.
But Fed, White, and Blue was a very personal project. I went on social media, and I said if I’m becoming an American, what would you show me to tell me about your country, and I received hundreds of replies of people saying ‘come to our town’ or ‘do this’—very specific, very personal recommendations.
It was magical, it really was. Journeys where you share meals with people, where you break bread with people, they’re almost sacramental. You really do make a connection. So it was a great journey that culminated last October when I became an American citizen.
It was fantastic. It was much more of a moving than I anticipated and I’m not particularly sentimental. It was in L.A.—3,200 people—so it certainly wasn’t intimate, but what I thought was really moving was everyone there had their own story. I had my story about citizenship, but when I looked around and saw people high-fiving and hugging, and all of that, I realized that each one of them had their own story, too. I had no intention of ever moving to the United States or becoming an American citizen, but now it’s one of the greatest things that’s happened in my life.
Where did you eat your celebratory dinner?
We went to a great restaurant in L.A. that I love called Connie and Ted’s. It’s a New England-style seafood restaurant run by a Michael Cimarusti. It was very simple and very casual. I sat with my wife—who is absolutely my rock—and we drank a bottle of wine and ate lobster rolls and had a great time.
How would you describe American food?
First of all, I think on the whole, Americans are very apologetic about their food. They tend to think it’s going to be big portions and fast food, and all of the stereotypes that sometimes people from abroad have. And part of my mission is to get Americans to be much more proud of their food. Sometimes you need an outsider to come in and say wow, you know, (a) I think this country has some of the most spectacular ingredients of anywhere in the world and (b) it has some of the most spectacular chefs—and that could be anyone from someone working in a diner to the head chef at the finest restaurant.
But what I really think is, I think that American food really is a history book. It tells you about trade, war, immigration, and it tells you that when you’re eating a meal, you’re not just eating ingredients; you’re eating American history. When you’re eating steak, you’re talking about manifest destiny and the beginnings of the beef industry. When you’re eating barbecue you’re speaking to the German immigration and when they moved to the west. When you eat pizza in New York, of course, you’re speaking to the fusion of American technique and Italian immigration. So that’s what really fascinates me about American food: putting it in its context. How it impacted culture and how the culture impacted food.
Check out the map below for some of Simon’s favorite eats from across the country, and head over to his website for more info on his book, Fed, White, and Blue.
Caroline Hallemann is an assistant digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @challemann.