Author, chef and podcaster Chris Clarke has traveled the world to learn about diverse cuisines. Her adventures have brought her back to Gilbertsville, her hometown, where she will discuss her recently self-published travelogue “Clarke Wanders: The World (or how a very sober, mostly vegan, spinster chef wandered a welcoming world for a year).”
The event, the second a series of local author lectures spearheaded by Gilbertsville Free Library trustee Paula Gilbert, will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the fellowship hall of the Gilbertsville Baptist Church on Commercial Street. It is free of charge. A book signing will follow the talk, with 10% of book sales going to the library.
“Chris’ book is not just her memoir. When I finished the last page, I realized how self-healing it was. Her reaching out, experiencing and embracing other cultures and races brought her to a richer self,” Gilbert said.
“We’re so glad Chris is going to be here. It’s great to see what Gilbertsville natives have done in the broader world. We hope many people will come out to hear her,” said Sue Rowe, library director.
In June 2015, Clarke set out from Boulder, Colorado, for New Zealand, eventually visiting 18 other countries to learn, first-hand, more about food. Her mission was to eat, cook and share food, and to talk about it with as many people as possible. On her trip, Clarke started a blog, which she has expanded into a book, documenting her travels with photographs and recipes.
A graduate of Gilbertsville Central School, Clarke majored in political science at Canisius College in Buffalo. She has worked for food providers such as Door-to-Door Organics in Louisville, Colorado, where she says she was “resident foodie and chef.” She also wrote and curated recipes for the company website and made appearances on local morning television shows, demonstrating products.
At Whole Foods Market, Clarke worked as a trainer in prepared foods, team leader in specialty foods, and ran a Whole Foods cooking school in Kansas City. She also worked at the Culinary School of the Rockies for almost 15 years as instructor for home cooks and kids.
“I taught everything from basic French techniques to dim sum. My favorite was a Halloween class where the kids and I made ‘scary’ food,” Clarke said.
In 2003, Clarke was named “Denver’s Best Home Chef” after entering a competition in which contestants were given surprise ingredients and asked to create a dish within 20 minutes.
Clarke’s travels took her to such diverse places as Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, a farm in northern Turkey and a vineyard in southern Italy. In Cambodia, she spent three days exploring the expansive temple complex of Angkor Wat on a rented bicycle.
In Spain, Clarke ran into a group of teachers who invited her to join them for Easter in the Basque country, where she was able to observe the Semana Santa penance processions of several Catholic brotherhoods.
Shunning organized tours, Clarke traveled solo, often connecting with people on social media to find places to work for room and board.
“It was complete freedom. I got to do whatever I wanted to do,” she said.
Her journeys, Clarke said, taught her a lot about herself.
“I was put to the test, and I learned to be self-reliant," she said. "I have a bad sense of direction. I would get lost, but I still managed to find my way.” She said the experience helped her learn to be more open with people.
For her international food preferences, Clarke favors Malaysian cuisine because of its diversity, which incorporates Malaysian, Chinese and Indian influences.
“There are hawker stalls all over the cities, morning, noon and night. The vendors are selling so many different interesting items that I fear I’ll never be able to taste them all … My new favorite breakfast, and it's vegan, is roti canai with dal. That and a cup of sweet tea will set you back (78 cents),” Clarke wrote in her book.
Clarke also developed a liking for dim sum, which she described as a “family-oriented Chinese brunch.”
“There’s a lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and everybody shares,” she said.
Typical dim sum offerings include various kinds of dumplings, spring or rice noodle rolls, sweet cream buns, turnip or water chestnut cake and deep-fried squid.
In 2016, Clarke returned from her travels and set up a website, somethingaboutfood.com, which includes a blog and a podcast. According to the website, the podcast seeks “to bring a diverse array of guests to the table to talk about food, family, travel, and much, much more.”
One podcast features Adrian Miller, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, attorney, and certified barbecue judge who chats about the regional complexities of Texas barbecue. Also featured is criminology professor Callie Rennison, who shares a unique method of identifying cheeses, along with her love of gas station hot dogs and Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese.
The motto of Clarke’s podcast is “Everyone is invited to the table.” Its entries are often interspersed with reflections on topics such as homelessness, recovering from drug addiction, and public health.
Clarke sees food as having a socially redemptive function.
“Food always brings us together, especially in these divisive times,” she said.
Clarke said Gilbertsville Free Library was a catalyst to her becoming a writer.
“We lived on the same street as the library. I must have spent three or four days a week there just reading," she said. "My writing is an extension of all that reading.”
The library’s third local authors lecture will take place on Oct. 27 and will feature Ginnah Howard, whose novel, “Night Navigation,” was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice in 2009.