A Curious Pair
CURATOR BRISEIS ONFRAY | INTERVIEW WITH MEG ABBOTT AND ISSY CROKER (CO-FOUNDERS, THE CURIOUS PEAR) | PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY THE CURIOUS PEAR | COUNTRY UK
GIVE US A LITTLE TASTE OF WHAT ‘THE CURIOUS PEAR’ ARE ALL ABOUT?
The Curious Pear is a writer/photographer duo made up of myself (Meg Abbott) and Issy Croker. We contribute food and travel stories to national and international magazines, interview chefs and explore the world knife and fork first!
AS ‘THE CURIOUS (NOT TO MENTION CLEVER) PEAR’, WHAT WAS IT THAT BROUGHT YOU BOTH TOGETHER INITIALLY?
We’ve been best friends (literally joined at the hip) for 12 years, and initially The Curious Pear was just a way for us to be able to spend all of our time together! We had both always been passionate about food and travel. We came up with the idea on a secluded beach in India: Issy had always taken photos, I had always written, and we thought it might be an idea to put our talents together.
WHERE ARE YOU BOTH FROM AND WHERE ARE YOU BASED AT THE MOMENT?
We are both from London, and moved in together three years ago. We’re based in Hackney, which is a breeding ground for wonderful food, drink and creativity. We love it here – we’ve become those awful people that hardly ever leave their own turf!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
Every time we’re sent on a travel assignment, we always have one moment where we catch each other’s eyes in absolute disbelief. We’ve been to some incredible places, and have been given an opportunity to fall in love with places we would never have thought to visit – a good example is Bandera, Texas. It’s the ‘cowboy capital of the world’ and genuinely the friendliest place we’ve ever been. With cowboys. And saloons…
‘THE CURIOUS PEAR’ PHOTO GALLERY IS BEAUTIFUL. IS PHOTOGRAPHY SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO AS A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL, OR DID YOU LEARN ON THE ROAD?
I (Issy) started taking photos in my early teens, but I got my first serious camera at 20, when I got a job as a club photographer at Uni. That was unpleasant…! I never formally trained, but I found out what worked for me through trying out different cameras and kind of throwing myself in the deep end working for magazines and newspapers early on. Learning the ways of Photoshop came later, and that was a bigger challenge.
FOOD IS A HOT TOPIC. DID YOU IMAGINE THAT ‘THE CURIOUS PEAR’ WOULD BECOME SO POPULAR, AND AN INTERNATIONAL GIG?
We’re the food editors at SUITCASE Magazine, and that was our first job. It’s an international publication, so The Curious Pear always had that kind of personality. We began travelling for them early on, and got a taste for culinary storytelling in different countries. Food has always been a great connecter, but I think people are now interested in the food culture of other countries more than ever before.
ON YOUR TRAVELS, WHAT KIND OF DINING EXPERIENCES DO YOU ENJOY MOST?
The more local, the better. We’re much more interested in that tiny restaurant run by a family, where the same people eat and drink every day, than the 5-star critically-acclaimed places. Both have their value, and a lot of hard work goes into them. But there’s no better feeling that eating a plate of food with a real story, and sharing it with the people who really encapsulate a place. Italy is always great for that.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT TASTE THAT CONNECTS OR REMINDS US MOST OF A CULTURE OR DESTINATION?
Smell and taste are our most memory-evoking senses, so it’s no wonder food can bring us back to a place or time like nothing else. When you have a wonderful experience somewhere, food is such a simple way to revisit that memory. Whenever Issy and I want to remember India, we make a batch of spicy chai, or a chicken and lemon tagine if we want to go back to Morocco. Food is so powerful in that way.
DO YOU FIND THAT WITH EVERY REGION OR COUNTRY YOU VISIT, THE KITCHEN METHODS, FLAVOURS AND DISHES ARE WELL-PRESERVED HABITS AND RECIPES, INSPIRED BY CULTURAL AND FAMILY TRADITIONS?
Definitely. I think that the smaller the world becomes, the more diluted the personality of a place becomes. So preserving culture and memory is more important than ever, and I think cooks can really feel that responsibility. As long as we’re still cooking and learning about the food of the past, we’ll be connected to it.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE OR DISCOVER YOUR NEXT ‘FOOD’ DESTINATION?
We have a giant list of places we want to visit, and most of the magazines we write for arrange their issues by theme, so we choose the next destination according to the theme (Wild; Islands; Slow) Otherwise, we find a person we’re dying to interview, or a place we’d love to do a guide to. There aren’t many places we don’t want to visit, so getting to travel anywhere is a dream for us!
WHAT IS THE MOST UNUSUAL DISH OR INGREDIENT THAT YOU HAVE EATEN, AND WHERE WAS IT?
We’ve eaten a surprising amount of brain on our travels. We also bought a very long, fuchsia pink eel-looking creature from a bath of water in a corner shop in Tokyo…they served it chopped up in a paper bag. I wanted it to be the most delicious thing, but it wasn’t. We still can’t be sure what that was.
THERE MUST BE A STORY IN EVERY CHEF’S KITCHEN CUPBOARD, WHAT IS ONE THAT STANDS OUT AS A CULTURAL FEAST FOR THE EYES AND BELLY?
The Indian chef Meera Sodha had the most beautiful, colourful kitchen. Her shelves were full of old Rajasthani tins of spices, hand-painted Indian street signs and a wooden spoon passed down from her grandmother. It made the food so much more personal and full of life.
WHAT’S COOKING IN THE PRESS ROOM FOR ‘THE CURIOUS PEAR’ IN 2018?
We’re off to New Zealand next month to do a road trip across the islands – there’s going to be lots of hiking, swimming and wine-drinking! We’re also planning a trip to Georgia, and starting a new column with Life & Thyme exploring women in the London food scene.
COULD YOU PROVIDE US WITH ANY HOT TIPS FOR LOOKING FOR AUTHENTIC FOOD IN A FOREIGN PLACE? SOMETIMES A MENU CAN BECOME A GAME OF LUCK!
Ask the staff! We’re also partial to a bit of table pointing: if something passes you by that looks particularly delicious, just ask the person what it is. And simply talking to locals in general. Go to markets, sit at the bar and talk to the bar staff, and ask around – everyone always wants you to experience their country the best way you can.
CAN YOU PROVIDE A FINAL INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE?
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” – George Bernard Shaw