Cook up an ideal getaway: Chef Renee Erickson shares her favorite oneworld destinations to travel for the best food

Seattle chef Renee Erickson’s new book, “Getaway,” includes recipes inspired by her travels – including a tomatillo and avocado salsa evocative of Baja, Mexico. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

International travel has always been transformative for Renee Erickson, an award-winning chef and restaurateur in Alaska Airlines’ hometown of Seattle. It all began with a trip to Rome.

Erickson was a 21-year-old art student who found herself drawn to bustling markets filled with seasonal produce and cheesemongers handing out samples. She remembers little cookies being offered while standing in line for pizza bianca – and the gelato and negronis that she would skip lunch to afford.

“It was the moment when I woke up to the idea of other cultures and how food was at the center,” Erickson says. “I came home and immediately started thinking about how I could go back.”

Rome launched a culinary journey that led Erickson to buy her first Seattle restaurant when she was just 25. She’s since explored cuisines across Europe from Paris to Normandy and London – all destinations accessible to Alaska guests through our oneworld partners.

Those travels shaped Erickson’s group of Seattle restaurants, including The Walrus and the Carpenter, her lauded oyster bar inspired by French brasseries. And now her love of food and travel come together in her newest book, “Getaway,” a cookbook-meets-travel memoir publishing April 27.

She’s always exploring new places – with Baja, Mexico, a more recent favorite (and accessible to Alaska guests via Cabo San Lucas and Loreto). But Italy remains her first travel love.

And while COVID-19 restrictions still prohibit travel to Europe, Erickson hopes the recipes and memories in her book will transport readers – and whet their appetites for future travel.

Here, Erickson shares a few travel tips to savor some of her favorite places:

ROME

“The magic of getting on a plane and ending up in Rome is just mind-blowing to this day,” Erickson says. “I can’t believe that in nine hours, I’m going to be sipping espresso in Piazza Navona. It’s the greatest thing.” Erickson visiting Rome in fall 1994.

“When my husband Dan and I talk about travel or dream about having an apartment, it’s always Rome. It’s the combination of history and art being everywhere, on top of a culture that’s obsessed with food and wine. And it’s a bit crazy. It’s loud and dirty and beautiful. I feel comfortable there, and I think that has to do with being there so young.”

What to eat: “Go to Testaccio, a market outside of the center. Spend some time and eat some food there. Try these great little pizzette snacks. (There’s also a recipe in my book.) You’ll also get to sample all kinds of vegetables, and there’s a cheese guy who will give you five different samples of pecorino that are all different.”

What to drink, ideally at sunset: ”Make sure you have a negroni somewhere on a piazza.”

PARIS AND NORMANDY

A perfect afternoon snack at Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie.

“As a young chef and restaurant owner, I wanted to go to Paris because it had tons of restaurants and the experience of dining was masterful there. It was an invigorating place to be and still has some of my favorite restaurants.”

Dining at the market in Deauville.

Where to go in Paris: “La Buvette, a shop that sells delicious snacks like white beans with lemon oil, incredible patés, and a lovely selection of wines, is a must. I am also a huge fan of Martin, a raucous wine bar with the sweetest little pup named Saucisse, who checks everyone out. My favorite spot might be Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, which has lovely simple food, a beautiful tree-lined street and friendly people.”

What to eat in Normandy: “There’s a shellfish market in Deauville where the ships come in and unload everything, and you can have these giant plateaus of seafood with wine. Nothing fancy. You sit out on the street eating the most delicious oysters that they shuck for you right there and shrimp that they’ve just cooked. They give you a little aioli to dip them in, and they give you some rye bread. And that to me is the perfect meal in Normandy.”

LONDON

Erickson and her husband, Dan Crookston, in London, 2016.

“The last time we were in London was two Decembers ago when a friend had an art show there. We went to the Columbia Road Flower Market. London, especially, does flowers better than anyone. They had amaryllis that were 4 feet long and something like $3 apiece, and I said, ‘Let’s buy a dozen!’ They were so extravagant and so big and so beautiful.”

What to eat: “There’s this place called the Marksman Pub that I love. Try to eat a well-sourced version of classic British food – like something that would have been cooked 100 years ago. Dishes like Yorkshire pudding and peas and haddock, or any sort of meat pie, and beer.”

One food myth: “If people still think that England has bad food, they’re wrong. London is probably one of the top three cities that I would happily go back to any day to eat. It’s dynamic, super sophisticated, and has unbelievably delicious food.”

BAJA, MEXICO

Sunset in Todos Santos, Mexico.

“Baja is so easy to get to from Seattle, just four hours away by plane. And the climate is so different, but still on the water, which I love. It’s like Joshua Tree by the Pacific Ocean. I love to buy a whole fish from the fishermen and cook it. I’ll take a jar of olive oil and salt with me, and make sure to get fruit, veggies and tortillas, plus tequila, of course.”

What to eat: “Fish tacos in Baja are the best. Depending on where you are in Baja, there are different traditions. Try as many as you can. They have giant clams there, too. You can eat them raw, but they also grill them and put salsas in them on the grill. They’re round like a manila clam, but they’re like the size of your fist—it’s pretty fun.”

Best advice: “Don’t be afraid of eating street food. In Italy, I like to follow construction workers into a restaurant. In Baja, I follow construction workers into a taco shop. I want to eat where they’re eating.”

Baja-inspired recipe: Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa

Ingredients:

    • 12 tomatillos, husks removed
    • 1 small ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled
    • 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems included (about 2 cups/80 g)
    • Zest and juice from 2 small limes (about 3 tablespoons juice)
    • 1 serrano chile, stem removed
    • Salt
    • Makes about 1 cup (240 ml)

Directions:
In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, cook the tomatillos until charred on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn the tomatillos and continue cooking until they are browned on most surfaces and softening, another 10 to 12 minutes.

Slip the tomatillos into a bowl and cover with a plate. Let steam for 10 minutes, then place the tomatillos in a blender with the avocado, cilantro, lime zest and juice, serrano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Buzz until very smooth. Taste and season with more salt or lime juice, if desired.

Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator until ready to eat. It will keep well for 2 to 3 days.

Renee’s top 10 things to pack:

In her carry-on:

  • A liter metal water bottle that she fills to prevent dehydration. (#FillBeforeYouFly)
  • Dark chocolate (when the weather isn’t too warm)
  • Almonds
  • Satsumas (a variety of mandarin oranges) in the winter. “They’re easy to peel and they just smell so good.”

In her suitcase:

  • One chef’s knife in carbon steel. “It’s really easy to keep sharp.”
  • A microplane for zesting and grating
  • A wine key
  • A travel kit with a mini mandolin and mini cheese grater. “I love having a mandolin to slice onions and fennel to make salads. These are sharp things that make your life easier.”
  • Sea salt – unless it’s easily available in her destination, like in Italy and France
  • Olive oil
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