For Jim Byers, one of Canada’s top travel writers and editors, travel is sustenance and discovering new food is part of the fun. The former travel editor for the Toronto Star now spends his days globetrotting to destinations and penning pieces about his travels for Postmedia and Sun Media, the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Zoomer magazine, Canadian Traveller and The Australian newspaper, as well as Travelzoo Canada’s website. Byers says he loves every kind of travel, from Canadian mountains to European cities. He also adores a good beach, old time rock ‘n roll and a nice glass of red wine.
We checked in with Byers to find out how he best pairs his passions for culinary and traveling.
EatSwitzCheese: Travel and food go together like birds of a feather. Why are the two so connected, and how important is culinary to the travel experience, in your opinion?
Byers: Food has always been a part of why we travel. Hence we have long had Michelin star guides and such. France, Switzerland cheese and chocolates always a draw. I remember gobbling down Toblerone as something exotic in 1979, my first trip. But Instagram has ratcheted that up substantially. People LOVE food pics. I often wonder what relatives would think of us taking photos of our grilled cheese sandwiches.
Q: What are some of your favourite countries to chow down in, and why?
A: I love the U.S. for variety and Hong Kong for dim sum, Japan for sushi and much more. I adore veal Zurich style with mushrooms and nice Swiss wine on the trains. Even better are the breakfasts. A Swiss breakfast buffet at even a moderate hotel is something to behold—wonderful cheeses and fresh, perfectly crunchy bread and cream butter and jams! I rate hotels on how good their jams are, I really do. Two packets of Kraft and you have a bad hotel. Switzerland? Look for jars and jars of raspberry and strawberry and forest berry mixes. And bircher muesli and good strong coffee with Swiss milk or cream. Oh, I’m in heaven.
Q: Where in Switzerland have you personally had the opportunity to travel? What are your favourite memories of the country?
A: I’ve done several trips to Zurich when I covered the International Olympic Committee, which is headquartered in Lausanne. I briefly saw the bears in Berne once, but I’ve never been to Geneva. I love Lausanne; great ice cream shops and the funicular from the train station to the lake, as well as the boat rides on Lake Geneva, the lakeside gardens and the grand hotels. I love the train ride and the terraces of wine you pass through on the way into Lausanne from Zurich. It’s so romantic. I think Zurich is underrated, too. There are beautiful churches with works by Marc Chagall and a lovely old town and, in summer, great swimming pavilions on the lake. It’s a happening city for Pride festivals, too. And there’s a great Christmas market every year around the main Zurich train station. I visited Zermatt in the 1980s and loved it, and I went backpacking around Grindelwald a long time ago. I also did a great driving trip from Zurich to the Austrian border, checking out lovely lakes and mountains around Walensee.
Q: When it comes to Switzerland’s food, what stands out to you about their recipes, processes, etc.?
A: I think Swiss chefs do things a certain way and I respect that. It’s fine to add an interesting twist to a classic recipe but chefs too often get carried away. When I want classic veal Zurichoise, I don’t want it with coriander. Keep it simple and prepare it just right. That’s my motto.
Q: Which Switzerland cheeses are your personal favourites to cook with and serve to your friends and family?
A: I can’t say I have one fave. LeGruyère is great, of course. Also Emmentaler. I haven’t been there in a while so I can’t say I know a lot of lesser-known cheeses.
Q: If you had to give up one or the other, cheese or chocolate, which would go first and why?
A: I like chocolate but I don’t live for it. Much rather give that up than cheese, which can be savoury or sweet and goes so well with a nice glass of wine.