Rosemary Kimani is a culinary explorer and co-founder of the popular food and travel blog Authentic Food Quest. Together with her wife, Claire Rouger, they travel the world as digital nomads, exploring authentic local specialties. Their goal is to connect people to the best local food experiences while traveling or through travel-inspired recipes.
People can read a detailed back story on your about page. But after working regular jobs in Chicago, Paris, and L.A., you got a sign from the gods that it was time to go all-in with Authentic Food Quest. What was it like when you got started?
This decision to become digital nomads and create a location independent business was a result of a series of events that “pushed” us to start living our dream.
Getting started was not easy. Fear was the greatest enemy. While we each made the decision to leave our successful careers, the fear of failure lurked in the background.
Combining our love for food and travel and creating Authentic Food Quest was the outward expression. However, getting started was the inner work. The necessary fuel to launch our dreams.
The starting out phase was filled with uncertainty. We were leaving our home in Los Angeles. We were downsizing, selling our furniture, and keeping only a few things in storage.
At the same time, we were building our website and planning our culinary adventures, starting in South America. The difficulty was in leaving what was comfortable and embarking on a new unknown chapter.
To succeed, we needed to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Quotes from Henry David Thoreau in Walden encouraged us to “go confidently in the direction of our dreams. To live the lives we imagined.” Susan Jeffers book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, helped us take the chance to create a successful life.
Once we made the decision to go forth boldly, we never looked back. Even today when faced with uncertainty, we continue to push past fear.
I love that you kicked off your blog with six months of travel in just four countries in South America then took six months to travel through the close-together nations of Southeast Asia after that. How did you know that slow travel was the way to go for building good material?
Our culinary travels are focused on exploring the local food specialties of a place. While the authentic specialties are at the heart, gaining a deeper understanding of why those specialties exist is just as important.
Beyond simply showcasing the local specialties, we aim to provide the cultural context for the food. If we want people to appreciate a location through food, it’s important they understand what the local specialties are, why they exist, and where to get them.
To achieve our goal we seek to immerse ourselves into the local culture and understand the context for the local food.
We travel slow, spending anywhere from one to three months in a specific destination going deep on the food. This means connecting with locals who can guide us to their childhood and homemade favorites.
This also includes visiting local markets, taking food tours, and cooking classes. Meeting with local experts such as chefs, food writers, and local artisans adds unique context to the local specialties. To write about local food specialties with authority, we need to spend the time to discover, understand and write about the local food experiences.
I believe food is the best way to understand a culture. We want to guide readers and travelers to experience the culture in a unique way. To go beyond sustenance and take a “bite into the local culture.”
There’s a business theory called “The 1,000 Day Rule” that says it’s probably going to take you around three years before your online business can replace your previous salaried job earnings. How long did it take you to get real financial traction?
Getting our financial house in order was of critical importance before embarking on our culinary adventures. We knew we would not make money in the beginning, so we dedicated some of our savings to help finance our travel and get the business going.
Yes, the 1,000 Day Rule is very real. It did take us about three years to be able to live off the business.
On the journey to financial stability, we’ve created multiple streams of income. Some we started simply to bridge the gap, while others we continue to pursue today. From freelancing, creating products, affiliate marketing, sponsored content, and advertising revenue to working with brands and destinations, we diversified our efforts.
In addition to Authentic Food Quest, we’ve had one e-commerce store and are currently creating a new one.
While seeking to increase our income, we also find ways to reduce our daily expenses without compromising our lifestyle. Traveling slowly allows for lower transportation and lodging expenses.
What are your income streams like now and how did they hold up when we went into this travel lockdown of 2020 that’s still lingering?
How to manage our finances during Covid-19 and the travel lockdown continues to be an ongoing challenge. Once travel shut down, website traffic decreased dramatically taking away advertising and affiliate income. This was immediately followed by projects with tourism boards and brands being canceled.
As we watched our revenue decline, we decided to pivot our business and lean heavily into the “food” part of our mission. Creating travel-inspired recipes is what we’ve started with. Interestingly, this collided perfectly with a request from our readers for recipes of the food we’ve discovered on the road. So, with travel being out of the question and most of our readers cooking at home, moving into recipes was a natural fit.
So far, we’ve invited our readers to travel to Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Portugal with travel-inspired recipes. Our goal is to expand this list to include all the countries we’ve already visited. The response has been positive and encouraging thus far and we look forward to making this a sustainable income generator.
Outside of food and travel, we are building our new Amazon e-commerce store.
What are the pros and cons of trying to combine food and travel in your writing and your business?
In our business, food and travel are inextricably linked. There is no exploration of the local flavors without travel. And we can’t talk about the food without talking about the place and the people.
This is a balance we are constantly navigating in each destination. Writing about food and travel gives us a set of lenses to navigate a place. And, we take an immersive approach.
We share homes with locals and eat the traditional specialties at popular local eateries. Visiting local markets and connecting with local food experts also allows us to go deep into the local food culture.
On the flip side, we also have to address the travel component. How to get there, the addresses of the local restaurants, or how readers can travel to connect with artisans. This type of writing is more practical in nature and important in helping readers have similar experiences.
Rather than combine all aspects of food and travel in a single article, we create multiple pieces of content about a specific destination. Some articles highlight the must-eat local specialties, including the best local places to have them. Some focus on local experiences like market visits, food tours, or cooking classes. Others focus on practical aspects like food itineraries, food-focused accommodations, and eating safely.
Guided by analytics and keyword research, we create a rough content plan prior to traveling. On the ground at the destination, we allow the plan to shift based on the local experiences we discover.
There have been a lot of welcome discussions lately about diversity in the travel industry, both in consumer marketing and in brands or destinations working with minority voices. With potential double discrimination in the case of you and Claire being a couple, what solutions do you think are needed?
The current conversation around inclusivity is welcome and one that needs to be fostered on an ongoing basis.
While skin color and being a lesbian interracial couple impacts our travel experiences, it doesn’t define how we travel or the brands and destinations we work with.
Depending on the destination, as a black woman, people may ask to touch my skin or take pictures with me. This often comes from a place of curiosity about never having met a black person in real life. It is always surprising and can feel jarring, but never malicious.
Traveling as an interracial lesbian couple has been a wonderful experience that’s actually bridged gaps. At first glance, people think we are simply friends traveling together. They are intrigued as to how two black and white ladies ended up together traveling in their country. Once we get talking, my exoticism or Claire’s French background creates new points of interest. The conversation shifts from potential discrimination to shared connections.
Once the dialogue shifts to food, especially local food experience, the tables turn. The discussion become about the transference of knowledge and exchange of ideas
Brands, destinations, and the travel industry, in general, could benefit from deep soul searching. Interrogating themselves with the question, “Who we do we serve?” at the core. There needs to be a reflection of the diversity of the population in a region. A celebration of the diversity of users of a brand or potential customers.
And with that, brands and destinations must reflect their market. Know that who tells the story matters. Seek out diverse voices and influencers. Not just a token one or two diverse influencers, but the voices that represent the untold stories of a destination.
Since you lived in Dijon, France for a while, do they really eat Dijon mustard in Dijon?
Yes, they do eat mustard in Dijon and across France. In fact, mustard is the 3rd most consumed condiment after salt and pepper in France. Sadly, very little Dijon mustard is made in Dijon.
Only 5000 hectares of mustard grains grow in Burgundy, while the vast majority comes from Canada. Unfortunately, Dijon mustard does not have geographical protection status. Therefore mustard with grains from Canada can bear the Dijon mustard label.
Read more about the creators of Authentic Food Quest here and get inspired on their YouTube Channel.