My dinner with KitaOct 13, 2016 08:44AM ● By J. Chambless
Kita Roberts' two blogs are dedicated to her love of food, travel and photography. (Photo by Jie Deng)
By Richard L. Gaw
Maybe it's cheating.
Maybe it's the equivalent of a journalistic short cut, but there is no more honest way of writing about the world of Kita Roberts then to skip the adjectives.
In order to get to the singular, beating heart of this profile, I am asking you, dear reader, to cobble together the following images and put them in the guise of a bespectacled, 29-year-old woman: The shimmering browns of Amelia Earhart's bomber flight jacket, and the full whiskey glass at an old saloon, held by a woman's hand. The glisten of a perfectly-cooked steak, rare. The crusted dirt on a hiking boot after a long journey to the soul. A passport, well-thumbed. The fearless brevity of Hemingway words used to write about travel and food and life's journeys, pounded onto a keyboard. The click of a camera that is pointed at smiling children in another part of the world that is known more for fear than for hope.
A man's life, with all of its burnished bravado and scarred romanticism, unapologetically entered into by a woman.
When a co-worker first approached me about doing a profile about Roberts, I thought it would go the way he and I had planned it – to hit a few of Newark's best restaurants and talk about Roberts' love of food and other things, which are documented in two blogs – PasstheSushi.com and GirlCarnivore.com -- and read by thousands every week.
Before he and I bellied up to a Main Street restaurant bar to meet Roberts, I had already done my homework. I learned that Roberts is a food enthusiast, but not in the dainty, pinkies-up kind of way. Rather, she approaches her love of food with the enthusiasm of a Harley road warrior about to tuck into a flat iron steak at a truck-stop joint. In addition ot her two blogs, her writing has also been featured on Huffington Post, Bon Appetit, FoodGawker, TasteSpotting, Tasteologie, Food Porn Daily, FoodBuzz, and the Ladies Home Journal, to name a few. She also travels the country for national food brands to come up with unique recipes that feature their brands.
Half-way through our first drink, I found that Roberts is not only the person you want to accompany you on an "Eat, Pray Love" journey, she is also a mountain bicyclist, the former manager of a Newark comic store, and a professional photographer. When my evening with Roberts ended five hours later, however, I had concluded that if Kita Roberts did not already exist, then she would have eventually been hatched from the fertile mind of a screenwriter, hepped up on a four-day caffeine jag, and written into a film that would star a youngish ingenue, whose fearless and sassy performance as Kita the Conqueror would simply knock the critics on their collective derriere.
Kita Roberts' journey to where she is now -- one that takes her around the country and to other parts of the world, writing about food -- did not have its beginnings in travel. Family vacations were to Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire, where she and her father would spend glorious hours fishing. To the young girl from Newark, the world came to her in the form of the National Geographic, she devoured, page after page, month after month.
"I was captivated by the size of the world, and how much was out there," she said. "The seed had always been planted early that I would eventually see something bigger. The idea of pairing something I love with travel, and working with people, gave me the chance to see that the opposite side of the world was amazing, captivating and terrifying."
In her late teens, Roberts moved in with her friend Meredith, whose entire family prepared full meals: biscuits, meat, four sides and dessert, every single night.
Staying for a time with this family began to teach Roberts that a simple visit to a dinner table can be more than just a place to eat, but serve as a communal landing spot, where conversations fly like birds and dining becomes like a joyous playground of adventure.
She began to pour through recipe books. She set a goal to prepare at least two meals every week, digging deeper into what existed in food beyond the traditional American road map of Monday pasta, Tuesday meatloaf. She combed the aisles of supermarkets, learning about exotic vegetables and seasonings that were written about in magazines.
"I asked myself, 'What do I love about food?'" Roberts said. "I found that I love to prepare food. I found out that I loved to cook meat, to be the girl at the grill."
After some welcoming drinks on Main Street with my co-worker, we jumped in Roberts' car and drove to Churrascaria Saudades, the Brazilian steakhouse that opened earlier this year in the Newark Shopping Center. Having written about Churrascaria Saudades in the Spring edition of Newark Life, I was familiar with what was ahead of us: Meat, glorious and mouth watering and addictive.
In preparing the evening with Roberts, I thought, 'What better place to take the Girl Carnivore?' After a quick trip to the salad bar, the gauchos carved off rare cuts of Picanha, a prime cut of sirloin beef; Lombo, a parmesan-encrusted tenderloin; and Cordeiro, leg of lamb that dripped with seasonings. Roberts and I paced ourselves, flipping between conversation and consumption, as the gauchos continued their flavorful assault on our table.
Roberts began a chain-link conversation with server Kevin O'Donnell about their love of exotic drinks, which expanded to the best cities in the world for food and drink. Their discourse had the tonality and rhythm of two jazz musicians riffing off of one another.
I put the green card up, indicating that I was satisfied. Another round of food and conversation soon awaited us down the street.
In 2010, Roberts launched PasstheSushi.com., a Milennial's Guide to Recipes, Travel and Photography. Blog after blog, it's a treat for the senses: recipes for Chocolate Dipped Boozy Pina Colada Popsicles and Cinnamon Spiked Flourless Chocolate Cake. Tips on how to best chase the fall foliage on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and three must-see trails in Zion National Park. She taps her talents as a photographer, and both food and scenery leap from the computer screen.
So does her writing, which is both informative and breezy. Here's the opening to her recipe for King Salmon with peas and mint:
"Can you smell that? On your ride home with the car window cracked, it’s there: The far-off smell of grills firing up. On your walk around the block, the aroma of freshly lit charcoal is calling out to you. Winter has finally started to subside and with as long as this one has been, there is going to be no time wasted digging out the grills. With temps approaching hot this weekend, and a little sun burn staining my shoulders, I cleaned the grill grates on my smoker, charcoal grill, and gas grill and got to grilling. It was glorious."
In 2014, Roberts paired Pass the Sushi with Girl Carnivore, Serious Meat Recipes for Aspiring Home Cooks. Here's the introduction for Slow Cooker Hoisin Sliders with Sriracha Kale Slaw:
"Anyone else freakin’ love their slow cooker? I am an addict, as probably evident by the seven or so crockpots I currently have in various storage areas of my life. Here’s the thing; I love to cook (duh), but somedays I just don’t want to think about it. That’s when I bust out the big guns, my slow cooker. True story, my kitchen is probably seven feet wide, including all of the cabinets, making for a 3' × 3′ area that I work in, with two large dogs underfoot and one tiny sink."
In December 2014, in the middle of running two food blogs, Roberts boarded a plane that flew through the night and landed in Cambodia, 17 hours later. She was there as a volunteer with The Giving Lens, organized by photographer Colby Brown, that takes aspiring photographers as a group to developing countries to introduce children to the art of photography. When she arrived in the airport, she was assaulted by a wall of sound -- the loudness of the lonely planet -- coming from taxi drivers who wanted to transport her to where she needed to go.
"All the world has taught you was to be afraid of travel, that everyone in a foreign country is out to mug you and leave you in in alleyway," she said. "But once you realize that the world is not a complete nightmare, life becomes easier."
It was in those two weeks in Cambodia, working alongside children, when Roberts realized that the world that she grew up admiring on the pages of National Geographic was no longer confined to the pages of a magazine.
“It was the most rewarding thing I've ever done," she said. "At the time, I was finding a disconnect between the chapters of my life, between this woman who writes a food blog and used to manage a comic book store, and this woman who suddenly decides to travel to Cambodia. Up until that time, they were two very different compartments, but it's now a harmonious blend of those facets.
"I know it sounds crazy, but Cambodia gave me this transformative chip on my shoulder, to accept opportunities that the world gives me, via this global view of travel and excitement. There is something mystical that happens when you turn off everything you're supposed to be and you're left lost in the world. You discover yourself in a way you never thought was possible."
After a plentiful sampling at Churrascaria, we hopped in Roberts' car and headed to The Stone Balloon Ale House, to sample some of Executive Chef Robbie Jester's finest offerings. As soon as we arrived, General Manager Luke Luckini hooked us up with bacon lollipops and BBQ pork shanks, and by the first few bites, we realized why Jester has become one of the hottest chefs on the Delaware dining scene. Jester earned rock star status last December, when he beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in the final round of cooking competition on Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay."
Jester's winning dish was Cavatelli shrimp scampi, now a staple on the restaurant's menu, and one that Luckini served just moments after Roberts and I tucked away the appetizers. It was hard to top the flavor overload of the bacon lollipops and the sweetness of the pork shanks, but the scampi did.
I tasted why Jester beat Flay; the Cavatelli was handmade and cooked slightly al dente, and the sauce was graciously top-heavy with garlic, salt and pepper and colored with bright red cherry tomatoes, that went perfectly with the large chunks of shrimp.
Luckini and his colleagues in the kitchen were not done yet. Our evening was finished off with a full plate of Venison Salisbury steak, which was fork tender and savory on the tongue. Lester was elsewhere that night; were he at the Stone Balloon Ale House, I would have invited him to sit down and share the bounty of our conversation.
I put my fork down for the final time. It was well past 10 p.m., and I had been eating for the past five hours, and the intoxicating mish-mash of food and conversation had left me satiated and dizzy. Minutes later, Roberts and I shook hands and said "Goodbye."
Kita Roberts wants to use her writing, her travel and her photography to change people's lives.
"When I started to travel, my life changed," she said. "I'm happier than I've ever been, with fewer things and more experiences, and that's because I've been able to write about it, and share it with my readers. Those opportunities have come from an audience who wants to read about these experiences.
"I want to inspire my readers," she continued. "I want to show them images, whether it be people or cheeseburgers or stunning places. I want them to see the beauty in everything. I want to be able to say that everyone's dreams can have the same grandeur, and that it's just having the courage to step up and fulfill those dreams."
Churrascaria Saudades is located at 230 East Main Street in the Newark Shopping Center. Tel: 302-355-5551. Web: www.eatsteaks.com.
The Stone Balloon Ale House is located at 115 East Main Street, Newark. Tel: 302-266-8111. Web: www.stoneballoon.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L.
Gaw, e-mail [email protected]