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Columns Lick the Plate

The beauty of food, travel and surfing as told by Jim Kempton

As a surfer on the fringes of the insider industry scene, the chance to meet and record a Lick the Plate radio show with an iconic figure like Jim Kempton was a thrill. A friend had given me a copy of his killer new book “First We Surf Then We Eat, Recipes from a Lifetime of Surf Travel” and I devoured it in one reading. 

As a surfing foodie who loves to travel, this book documents those topics, telling the stories of Jim’s real-life travels around the globe and accompanying those stories with recipes detailing meals that followed surf sessions or were part of the travel experience in that area.

I should note that Jim has had the epic good fortune to fall into amazing jobs that provided these experiences while getting paid for it! It sounds like some crazy culinary surfing dream that I’ve had then am rudely jarred awake by the alarm clock.

Billabong, Quicksilver, Surfer Magazine, Transworld Media, California Surf Museum … are all entities that Jim has worked for or with over the years and provided much of the travel experiences that contributed to this amazing book. During his gig at Quicksilver he was assigned the task of joining a surf-exploring vessel called the Indies Trader.

This surf vessel took him and 14 guests plus five crew and various big name surfers around Europe, South America, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. This global multi-year epic adventure sounds like a fantasy scenario I would make up with some friends around the campfire after a surf session and some drinks. I mean really, could it get much better?

In addition to the travel and the surfing, Jim walked the culinary talk by teaming up with the owners of a successful restaurant in Tijuana to open an authentic Mexican joint in San Clemente called Margarita’s Village. Of course the surfing community followed him there, which gave it immediate street cred and provided a solid run as a restaurateur for Jim. 

Given that trifecta of surf industry insider and surfer, world traveler and restaurant owner, a book combining those elements in some form or fashion was inevitable. As Jim puts it, “I’ve been able to make a living while enjoying the three things I enjoy the most: surfing, traveling and cooking. In a certain way I’ve been working on this book all my life.”

The book has forwards by Steve Pezman, the editor and publisher of The Surfer’s Journal and Raphael Lunetta, the chef/owner of Lunetta restaurant in Santa Monica, California. They provide keen insight into their relationships with Jim and include some great stories that of course combine surf adventures followed by memorable meals. Steve’s account of “surfing a summertime swell in Malibu with dim sum on the way home” or “attending the Eddie Aikau big-wave contest and meeting George Downing for Oahu’s best Korean barbeque” made me lust for similar surf and food adventures.

I should also note that Jim was born on the island of Guam in the Northern Pacific Ocean. He cut his surfing chops there and became familiar with the tropical cuisine of the locals that he favored over with the military commissary’s mainstream offerings. His family eventually landed in Poway where he spent his high school years but found himself at the beach every chance he had and found jobs with local surfboard shapers.

Regions that are represented in the book include Guam, Tahiti and the Pacific, The Basque Country of France, California, Central America, Morocco, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Indonesia and Peru. Each features an introduction that tells a brief surf tale, an anecdote and some history on the region and of course a culinary tale that will have you salivating. That is followed by very accessible recipes that most of us can pull off at home very easily. I envision hosting dinner parties that feature several of the dishes from a region preceded by reading the history and description to guests before our feeding frenzy.

This is a beautiful book that should belong on the coffee table or in the kitchen of every surfer, foodie, traveler and anyone with a lust for life. It’s not just a cookbook, it’s a journal and oral history of a guy that’s led a charmed life and whose wanderlust and love of food and stories are worth sharing. 

You can purchase it on Amazon with a quick click and send it to friends and family who fit into one of those categories, and I think all of us fit in at least one of them! Better yet, take some time to visit local retailers like Surfy Surfy in Leucadia, Bliss and Hansen’s surf shop in Encinitas, Quicksilver Boardriders La Jolla, California Surf Museum in Oceanside, Warwick’s in La Jolla, Ocean Beach Surf Shop or Barnes & Noble.

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