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Inspired Locally, Working Globally

Birmingham Foodies Living Abroad

Birmingham is known for its superior culinary scene, and those who get involved appreciate food on a global level. After all, great food is a melting pot, and the entire world influences what we eat on a daily basis. For our annual food Issue, I chatted with three former locals who relocated to other parts of the world to study cuisine and culture. I must confess, after speaking with them, I’m feeling inspired — not to mention hungry. 

Marti Buckley 
From Bottega to Basque Country 

Marti Buckley graduated from Homewood High School, then attended Louisiana State University and spent time abroad during her junior year — an experience that she said “changed her life in so many ways.” As a student, she happened to be placed about an hour from where she lives now: Basque Country, an autonomous community in Northern Spain with its own people, language and culture. Soon enough, Buckley found herself mesmerized by Basque culture and cooking — she lived with French girls who cooked from scratch, and it was all quite different from her experience growing up, she said. 

Back home in Birmingham, Buckley felt restless at age 23 after she stopped working at Southern Living magazine to have her first child. Eager to find a new avenue, she bravely took a chance one evening, cooking at Bottega, one of the Magic City’s most acclaimed restaurants. She feared the experience was an utter trainwreck, but the chef called her back. “I remember leaving after that first night and checking [cooking] off the bucket list mentally,” she said, laughing. “Then the chef called me and invited me to come back. I was so nervous and flustered, but I said OK.”

Buckley flourished at Bottega and affirmed that she might still be working there today if the opportunity to relocate to San Sebastian in 2010 with her then-husband and child hadn’t surfaced. Once across the ocean, she busied herself with looking for marketing work and learning about the culture. Eventually, her blog featuring recipes took center stage. “When I moved here, I had a blog that I put recipes on,” she said. “The food is so special, and I wanted a cookbook. But I knew there was a lot to discover. So I parked the idea for a few years.”

In 2015, Buckley realized her dreams when she signed a deal for her first cookbook, “Basque Country.” Featuring 94 recipes and cultural tidbits to inspire readers, “Basque Country” would be the product of three years’ worth of traveling and research. “Basque Country is made up of three different places, and you can’t understand these dishes without understanding the culture,” Buckley noted. “I feel like the best people have a long, crazy history, and I wanted to do that justice.”

Basque Country was printed in 2018, followed by the Spanish edition in 2021. As you read this, Buckley is hard at work on her second cookbook.

Jennifer Cole 
From the Deep South to the island of Sicily 

During junior year at Auburn University, Jennifer Cole saw Sicily for the first time. A Southerner longing to escape the chill of Strasbourg, France, Cole decided to hop aboard a train and head for balmier climates during her break. The ride to Sicily would take two days — including putting the entire train on a ferry, car by car — but the journey was worth it. The train stopped at a historic station in Taormina, where the air “was warm and felt like paradise.” After departing Taormina, Cole ventured north to the Aeolian Islands, then back down to Catania. 

Later, Cole realized she’d missed the cutoff for housing at Auburn. Fortunately, her then-boss solved the problem by arranging a coffee meeting with a contact who was interested in sharing a home. When the coffee buddy turned out to be from Sicily, she and Cole became fast friends who lived together for about eight months. “She became like a sister to me and taught me how to cook. We are still friends — I just watered her plants,” Cole said. 

After graduation, Cole held numerous editorial roles — including Travel + Leisure and Southern Living — which, she said, “focused heavily on food and beverage: lists of Top 10 restaurants, chef profiles, features with recipes.” Having found her passion in culinary arts, Cole began a collaboration with New Orleans Chef Isaac Toups on a cookbook called “Chasing the Gator,” which earned awards and notoriety. By this point, Cole had a full-time freelance career and was frequently traveling. 

“I decided to sell my house in Birmingham and move to New Orleans, since I’d been working on the cookbook,” she explained. “I was staying with Caroline [Rosen], looking for a rental, and I ended up getting sick — too sick to ride back with my friends, so I took the train.” That train ride jogged Cole’s fond memories of Europe — she realized she could live anywhere she wanted, so why not leave the country?

After a full year of traveling the globe, from Mexico to Europe to Asia, she decided Mexico City and Sicily “spoke to her the most.” These days, Cole enjoys the luxuries of island life in Catania. “I drink great wine, eat well, and I’m always on the water. But here, it’s more of a human right. So as a result, all the things I always loved are economical here. I can load up on amazing produce and get all my groceries for very little,” she said.

Cole continues to write and enjoys hosting dinner parties. Cuisine-wise, her recent focus is more on Italy and the rest of Europe, but she’s still known to make fried chicken and pimento cheese for her guests. “I cook all kinds of food here: Mexican, Thai, and other types of Italian food, since all the regions are different,” she said. “I introduce friends to a revolution of flavor.” 

Caroline Rosen 
Following Family Footsteps to Mexico City 

Caroline Rosen grew up in what you might call a “foodie” environment. With her parents both prominent figures in the community — her father in politics and her mother an anesthesiologist – dinner parties at home were common, with “all different types” gathering around the table. Later on, Rosen continued to value dining experiences above anything else. “Dates would offer to buy me flowers, and I’d suggest going out for an amazing meal instead,” she said, laughing.

Rosen’s passion for breaking bread continued during her college years at Tulane, though she majored in neuroscience and psychology. After graduation, she accepted a position with Mountain Valley Spring Water and realized the upscale product helped her develop relationships with chefs and mixologists – relationships that would last for years to come.  “I catapulted into the food world as the ‘water girl,’” she explained, smiling. 

The “food world” was welcoming for Rosen; she joined the Southern Foodways Alliance, arranged festivals and served on multiple nonprofits. “My biggest inspirations are my fellow food and beverage counterparts who do amazing things in Birmingham and beyond,” she said. “John Hall, Rob McDaniel, Adam Evans  — people I’ve known forever.”

Rosen made the decision to move to Mexico City eight months ago, based not only on her interest in the food and culture but also her family’s story. Her great uncle, William Spratling, was a well-known silver designer, responsible for much of Mexico’s jewelry design. Spratling also lived in New Orleans and worked as a professor at Rosen’s alma mater, Tulane, sharing a home with Southern writer William Faulkner. Spratling, too, was known for gathering people together. “My great uncle passed away in the late 1960s, but he had such an impact on this country that I felt the draw to Mexico City,” Rosen explained. “I felt like I was following in his footsteps —first New Orleans, now Mexico City.”

Rosen’s passion for Mexico City is palpable – she describes the location as though “New Orleans and San Francisco and New York had a Latin baby.” As you read this, she continues to cultivate her love for bringing people together and making connections across the culinary world: chefs and nonprofits in both new and former cities. “I see wonderful similarities between here and the South,” she said. “I’m excited to consult with friends across the globe; I’m also excited to create my own brand. I am looking forward to blending hospitality and my relationships. And I want all of you to visit me in Mexico City.”

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