Tom Kevill-Davies: The Hungry Cyclist
All this week The MALESTROM is celebrating all things cycling in accordance with ‘Bike Week’, and where better place to venture than to Burgundy in the South of France and a sumptuous little cycling haven in the form of ‘The Hungry Cyclist Lodge’, which it will be no surprise to hear is the brainchild of ‘The Hungry Cyclist‘ author Tom Kevill-Davies. Combining his enthusiasm and love of all things cycling, delicious food and enough red wine to sink a battle hardened army, Tom tells all about leaving the corporate world behind to pursue his ‘accidental passion’ and making a new life in the stunning French countryside.
The MALESTROM: So, how did the idea of a French country retreat for cyclists come about?
Tom: I had the idea while cycling in Mexico. I was doodling in a note pad for ideas for the future. A comfortable spot where people could come and eat well and cycle sounded like fun. It took another ten years to become a reality. I worked for a cycle tour company in France for three years and then discovered an abandoned water mill in Burgundy. Two years of back breaking renovations followed and now we are in our third year. It never stops.
TM: The renovations look stunning. So, what do you offer now in France?
A place to stay for those who like good food, great cycling and great wine.
TM: What’s fascinating is how this all began. Take us back to the beginning when you were in advertising and how that led you to first start exploring countries by bike?
T: I was always a keen cyclist, but it was a summer holiday cycling through France that gave me the bug for cycle touring. Nine days from London to the South and I was hooked.
TM: What kind of new experience did you first encounter back then in France?
T: It was a great adventure. I started with an old friend but he gave up on day two but I went on. It was quiet back roads then, stunning landscape and plenty of food and wine.
TM: What about the food?
T: I had never tasted food so good. After a morning’s cycling I would pull into small restaurants and enjoy the ‘menu du jour’, washed down with the local wine. The joy of cycling touring is that you can eat what you want.
TM: Sounds like bliss, like it opened you up to a whole new world more authentic than the Ad business. But where did the New York to Rio idea come from?
T: On the last night of my French tour while staying at a Youth hostel, I was thumbing an outdated Guinness Book of Records. In the cycling pages were photos of bearded adventurers on dusty bicycles who had cycled the world. After six years to eight years studying and working in London I was itching to travel and had now found my means. The Americas were fascinating and I wanted a decent drink at the start and the end of the trip, so New York to Rio sounded like fun.
TM: That is such a daunting journey by bike. When you started did you ever think you’d bitten off more than you could chew?
T: Yes, and on an almost daily basis after that. But you keep going, taking each day’s ride as it comes.
TM: Tell me a little bit about the exploration of cycling and food?
T: I have always enjoyed cooking and eating and so food was always going to be a big part of the adventure. While cycle touring, your only vital appointments are breakfast, lunch and dinner, so finding regional food became the objective of my trip.
TM: What great food did you find in North America and what were the most memorable experiences?
Americans love to eat and so it is no surprise that you can find some great food in The States. Add the cultural mix of people and you find some stunning food … I will always have a soft spot for the diners in the midwest for their warm welcome and healthy portions, but tailgating an American Football game was the best days eating of the trip.
TM: Did the Americans think you were crazy doing such a journey?
T: Yes. But their support could not have been more generous.
TM: Tell us about when you first entered Latin America by bike? Where was it and what food experiences did you start to come across?
I entered Mexico in Tijuana and it was an eye opener! People in the US had been telling me for months I would not stand a chance but once I calmed down I loved it, and will never forget my first clam taco on a beach in Rossario. The same thing happened as I entered Latin America from Mexico to Guatemala. The Mexicans had warned me of the perils of Guatemala but I could not have felt more welcome.
TM: That’s good to hear. What was the maddest or most dangerous thing that happened to you in South America?
T: I had an interesting run in with some Colombians enjoying the end of their night as I started my days cycling. There were guns, local produce and I lost my shoes … enough said.
TM: That’s hilarious! What on earth were the roads like? Any close shaves?
T: The roads varied from broken dirt roads to The Pan American Highway. Traffic was always the biggest risk and leaving Mexico City was truly terrifying.
TM: We’re glad you lived to tell the tale. What about Brazil, what cuisine did you discover down there?
T: Brazil is a marvellous place and I fell in love with the North East of the country. It’s hot, dry and deserted and the coastline is breathtaking. There is also a heavy influence in the cuisine from West Africa, as a result of the slave trade down there. Acarajé is a dish made from peeled beans formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê oil, stuffed with shrimp and spice it is a cyclists dream.
TM: Sounds amazing. How did people react to you on such a crazy sounding journey down there?
T: With curiosity and kindness.
TM: Was Brazil the highlight of the journey?
T: It was one of the highlights and six weeks in the Amazon was very special indeed. Crossing the continent in various sized boats with a bicycle has given me some great memories.
TM: How varied is Brazil from north to south?
T: Very. The industry, wealth and European influence are all in the south. In the north are vast open spaces and the cultural influences are indigenous and from West African.
TM: Did your book ‘The Hungry Cyclist’ come naturally to you? Or was it a struggle to write?
T: It was a huge struggle. I love telling stories but my dyslexia didn’t help and made it an ordeal, I had to hide in Tooting library for eight months.
TM: It’s a great book that even earned some serious recognition …
T: Thank you, yes. (The Hungry Cyclist was shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers Award)
TM: Did you ever find the perfect meal?
T: Plenty of them! I get that question a lot and it’s hard to pin one down. But of all the foods I ate ceviche was a revelation, so fresh, so clean and packed with flavour.
TM: It’s not just France and the Americas you’ve cycled through. Where else have you been and what have been the stand out experiences?
T: I took an eight month ride following the Mekong river through South East Asia. The food was superb but the cycling in Northern Laos was the hardest I have experienced. I also took a three month bike ride around Israel and into Egypt. The Sanai peninsula is one of the most dramatic landscapes I have seen and the Bedouin who live there are remarkable.
TM: Inspiring stuff. Having changed your life so dramatically, what has been the impact on you as a person?
Oh that’s a hard one … the time to think while cycling has been very helpful. Tie this in with the landscapes, people and cultures you witness and life simplifies. The nature of cycle touring also ensures you take the most of life’s simple pleasures.
TM: Has it ever become a lonely experience cycling on your own like you’ve done?
Yes. But the sense of freedom is always the winner.
TM: What does your lodge offer?
T: A place to stay for those who like good food, great cycling and great wine.
TM: A great combination! What kind of sense of satisfaction has all of this given you?
T: The best part of my job is serving dinner around our communal table. Guests from all over the world return from a day’s cycling in Burgundy and share conversation, a home cooked meal and local wine … it makes all the hardship worthwhile.
TM: What advice would you give to someone who feels like they’re wasting they’re time in a corporate job?
Make a change. You don’t need to cycle around the world like I did, but do make small changes in the direction you want your life to take. Do as many things you can that make you feel satisfied and work hard at them. The universe will look after the rest.
TM: What you’ve done is inspiring. Do you have a motto or a mantra that you live by?
T: Follow your dreams. Don’t chase them.
TM: Wise words. If someone is particularly stressed and wants to come and stay at the Hungry Cyclist Lodge, what can they expect?
T: Relaxation, great cycling, good food and plenty of wine.
Visit Tom’s website to find out more about The Hungry Cyclist Lodge or even book yourself a weekend away.
And you can order your copy of ‘The Hungry Cyclist’ HERE