For many chefs, the most powerful tools of inspiration aren’t specific ingredients or culinary training — they are experiences. Traveling, whether it’s a hundred miles away or a thousand, is an opportunity to expand your horizons, discover a new cuisine, and live within a different culture. Stepping outside one’s comfort zone, as a chef, gives way to the kind of creativity and innovation that has produced some of the country’s top restaurants. As we continue to celebrate culinary tourism with our #WillFlyForFood contest, we spoke to chefs and restaurateurs about the trips that had the biggest influence on their spots.
“Our first trip to Japan together was in the early 2000s, and the most memorable part of that experience was a visit to a restaurant called Kitcho, which is located outside of Kyoto. It’s hundreds of years old, in this old house with only a few rooms. It was the most ethereal hospitality experience — we felt like we were in this whole other world. The service in Japan anticipates so graciously what you need without feeling overwhelming or overbearing. The way you feel taken care of and how thoughtful everything is. And it started from when we pulled in — the staff greeted us at the gate! The attention to detail is the other thing — at that restaurant, it was the small details that made up the entire experience — the chopstick holders, the sake cups. That restaurant really influenced how we try to do service at o ya: we have unique chopstick holders for each guest, and we offer up a fork and knife so that people don’t have to be embarrassed if they can’t use chopsticks (we saw this in Japan). We sit in each of our chairs before we start using them to make sure you can cross your legs underneath the table. Sake cups change depending on which type you are drinking. What we learned in Japan is that these are all simple things, but you notice them when they are not there.” — Nancy and Tim Cushman, o ya, New York/Boston
“When we were getting ready to open up Grand Café, we did a Mediterranean trip through Spain, Italy, and the south of France. The highlight was Monaco. Yes, Monaco is ridiculous and luxurious, but that’s not the side of it that we fell for. In just wandering the streets, ducking into bakeries and eating barbajuan, we saw how everything there is really old but still so cared for and loved. The architecture may be imperfect, but it still feels incredibly relevant and fresh. The way that Monaco has these yachts on one side, and then these old bakeries run by families for hundreds of years on the other was just so inspiring to us. When we were creating Grand Café, we knew we wanted to celebrate that juxtaposition between old and new. The space we were in had been in operation for 70 years as a restaurant and bakery — it had this amazing soul and history vibrating through it. We realized we needed to embrace what was there in that it wasn’t all perfect, and to let the history shine through. We mirror this notion in the food — pulling recipes that we haven’t visited in a while and presenting them in our style, like our ham two ways, which incorporates this old-school Bayonne ham from France, alongside a cured ham that our friend makes in Tennessee. In the end, the restaurant is one that is old and funky yet very modern.” —Jamie Malone & Erik Anderson, Grand Café, MinneapolisContinue Reading