Many travellers head abroad to bum around on a beach for a week and work on their tans. But chefs aren’t your usual sun-seeking tourists. When they go globetrotting, food is their focus. These four chefs headed to disparate parts of their world to explore other cultures — one bite at a time. Read on to find out how to vacation like a chef.
Kathy Fang of Fang, San Francisco, California
“In December, my husband and I went to Prague, Vienna, and Salzburg. One of the best things I ate was this savory doughnut with no hole in the middle. It reminded me of fried pizza dough in Naples because the dough was crispy on the outside, a little chewy on the inside, and yeasty. Toppings included powdered sugar with strawberry compote, sauerkraut, or curry sauce. I got mine with hot sauerkraut on top, which added this lovely juiciness to every bite. It was so delicious that I spent the whole trip trying to find it again, but I never did. I’d like to do a version with Mongolian beef on top. I think people would go crazy for it. Who doesn’t like fried dough with deliciousness on top?
The other thing I was dying to try was chimney cake. It’s made with yeasty dough covered with cinnamon, sugar, and a ton of butter. It’s wrapped around a long pole, which they put it over hot coals. They turn it, so the sugar caramelizes and crackles. When they pull it off, it’s this hollow bread toasted on the outside. When it’s hot, they ask you if you want another coating of sugar and sliced almonds. Then they fill it with your choice of chocolate, Nutella, whipped cream, or ice cream. That definitely did not disappoint.” Make a reservation at Fang.
Larry Greenwood of The Front Yard, North Hollywood, California
“Last September, I visited Japan with my wife to celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary. To get ideas on where to eat, I talked to some friends in New York who had been to Japan and I bought Anthony Bourdain’s book, Rice, Noodle, Fish. The number one place he recommended out of his entire trip to Japan was Tempura Matsu in Kyoto, so we pushed really hard to get into that one.
There are only three tables and the counter. The chef-owner cooked for us. One of the best dishes came in a frozen glass bowl. It was made with noodles, raw egg, and a soy ginger sauce, and garnished with rose petals. There were some sushi courses, so he ground out the wasabi on sharkskin, which breaks it down very finely. He cooked Wagyu on a hot stone in front of us. He brought out a huge loin of toro, which he served over rice with a soy-mustard-sesame sauce. We had tofu custard with little baby shrimp inside and shrimp bisque poured over the top of it. I asked the chef how old the restaurant was and he replied, ‘It’s very young. We’ve only been here for 47 years. The oldest continually operating restaurant in Japan is over 400 years old.’” Make a reservation at The Front Yard.
Tim Kensett of Storico, New York, New York
“While I worked at the River Café in London, I would go to Italy annually in late October or early November for the olive oil harvest. It’s always a huge event. Over the course of three or four days, the kitchen team would visit various estates – Capezzana, Fontodi, Selvapiana – to taste olive oils and then we’d make selections about which ones we’d use in our restaurants.
At Storico, I wanted to introduce this idea of being able to associate with Italy because we’re a little bit further away here. Ninety-nine percent of the people I work with have never been to Italy and would never have the chance to go. It was important to me to set up some visits, so my sous chef and I went to Tuscany for three days last November and stayed on the Capezzana estate. We helped them harvest the olives, watched them make the oil, and then tasted the new oil. Of course, there was the obligatory wine tasting, which was fantastic. I’m going to try to maintain this as an annual pilgrimage.” Make a reservation at Storico.
Chef Michael Lewis of KYU, Miami, Florida
“While living in London for five years I took quite a few trips to Asia: Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. My approach for discovering good food is to find where the locals hang out and ask them where they like to eat – not where they send the tourists. I don’t write down too much about my travels because that gets in the way of the actual experience. I try to live it and remember as much as possible when I’m back in my kitchen.
We have a dish on the menu called the Crispy Pork Guy, which was inspired by a trip I took to Ka Sumai, Thailand. Every night, smack dab in the middle of the street in front of my hotel, a guy would pull up on his bicycle, light a fire, put a witch’s cauldron over it, and fry off crispy pork until 5 in the morning. It was a cross between a chicharrones and bacon. He would sweeten it up with chili powder, lime zest, and fish sauce. He had spicy and not spicy. The not spicy was very spicy and the spicy was insanely spicy. Every night, I would talk to him but would forget his name every time, so he became the Crispy Pork Guy. My dish is an homage to him. The pork is crispy crunchy all the way around with chopped up Thai basil on top and served with a Thai basil dip.” Make a reservation at Kyu.
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Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of featured chefs.