Top Chefs Talk Travel (Again)

Posted by Kathleen Squires on October 15, 2012 at 10:47:59 AM EDT | Post a Comment

Chat with a chef and you know what they like to talk about besides food? Travel. We caught up with a crew of nomadic cooks at Feast Portland, where they were happy to share their tips and tricks for eating on the road.

Want more travel talk from your favorite chefs? Check out the hard-won tips they gave us, as well as their dream trips and favorite road trip snacks.

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Chris Cosentino

Incanto, San Francisco. Winner of Top Chef Masters, Season 4

Q. If you could jump on jet anywhere in the world to eat right now, where would it be?

A. There are only two places I would go. Montreal or London. If I went to Montreal, I'd go to Joe Beef and I'd go to Maison Publique. And since I'm already on the east coast, I'd fly to London and go stay at the St. John Hotel and go eat with Fergus Henderson. I'd really like to explode by the end of it.

Q. During your travels, which trip had the biggest impact on your palate?

A. Working with Fergus Henderson at St. John in London—staging there was a monumental change for me. Working at Le Tante Claire in London, deboning pig's feet for the first time, was a life-changing experience. Going to Spain with Jose Andres two years ago is another big one. Every trip makes a monumental change in my life.

Q. What do you stash in your carry on bag for food emergencies?

A. Swedish fish. I'm kind of addicted. It's an easy sugar rush.

Q. If you're stuck in an airport that has only fast food options, what do you do?

A. I starve. And drink beer. My advice is to go for a liquid diet.

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Anita Lo

Annisa, New York. Contestant, Top Chef Masters, Season 1

Q. If you could jump on jet to eat anywhere in the world right now where would it be?

A. Kyoto. I love Japanese food and I love their insane focus on ingredients.

Q. During your travels, which trip had the biggest impact on your palate?

A. Right before I opened Annisa, I took a year off and traveled around Southeast Asia and Mediterranean Europe. That was palate-changing and life-changing.

Q. What do you stash in your carry on bag for food emergencies?

A. When I go on airlines I need to have a lot of little salty snacks that I don't normally eat. I feel the need to have Doritos and potato chips and pretzels.

Q. How do you find good food in an unfamiliar place?

A. What's great about traveling and doing food events is that I get hooked up with other chefs who live in those towns who know where to go. So my suggestion is talk to as many local chefs as possible. And if everyone is telling you to go to one place, then you just have to go there.

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Amanda Freitag

Judged Chopped. Contestant, The Next Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef Redemption

Q. If you could jump on plane to eat anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

A. I would probably get on a plane and go to Orvieto. There was one restaurant that I ate three times and I never do that. It was so amazing. I had squab with something like a mole sauce one night; pasta with black truffles, another. I felt like a part of the family there. I would go there in a heartbeat.

Q. During your travels, which trip had the biggest impact on your palate?

A. When I worked at Arpege in Paris with Alain Passard. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work there. The thing that I found most amazing was at the end of the day there was nothing but a block of butter left. Every day they brought everything fresh—pigs over the arm, chickens, live frogs in a box. It totally changed my point of view of food and freshness.

Q. Which road food do you pull over for?

A. I would pull over for anything that is local. If I was in the south, I'd pull over for barbecue. In the southwest—Mexican. If I see a farm stand anywhere, I would pull over for that. Oh, and truck stops, too. Wherever all the trucks are, that's where you should stop. They know what's good.

Q. What's your strategy for eating on the plane?

A. I eat before I go and I try not to eat salty things, and that's what they always give you. Here's a big bag of salty chips or pretzels! I feel like I'm going to be a balloon when I get off this plane!

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Marco Canora

Hearth and Terroir, New York. Finalist, The Next Iron Chef

Q. If you could jump on plane to eat anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

A. I want to go to Vietnam. I just want to experience that food and that culture and those flavors, and I've never been to that part of the world. I've been to Hong Kong and Taiwan but not Thailand or Vietnam.

Q. During your travels, which trip had the biggest impact on your palate?

A. A recent trip that really wasn't palate-changing but was life-changing to me was going to Havana, Cuba. It was quite an experience to see that city and the struggles that they had and how it was translated into people who were so warm, giving, and generous. They have so little compared to the abundance that we have here. And to see how little they have, and yet how much hospitality and generosity they show, was quite stunning. But in terms of food, there is not a whole lot there but what was interesting is there is a lot of organic farming happening there. They had to figure out a way to do it in an organic manner because they couldn't get pesticides. I learned a lot on that trip, it was a very special trip for me.

Q. What do you stash in your carry on bag for food emergencies?

A. A bag of nuts.

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Naomi Pomeroy

Beast, Portland. Contestant, Top Chef Masters, Season 3

Q. During your travels, which trip had the biggest impact on your palate?

A. I'm super inspired by the food in Burma. It's some of the best food I've ever had. Burma is incredible because of the influence from India, China, and Southeast Asia. You get things like noodles with a curried background, or fermented soybeans and tofu, and things you don't see that much in other parts of Southeast Asia. Even though it is right in the heart of the Golden Triangle you get all of these cool influences from the other side that you don't see in Laos or Thailand.

Q. What is your favorite food souvenir?

A. A friend just came back from Thailand and brought me these nuts that are really delicious—they are these cashews they have kaffir lime leaf crushed up all around them, so they are sort of sweet and salty, with a sour tamarind kind of glaze and some spice. I think that is a great gift and an easy thing to bring back. I also just got back from Corsica and I brought back some olive oil and preserves. The jarred up stuff is great to return with.

Q. How do you find good food in an unfamiliar place?

A. I have a solid strategy on that. For Corsica, I read articles that have been written about Corsica and I contacted everybody who had written an article in the last four years or so. I just wrote an email to them saying that I need some advice on where to eat. And wine people are the perfect people to ask where to eat because the wine and food worlds are connected and they travel a lot to taste. So far it's been a good strategy for me.

Q. Are there any tell-tale signs of a place not to eat?

A. Oh yeah, anything in a touristy area that has the same menu listed as a hundred other places. And anywhere with expensive prices and weird, plasticky menus with pictures of the food. If it has those things, you can bet it's probably going to be no good.

Havana, Cuba courtesy of Flickr/darkroomillusions; All other photos courtesy of Hernan F. Rodriguez

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