When chefs travel, their appetites usually dictate the journey. We asked some of the more worldly toques for their best culinary rules of thumb when they hit the road. Here are their insider tips…
Curtis Stone, host of Top Chef Masters, Around the World in 80 Plates:
I always hit up the taxi drivers to find good food in an unfamiliar place. The minute I hop in a taxi from the airport I’ll ask them where they eat, and they usually give recommendations for these great little local places. That’s how you get your claws into the grass roots of a place.
David Myers, chef/owner, Comme Ça, Los Angeles and Las Vegas:
Packing food essentials is key when I travel. I always travel with salt, because sometimes a place will have really bad salt or they just don’t put salt on the food. I also like to travel with a little yuzukosho, a fermented chili pepper paste, to spice up any meal. And then, if I’m nervous about getting a good drink, I’ll bring a cool little spirit that maybe they won’t have so I can make a good cocktail.
Rick Moonen, chef/owner, rm seafood, Las Vegas:
When I want dining recommendations when I travel, I usually put it out on a social network of some sort. For example, I’ll Tweet something like, "Help me out here! I’m going to Seattle. Where do I eat?" And I’ll get 50 suggestions. Usually 20 of them overlap and those are the ones you put at the top of the list. Then I always have my circle of foodie friends saying, "You have to try this." Listen to your foodie friends. They are usually right.
Art Smith, chef/owner Art and Soul, Washington, DC:
I live on a plane 3-4 weeks a month so I have learned to prepare and try to eat before I get on a plane so I can bypass plane food altogether. I’ll have a banana or a Cliff Bar over any airline meal. What’s great now is that some airlines are offering things like that [on board].
Hugh Acheson, chef/owner Empire State South in Atlanta:
I have a lot of friends who are dining critics, so I’ll hit them up in an effort to research before I travel. If I don’t know them personally, I’ll read local dining reviews and put together a short list. When I land in a place, I always want to find the good, upcoming coffee roasters, because I love a good coffee shop, so I’ll ask locals for their suggestions. To get a great feel of what people are eating in a place, I pop into local grocery stores, and just browse, and I’ll end up buying things that I can’t find every day and bring them back. Spices are my favorite thing to bring back from travels—they are easy to carry and you won’t get in trouble for traveling with them. But, sadly, the days of bringing back full legs of jamon and unpasteurized cheese are over. They’re not worth ending up in a Turkish prison for.
Photo credit: Spice market via Shutterstock