Three Chefs Tell Us How Travel Shapes Their Food

A hint of Hanoi in Canadian food, Singaporean satay with a Japanese twist, and a Punjabi touch to Polish pierogi: these chefs have the world on their plates.  
takoyaki, Osaka, Japan
Chef Myers recommends travellers try takoyaki, ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and octopus, in Osaka. Photo by Sean K / Shutterstock.

Reinventing the Classics  

Los Angeles-based Chef David Myers shuttles between his restaurants Adrift in Singapore, Salt Water in Tokyo and Another Place in Hong Kong. It is curiosity about how culture shapes cuisines that drives his culinary explorations.

Photo Courtesy: Chef David Myers.

Photo Courtesy: Chef David Myers.

Travel deeply shapes Myers’ food and his search for local ingredients often leads him to unusual encounters. For instance, in Japan, Myers was once offered a dish that resembled grilled, puffy marshmallows and was told that it was like mashed potato. “It was light and fluffy indeed, yet I couldn’t help but notice all eyes on me as I ate, and the smiles everywhere,” Myers was later told that it was shirako, sperm sacs of blowfish. “I was just not expecting to hear that!”

Food Philosophy: When in a new place, Myers usually hits local markets and restaurants. He is constantly figuring out ways in which he could merge those experiences with his own style of cooking, which is reflects European techniques and Asian minimalism. For instance, he decided to reimagine the much-loved Singaporean delicacy, satay, at Adrift. “We use Wagyu beef (obtained from a Japanese breed of cattle) and serve it with calamansi (a type of lime popular in the Philippines) and house-made chilli sauce.”

Favourite Cuisines: “Japan is always at the top because I love sushi and yakitori,” says Myers.

Haunts for Hungry Travellers: Myers strongly recommends that travellers in Osaka try takoyaki, the Japanese snack of wheat cakes containing chopped octopus. He is also a fan of hawker-centre fare in Singapore, street food anywhere in Bangkok, and dim sums in Hong Kong.

Trusty Travel Companions: “I always travel with my iPad to take notes, and organize pictures and experiences of my time at Adrift. This is how all my menu ideas are fuelled by my travels,” says the chef.

 

A Story in Every Bite

Canadian-born chef Cameron Stauch has eaten in and worked his way across kitchens in Asia and North America. He is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, and seeks to work with home cooks, whom he believes make some of the best food in the world.

Food Philosophy: Chef Stauch looks to plate a story in everything he cooks, and also tries to establish a connection between local cuisine and his homeland. The results are often heart-warming.

Photo Courtesy: Chef Cameron Stauch

Photo Courtesy: Chef Cameron Stauch

“Once in New Delhi, I was cooking for a visiting delegation of the Premier of Ontario, and made a maple syrup walnut kulfi for dessert. Maple syrup is a common flavour of ice cream in Canada, but I adjusted my recipe and boiled down the milk as you do to make kulfi here.”

Another experiment involved stuffing pierogi (traditional Polish boiled dumpling) with the classic Indian combination, aloo and methi. The dish touched a chord with a guest whose family had emigrated from Punjab to Saskatchewan, a province in the Canadian Prairies. “He enthusiastically told me about how as a boy he ate aloo methi at home and pierogis at his Polish friends’ homes. Biting into that Punjabi pierogi gave him a taste of his childhood,” remembers Stauch.

Favourite Cuisines : “Vietnam—it is well known for its noodle soups and meat and seafood dishes but it’s also a great destination for vegetarians,” says Stauch.

The variety of regional Indian cuisines astonishes the chef. “I’m especially in awe of rural home cooks in the country, of their knowledge of local, seasonal ingredients and cooking techniques.”

Haunts for Hungry Travellers: Stauch cherishes a day spent wandering among the coffee houses and tiffin rooms in the Malleswaram neighbourhood of Bengaluru, or eating the lunch thali at a Saravana Bhavan outlet.

He also loves returning home to Canada every summer, and recommends that travellers visit the east or west coasts of Canada. “Chefs there do very little to the seafood and fish as the taste and quality is so pristine.”

 Trusty Travel Companions: Stauch always carries his Kuhn Rikon vegetable peeler and a pack of measuring spoons on his trips.

“I also look out for cookbooks by local publishers. The recipes might not always be well-written but they give me valuable insight when I need to look back at the culinary information I gathered on my travels,” he adds.

 

Best of All Blends

Chef Michael Ferraro’s culinary philosophy reflects his home cooking: the way his Italian parents blended Mediterranean flavours with fresh local ingredients in their kitchen. Over the years, the New York-based chef’s culinary adventures have taken him to Iceland, Italy, Colombia, Japan, Russia, and Spain, and regional flavours continue to shine in Ferraro’s technique even today.

Photo Courtesy: Chef Michael Ferraro

Photo Courtesy: Chef Michael Ferraro

Food Philosophy: Ferraro finds culinary inspirations in every country he travels to. In fact, the menu of his New York restaurant, Delicatessen, is drawn from his journeys. “For example one of my dishes is called Duck, Duck, Goose Dumplings. It’s a play on the name of a children’s game, and the dish is derived from the classic pan-fried dumpling. But I’ve incorporated French techniques and ingredientsto it; I use a filling made from smoked duck breast, duck confit and foiegrasto make it more than a classic, comfort food.”

Favourite Cuisines: “Northern Italy tops my chart when it comes to soulful regional cooking that comes directly from the heart of the families who feed you,” says Ferraro. He also hearts Japanese cuisine, especially the food he’s eaten in Tokyo.“You can taste in every bite the deep respect that chefs have for their ingredients, and their dedication to food.”

Haunts for Hungry Travellers: According to Ferraro, a journey from the vineyards of the Barolo commune in northwest Italy to the Emilia Romagna region in the northeast is one “you will never forget”.

He also swears by the markets of Barcelona, Spain. “No market even in New York can boast of the diversity of ingredients that Barcelona markets have. It’s worth spending a day just to stroll and soak in the city’s culinary hot spots.”

Trusty Travel Companions: The one ingredient Chef Ferraro carries on every trip is salt.  “I have small vials of different finishing sea salts that can transform any dish I cook away from the comfort from my own kitchen.” His second travel companion is his chef’s knife. “There is nothing more frustrating than having beautiful ingredients and a well thought-out menu, but missing that one tool you need to bring it all together.”

  • Shivanshi Sharma is an all time enthusiast, who will dig her spoon in any wacky dish. She loves running into puppies and new people, but mostly puppies.

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