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Copy of Where Do Chefs Go on Vacation?

Travel is sometimes such a transformative experience that we take away more than memories when we leave.

I enjoy bringing home ingredients from a favorite dish, so that I can continue to savor the dish long after my memories have faded. Among my mementos turned staples are Rwandan coffee and Indian spice mixes. But what do professional chefs bring back from their travels and where do they go to find inspiration for their menus? To find out, I contacted a few chefs I've met over the years. Here's what they had to say.

Venda, Limpopo

“I go home to my grandparents’ house in Venda, Limpopo. It is a trek across South Africa, from the tip in Cape Town to the border that separates us from Zimbabwe, where the family farm and burial grounds are in Tshifudi. Usisi (grandparents’ housekeeper in Xhosa) shows me traditional methods of preparing food—how to harvest, dry and grind leaves, and which ‘weeds’ can be eaten. Identifying the correct dark leafy greens, a staple in many African homes called Moroho, is important. I now recognize some of the Moroho growing in the garden or along the roadside. I grow more in my foraging experience with every walk outside and conversations with Usisi.”

Chef Amanda Manyatshe from South Africa, Private Chef at For the Foodie in Me

Lima, Peru

“My wife is from Lima, Peru, and visiting her family in the place where she grew up has impacted my cooking at Caerula Mar, where we use fresh-caught seafood, tropical fruit and citrus. From street food like hot corn tamales to bright ceviche and earthy proteins, the slow food of Lima and the love family members put into cooking for us in their kitchen has inspired many dishes and encouraged me to incorporate Peruvian techniques. We do a grilled garlic lemon shrimp served with Peruvian aji amarillo sauce, and my take on Peruvian ceviche, made with fresh hogfish, shaved red onions, cilantro, goat peppers, and a lime garlic ginger marinade.”

Chef Sebastian Perez from Argentina, Executive Chef at Caerula Mar Club in South Andros Island, Bahamas

Santa Rosa, California

“In August this year, I had one of the most revealing and inspiring trips to Kendall Jackson Winery Culinary Gardens in Santa Rosa, California. The whole experience starts with their sensorial garden, where they introduce you to some of the smells and flavors that you later identify in their wines. The complex includes many peculiar products and ingredients, one of which was the ‘oyster leaf.’ I close my eyes, taste a little bit of it, and it was like having a fresh oyster, but it was a plant! Now we are growing that plant to incorporate it in our next menus. The whole experience was truly unbelievable.”

Chef Sergio Pérez from Mexico, Executive Chef at Casa Salles Hotel Boutique in Tequila

Val Granara

“There are no rules when you create a recipe for a new menu. Maybe there’s only one thing you must keep alive and that’s curiosity. But after curiosity, there’s the necessity that guides you in cooking. At the moment, I have to substitute Romanesco broccoli with a seasonal ingredient, so I took inspiration from Val Granara, not far from Rome, where I went for a relaxing weekend. The area is known for its porcini. I loved their veal shank with porcini and decided to use porcini inside the Romanesco broccoli to create my personal version of the dish. The aroma and flavor are intense, the taste is strong and distinct, and has a soft flesh perfectly mixed with the porcini.”

Chef Antonio Vitale from Italy, Executive Chef at Bettoja Hotels in Rome

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

“My last memorable holiday was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and the most recent in Dubai, UAE. In Mexico, I went to the market to find spices and products but found many were the same as ones in Africa. Hibiscus flower is called flor de jamaica in Mexico and we make the same juice out of it in West Africa. The technique of slow cooking meat under the sand is the same as in Niger. The Dubai experience was full of oriental spices and olfactive memories. Saffron from Iran, lavender from Syria, and sumac from Oman—I use them all in my marinades or to plate a dish, it adds that extraordinary flavor.”

Chef Paule Beke from Ivory Coast, Executive Chef for Douceurs d'Ivoire in London

By Ruksana Hussain· January 2022

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