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Food Lovers Tell All

Seven food pros share their latest travel tales.

Imagine flying off to Périgord, France, to taste-test truffles or to Memphis to try 30 different permutations of the barbecued-pork sandwich. Such trips are all part of the hard-luck life of chefs and other culinary professionals. Food pros routinely traverse the globe in search of new taste experiences--without their journeys, how could they discover the best uses for Lebanese mulberry syrup, for example, or the most delicious way to prepare camel? Food & Wine asked seven notable epicurean travelers to share the details of a Recent trip and tell us where they dream of going next.

rick bayless EXECUTIVE CHEF, TOPOLOBAMPO AND FRONTERA GRILL, CHICAGO
Recent trip Thailand. Best discovery "I was thrilled by the vitality of the street food in Bangkok--everything from catfish curry with Thai eggplant to perfect coconut-custard tarts." Most surprising moment "I found out, accidentally, that there is sugar in all the salt shakers in Thailand." Most anticlimactic meal Eating fried grubs in the northern city of Chiang Mai (Bayless had had similar meals in Mexico). Most controversial edible The durian, a prickly, basketball-size fruit banned on some airlines because of its smell: "a cross between Limburger cheese and very ripe raisiny fruit." Bayless's hotel sported a sign in the lobby picturing a durian with a red slash through it. Cross-cultural tie-in An expert on Mexican cuisine, Bayless proclaimed Thailand the "Mexico of Asia" because of the similarly complex street food, the freshness of the ingredients and the general preference for slow-cooked dishes. Future destination Back to Thailand, "to continue to learn about a whole new palette of flavors."

rose grayco EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE RIVER CAFE, LONDON
Recent trip Norway. "It was unpopulated, clean and warm." (Warm? Well... maybe compared to London.) Most eye-opening experience Visiting a Norwegian salt-cod factory. "The smell was memorable." Proustian moment The fjords reminded Gray of childhood vacation spots on the coast of Scotland. Post-travel literary purchase "I rushed out to buy Mark Kurlansky's book Cod." Future destination "I want to go to Capri, simply because I've never been there." Foods to try "Capri's salads and fabulous greens." Travel credo "I go to places I know will inspire my craft."

jessica harris AUTHOR
Recent trip The Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Best festival Guadeloupe's La Fête des Cuisinières, a one-day festival of Guadeloupean women chefs and restaurateurs every August. The event starts in a church and winds up with a "grand gorge," a party later in the day. Locals and lucky visitors stuff themselves with such island delicacies as accras de morue, or codfish fritters, and blaff, a fish stew. Emotional tie Harris gets to spend time with her "Maman Guadeloupe," her island cooking mentor. Lucky find A vendor who sells wonderful homemade tropical-fruit syrups, which he uses in drinks and Harris uses in salad dressings. Future destination A long-awaited return trip to Morocco, "to tell the history of the country and the history of the continent in spices." First stop A particularly memorable spice merchant in the ancient city of Fès. "I'm sure I'll still be able to find his stall."

mark miller EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE COYOTE CAFE, SANTA FE
Recent trip Japan, where he travels twice a year, "to expand my taste horizons." Best reason to go "It's one of the countries least visited by Americans." Most eye-opening experience "The night friends and I had dinner in seven distinctly different types of Japanese restaurants--from the highest in Japanese haute cuisine to a yakitori bar, where they serve skewered chicken backs, among other parts of the bird." Best delicacy Tiny squid, each only an inch long. Best food festival The matsutake mushroom festival in Tokyo every fall, where Miller had a 10-course mushroom meal. "Some of those mushrooms cost $80 apiece." Best parting gift At a 250-year-old sake factory, Miller was given a bottle of sake specially made for the Emperor of Japan. Future destination A 23-day overland journey through China, Mongolia and Turkistan, "to follow the ancient spice route into Europe."

mimi sheraton AUTHOR
Recent trip The Abruzzo region of Italy Most eye-opening experience Tasting cinghiale (wild boar) prosciutto at a restaurant in the region's mountainous interior. "It was beautifully slim, almost violin shaped, and had a marvelous earthy and nutty flavor." Best pasta The maccheroni alla chitarra, which is made with a guitar-shaped contraption that has metal strings. The chitarra slices the pasta dough into thin strips. Back home in Manhattan, Sheraton bought one in Little Italy "for special occasions." Favorite nonfood landmark Abruzzo's Maiella Mountains, which contain some of the tallest peaks in the Apennines and where herbs and game are the inspiration for the region's rugged alpine cuisine. Abruzzo or Argentina? The signature dish of the mountains is a mixed platter of roasted meats, closer in style to the foods of the pampas than to the healthful cooking of the Mediterranean. Future destination Vietnam. "I haven't been to this region since 1960, and I'm dying to revisit the food--the lemongrass, the hot seasonings and the crunch of the cuisine."

paula wolfert AUTHOR
Recent trip Crete, which she visited for the fourth time. Most eye-opening experience Spending two weeks at the home of Cretan author Mirsini Lambraki, who helped her explore the home cooking of the island's peasant women. Best discovery Cretan wild greens in endless varieties--"bitter, sweet, tart, peppery and even bouncy." New hobby Wolfert learned how to collect and feed snails for cooking. However, her snail, named Ben, escaped before his date with destiny. Little-known fact Professor Serge Renaud, the man responsible for defining the so-called French Paradox, suggested to Wolfert that Cretan snails might be as healthful as olive oil. Best way to meet the locals Never learn how to drive. "People drop you off and you're forced to find your own way around." Future destination The Greek island of Chios. Food to try Preserves made from lemon blossoms, which Greek hostesses serve on small spoons as a welcome to houseguests.

Published October 1999
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