“The next three superfoods that everyone’s going to be talking about are all from Peru,” Chef Thais Rodriguez of the JW Marriott Cusco says. She’s standing in front of a chocolate vendor in San Pedro Market, wearing her chef’s coat, the sleeves pushed up to the elbow, her right forearm vibrantly tattooed. She elaborates for her audience (she takes guests to the market twice a week): Though it tastes herbal, rather than nutty, sacha inchi is used like a peanut, and is packed with antioxidants, protein, and fiber; camu camu is an acidic fruit filled with vitamins C and A; and kaniwa is a more protein-rich version of quinoa. “Not that people around here use the word ‘superfood,’” she says. “They just know what’s good for them. They’ve known forever.” Rodriguez seems totally in her element, her dimples sinking into her cheeks as she moves easily between Spanish and English depending on whom she’s addressing. She’s bilingual thanks to her Dominican parents, and a New Yorker to the bone: She grew up in Washington Heights, helped her mother run a Latin-fusion restaurant in Ridgewood, New Jersey, studied at the French Culinary Institute in Soho, and made pastry at Jean-Georges. But then took a step chefs once might have considered beneath them: She left arguably the most prestigious restaurant scene in the world to cook in a far-flung hotel. Newfound creative freedom in hotel kitchens combined with the burdens of New York City are sending renowned chefs on a diaspora of sorts.
“New York is great, but it isn’t easy,” Chef Kelly Jeun tells me over the phone. Like Rodriguez, Jeun is a New Yorker, born and raised. She spent most of her career working at Eleven Madison Park, recently named the number one restaurant in the world, before taking off in 2013 to run Orsone, a new restaurant in a B&B in Italy, with her boyfriend, Chef Eduardo Valle Lobo who spent time at Del Posto. “You’re doing two hundred, three hundred covers a day,” Lobo tells me. “And your rent is so high.”
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Lobo's is a common refrain among chefs departing the city. “I was cooking at Daniel,” Chef Trevor La Presle tells me over the phone, “making $10.50 an hour. I got priced out of my Bushwick apartment, so I moved to Bed-Stuy. I was paying $1,700, and then my landlord decided to raise my rent.”