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June 20, 2014 1:23 pm
Grasshopper tacos, wild mountain chilllies ... it’s amazing what you discover when you travel – and it is hard to resist taking photos. Here, chefs and food writers share their memorable meals and journeys, from fresh bread in Beirut to sea bass in Montauk
The River Café, London
After a long, grey winter of exams and homework we took our children, Ben and Harriet, and their children, Ivy, Asa and Sasha, to Portofino, Italy.
The first night we had dinner at Puny – grilled octopus, marinated anchovies, sea bass baked in salt. We went to Da ö Battj in Santa Margherita for the roasted langoustines. But the place I really wanted to take them to was da Laura, one of my favourite restaurants in the world. It is a small shack on the beach of San Fruttuoso, a Benedictine abbey at the foot of a lush, green mountain in front of the sea on a tiny cove only reached by boat. The kitchen has three gas rings where they cook lasagnette al pesto – thin, silky sheets of fresh pasta covered with the pale green pesto made with the small leaves of strong basil that only grows on the Ligurian coast. The tables are under the abbey’s arches on the beach.
On the way back we stopped the boat and Asa took his first leap into the Mediterranean. Three days of sun, heat and blue skies. Three days of being together, celebrating the beginning of summer.
|500g||DOP Genoese basil from Puglia|
|100g||fresh pine nuts from Pisa|
|1 clove||garlic, peeled|
|Pinch of coarse salt|
|200ml||Riviera Ligure DOP extra virgin olive oil|
Co-founder, St John, London
When you make a wine and you are happy, there’s a moment when it should be celebrated. We have just had our fête du vin at our winery in the Minervois and St John chefs, and all the others who make up the cogs of the restaurant, cook and serve to our guests: the local mayor, our grape growers, the accountants from the big town, the local electrician, vigneron friends from the Languedoc-Roussillon, wives, husbands, children and neighbours, even some of our customers who happen to be staying nearby. A generous invitational policy is critical!
A long table is set out, extending from inside the old winery building to the outside, chairs are borrowed from the mairie, the local butcher sources rabbits, trotters and bacon, there are cheeses and fresh cherries on ice and happy tastings of the wines and the vintages. There is discussion, wine talk, family talk, funny talk, the weather is good, the sun shines. Then we toast the wine and everybody’s efforts and once again it is the summer and we are toasting it, sometimes long into the night when the dancing starts . . .
The Connaught, London
Last week I went to Béarn, France to visit my dear friend Pierre Matayron, whose black pigs – raised outdoors and fed on grass, roots and chestnuts – provide our Noir de Bigorre ham. I couldn’t resist taking a picture during the tasting.
|Noir de Bigorre focaccia|
|Fleur de sel and fennel seeds, to taste|
|100g||Noir de Bigorre ham|
Chef-owner of Pok Pok, Portland and New York
On a recent trip to Mexico City, ostensibly to attend the Mesamérica food conference but really to spend time with my friend and mentor David Thompson [chef at Nahm, Bangkok], we were taken on a bit of a taco tour by our host Josefina Santacruz, a fellow chef. One of the most memorable stops was at this tacos suaderos (beef belly tacos) stall in one of the fixed markets, La Merced.
The gentleman manning the grill/deep-fryer has been making them for 40 years in this location, and I can say with some certainty that he has mastered his craft. Aside from the atmospheric shop, the delicious tacos and the outstanding salsas, the most inspirational aspect of this stop was the fact that this taquero has been plying his trade, serving a single dish, for decades. These days, a chef’s success is often measured by how many restaurants they own or run (I have to admit to owning a few myself) but some of the best food I have had in my life has come from just such places in Asia, Mexico, even here in the US. One dish, one cook, one little kitchen, a lifetime’s work. To me, this is the quintessential example of success.
Food writer and cook, London
Manaqish are flatbreads most commonly topped with za’tar (a mixture of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds), cheese or kishk (burghul mixed with yoghurt and fermented over several days before being dried in the sun and ground to a fine powder).They are the quintessential Lebanese breakfast and one of the first things I eat when I go back home to visit my mother. You can buy them ready-baked or you can take your own topping to the baker to have him make them using his own dough. My mother made her own toppings and as a child in Beirut, I always went with our housekeeper to the local baker to make our manaqish.
My mother now lives in Ballouneh, a small town north of Beirut, and our local baker, Emile, is a wonderful old man who lives above his bakery in a beautiful old Ottoman stone house. He is always amused to see me when I show up, carrying not only my mother’s toppings but also my iPhone to take pictures of him and his helper Reda making our manaqish. Watching them brings back memories of those long-ago days when our Beirut baker would pat me on the head before handing me a freshly baked manqousheh (singular of manaqish) which I loved eating straight out of the oven, never telling my mother so that I could have another at home.
You can follow the Lebanese example and buy ready-made pizza dough – or you can make your own as in the recipe, below, which serves eight.
|500g||plain flour, plus extra for kneading|
|1 tsp heaped or ½ package||easy blend yeast|
|2 tsp||fine sea salt|
|¼ cup||extra virgin olive oil|
|125ml||extra virgin olive oil|
|3 tbs||toasted white sesame seeds|
|1||small onion, very finely chopped|
|1||ripe medium tomato, seeded and diced into small cubes|
|50g||walnuts, coarsely chopped|
|180ml||extra virgin olive oil|
|1 tsp||tomato paste|
|½ tsp||Aleppo pepper|
Chef and presenter, London
Summer’s here – and with it all the exciting things popping up in the garden and the veggie patch. For me, this time of year is all about healthy, clean food, embracing lots of fresh herbs and citrus flavours and just keeping things simple, like this beautiful salad. Hopefully we’ll have some glorious weather to go with it, because you can’t beat outdoor eating.
|200g||ripe cherry tomatoes|
|1||medium red onion, peeled|
|Handful fresh dill|
|Handful fresh mint leaves|
|Large handful black olives, stoned|
|1 tbs||red wine vinegar|
|3 tbs||good-quality Greek extra virgin olive oil|
|200g||block feta cheese|
|1 tsp||dried oregano|
This salad is known and loved around the world. Those of you who’ve been lucky enough to eat it in Greece will know that when it’s made well, it’s absolute heaven.
The trick is to pay attention to the small details that make it so wonderful: things like finding the ripest tomatoes, good Greek olive oil, beautiful olives, creamy feta and lovely herbs.
Restaurateur, Polpo, London
I have been a frequent visitor to New York for the past 15 years and although I don’t necessarily seek out new places to eat, they always seem to find me. In fact, the best way to explore the culinary and social landscape of the city is to chat to a few waiters and bartenders on your first day. They will know what’s hot, where to go and what to eat.
But when circumstances or weather take an unexpected turn, an intimate knowledge of the city’s gastrogeography can have significant benefits. On a recent trip I was in Tribeca when an alarming bellow of thunder echoed across the Hudson. I needed to take shelter. Fast. I ran to North Moore Street where one of my favourite bars, Smith & Mills, occupies an old garage. I took this photograph just before the heavens opened.
At Smith & Mills, I had a plate of eggs and an excellent salmon tartare. It reminded me very much of the mackerel tartare we serve at Polpo. Twenty minutes later, the storm had passed and the sun was out. I paid the bill and was on my way.
|4||mackerel fillets, skinned|
|Half a cucumber|
|Handful capers and small gherkins (combined)|
|Fine table salt|
|Ground black pepper|
|Extra virgin olive oil|
|Juice of one lemon|
|Handful flat parsley|
Food writer, London
This is a picture of a pickle stall in the Sichuanese capital, Chengdu. For me, it offers a snapshot of the rich, warm colours and intense flavours of Sichuanese cooking.
The bright scarlet chillies, shown whole and chopped to a coarse paste, lend their hue and mild, fruity spiciness to dishes like fish-fragrant aubergine, while the hearty dou ban jiang, a fermented paste of chillies and broad beans, is the key seasoning in mapo tofu (otherwise known as pockmarked old woman’s tofu).
The chilli bean paste darkens as it matures: the batch you can see in the top right corner of the picture is younger than the one beneath it. Pickled ginger is often paired with pickled chillies, both the red ones and the green “wild mountain chillies” with which it is displayed here, in the centre of the shot.
The vegetables that look like old potatoes are actually da tou cai, a kind of turnip that is salted and semi-dried to make a crisp refreshing pickle: it can be slivered and dressed with chilli oil to make a piquant relish, or chopped up as a garnish, perhaps for a bowlful of tender tofu. |
Executive chef at Blackfoot, London
I cooked these sardines in Karasu, northern Turkey, near the Black Sea. I love Turkey – it is culturally rich and diverse because it is a gateway to Asia, so the food is a fabulous mix of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern influences. We found these sardines fresh off the boat and I felt inspired to wrap them in vine leaves. They keep the flesh deliciously moist – and protect the skin when you BBQ them.
|6||large vine leaves|
|6||large fresh sardines, scaled and gutted|
|1||small Spanish onion, grated and squeezed|
|1||clove garlic, chopped|
|½ tsp||ground cumin|
|Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped|
|80ml||extra virgin olive oil|
|Salt and pepper|
Chef, Le Cafe Anglais, London
I ate the dish pictured here in a restaurant called Miramare da Michele in Torre Santa Sabina near Ostuni, in Puglia. We had a number of brilliant dishes but this was magnificent. The crustacean the Italians called cigala we call crayfish or spiny lobster. The meat is dense, very rich and, in my view, far superior to lobster. Normally rare and very expensive, here it was quite reasonable and superb.
Editor of Lucky Peach
When I visit Los Angeles, I follow the writings of Jonathan Gold, who’s been that city’s pre-eminent critic for nearly 30 years. I was lucky enough to eat with him the last time I was there and he took me to Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown.
Like an amateur, I winced when I heard him say chapulines to the waiter. He shot me a look and asked, “You think you’re going out for Oaxacan with me and we’re not eating grasshoppers?” Fair enough: build-your-own grasshopper tacos are delicious (I added a heavy smear of guacamole to each) and a great story to bring back home.
The rest of the menu is much more approachable, and surprisingly different from the Mexico City-style and Pueblan cooking that dominates what we lump together as “Mexican” food in the US.
Tlayudas are like a mutant marriage of taco and pizza, and as delicious as that sounds. Horchata was improved with a float of some sweet pink liquid and garnished with chopped nuts.
The mole sampler is the must-order dish, a tour de force in the form of five expressions of famous Oaxacan sauce. I studiously tried each over rice before giving in and making a mess of my plate and corner of the table, spooning them over everything in my path.
Guelaguetza, 3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles
Food writer, Paris
San Francisco continues to be one of the most exciting places to eat anywhere. Many restaurants support the farm-to-table movement. Bakeries are milling their own flour made from speciality grains, taquerias fill burritos with grass-fed beef and if you want a glass of absinthe, you can sip some, distilled just across the bay, in Oakland.
Because San Francisco is so multicultural, The Slanted Door, one of the city’s best restaurants, often uses local produce and sustainable meat and seafood for its Vietnamese-inspired cuisine. And you can end a meal with a dessert, like its silky honey custard, topped with berries culled from the adjacent farmers’ market.
I do the same at home, in Paris, with Speculoos custard. The spicy-sweet flan pairs beautifully with sweetened strawberries from my local market. And when in season, I add a handful of fresh raspberries or slices of juicy, ripe peaches too.
|1 tsp||five-spice powder, or ground cinnamon|
|500ml||whole or low-fat milk|
|160g||Speculoos spread (also known as spiced cookie butter)|
|Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt|
|Whipped cream to serve (optional)|
To make these custards, you can use either whole milk or low-fat. Whole milk will yield a more dense, rich custard, while low-fat will lighten things up just a bit. I like to use Chinese five-spice powder, which has a hint of anise in it, but ground cinnamon is a good substitute.
Recipe from ‘My Paris Kitchen’ by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press)
Chef, The Spotted Pig, New York
I like to fish as much as I can, whenever time permits. I first started fishing on a lake, then I wanted to move up to bigger fish … it was a natural progression to the ocean.
I love to go out in Montauk with friends. Fishing is quite peaceful. You really absorb yourself fully in the task, forget all your worries and woes. I love the process of catching the fish, taking them home, preparing them and serving them. It’s important for chefs to be in touch with food.
Bluefish is so fatty and delicious. I like to steam it without adding more oil – perfect for summer.
|4 pieces||bluefish, about 6oz (170g) each (smaller bluefish are nicer)|
|¼||clove garlic, grated|
|1||small shallot, finely diced and peeled|
|5||finger-pinches (about 10 leaves)|
|1||carton mixed heirloom tomatoes, chopped into rustic chunks|
|2 tbs||red-wine vinegar|
Chef-owner, Jose and Pizarro, London
Being in my father’s garden in Extremadura is absolute heaven for me. It has been in my family for several generations. My brother tends to it now, as my father passed away two years ago and my mother is too old to really get to grips with it. Back in May when I walked into the garden, the scent from the orange blossom was beautifully intoxicating. Paradise.
Founder, Wahaca, London
Like most cooks I travel for inspiration. Our last trip to Chicago totally exceeded my expectations in terms of what I learnt and loved. The city is vast, bold and innovative, just like its food, with a melting pot of cultures creating exhilaratingly inventive dishes. I was enthralled by the way chefs were embracing their American food culture and had taken recipes that I once would have thought of as stodgy and brash and worked them into great-tasting dishes. We came back so impressed by what we’d tasted that we’ve set up a little experiment in the Truman Brewery in London, cooking some dishes very much inspired by this trip.
We also had lots of margaritas in Chicago, and every time I go to Mexico I make a beeline for their fresh ones. They use different ingredients depending on what’s in season; cucumbers are loved both in aguas frescas – soft drinks sipped during the day – but also in margaritas. That clean flavour of cucumber marries wonderfully with the kick of jalapeño.
|175g||cucumber, a couple of slices reserved, the rest roughly chopped|
|20g||jalapeño chilli, de-stemmed, deseeded and roughly chopped|
|50ml||lime juice, freshly squeezed|
|25ml||sugar syrup (dissolve 25g caster sugar in 25ml water)|
|60ml||tequila blanco, 100 per cent agave|
From ‘Chilli Notes’ by Thomasina Miers (Hodder)
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