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.
River Café pesto
- Pull the leaves off the basil, gently wash and dry them. Pound the pine kernels as finely as possible using a pestle and mortar. Remove from the mortar and set aside. Add the garlic to the mortar with a pinch of salt and grind to a fine paste.
- Add half the basil and pound it into the garlic until it becomes liquid. Continue to add the remaining leaves, a few at a time, until you have a thickish paste. Immediately add the pine kernels and 50ml of olive oil. Mix together with a spoon, not the pestle; the mixture will be quite dry at this point. Finally, add the Pecorino and Parmesan and enough oil to achieve a thick, creamy consistency.
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.
Focaccia with Noir de Bigorre and tomato condiment
- Mix the yeast with the water and olive oil. Warm slightly and dissolve the yeast. Mix the flour and salt and slowly add the wet mix. Knead for 10-15 mins until a smooth dough is formed. Leave to rise for 2 hours.
- Push the dough down, then shape into a long rectangle. Leave to rise for 45 mins. Make dimples in the dough and season with olive oil, fleur de sel and fennel seed. Cook at 200C for 15-20 mins. When cool, cut into rectangles and top with a spoonful of the tomato mix and a few slices of ham.
- Peel and quarter the tomatoes. Remove insides and reserve. Take half of the tomato flesh and season with garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt, sugar, espelette and olive oil.
- Confit in oven for 3 hours at 80C. Cook the insides with the sliced onion, garlic and thyme until reduced and thick.
- Purée this mix with 5cl of olive oil. Cut the fresh tomato and confit into dice. Mix with the purée and season.
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.
Manaqish with a za’tar or kishk topping
- Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Add the oil to the well and, with your fingertips, rub the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Gradually add 250ml warm water, bringing in the flour as you go along. Knead until you have a rough, rather sticky ball of dough.
- Flour your work surface. Place the dough on it and sprinkle with a little more flour. Knead for 3 mins, sprinkling with more flour if the dough sticks. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 15 mins; this will hydrate the dough and reduce the kneading time. Knead for another 3 mins or until the dough is soft, smooth and malleable. Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat it all over with oil. Cover with clingfilm and let rise in a warm place for 1 hr.
- Place the dough on your work surface. Divide into eight pieces, each weighing just under 100g. Roll each piece into a ball, cover with a wet (but not dripping) kitchen towel and return to rise for 45 mins. Roll out each ball into a 15cm disc, flouring your work surface and the dough every now and then. Make sure you form even circles – a good way to do this is to give the disc a quarter turn between each rolling out. Cover the discs of dough with a baker’s linen and let them rest for 15-20 mins.
- Preheat the oven to 260C or its highest setting. If you are using the za’tar topping, mix the za’tar and olive oil in a bowl. Transfer the discs on to a non-stick baking sheet and pinch the edges to raise them. Make dimples all over the dough inside the edges, then spread one-eighth of the mixture over each disc. Brush the edges with oil and let rest for 15-20 mins. If you are using the kishk topping, mix the ingredients together and spread on the discs as before. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 mins or until well puffed in parts and golden around the edges. You may have to bake separate batches if your oven is not large enough. Eat immediately or still warm. Serve the za’tar ones with labneh (strained yoghurt) and olives and the kishk ones plain.
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.
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.
- I think it’s quite nice to have different shapes and sizes in a salad, so cut your medium tomato into wedges, halve the cherry tomatoes and slice the beef tomato into large rounds. Put all the tomatoes into a large salad bowl.
- Slice the onion very finely so it’s wafer-thin and add to the tomatoes. Scratch a fork down the sides of the cucumber so it leaves deep grooves in the skin, then cut it into thick slices. Deseed your pepper, slice it into rings and add them to the salad, along with the cucumber.
- Roughly chop the dill and most of the mint leaves, reserving the smaller ones for garnish. Add the chopped herbs to the bowl of salad, then squeeze your handful of olives over so they season the vegetables, then drop them in.
- Add a pinch of salt, the vinegar and the extra virgin olive oil. Quickly toss everything together with your hands. The minute all those flavours start working with the veg is when the magic starts to happen. Have a taste and adjust the flavours if need be.
- To serve, pop the block of feta right on the top of the salad. Sprinkle the oregano over the top along with the reserved mint leaves, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and take it straight to the table. It’s confident and scruffy with a bit of attitude. Delicious.
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.
- Finely dice the mackerel and set aside.
- Peel and finely dice the cucumber, removing the seeds, sprinkle with salt and sugar, and set aside in a colander for one hour. Finely chop the capers and gherkins. Combine everything in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice and add the chopped parsley.
- Taste and season if necessary. Press equal amounts of the mixture into a ring mould on the centre of four serving plates. Serve with flatbreads and horseradish cream.
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.
Chargrilled sardines in vine leaves
- Cut the end of the stalk off the vine leaves and soak them in warm water (make sure they are separated). After 10 mins rinse them under cold running water and drape them over the edge of a colander, overlapping as little as possible, and leave to drain.
- Wash the fish under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towel. In a little bowl, mix together the onion, garlic, cumin and parsley with some seasoning, then use this to stuff the sardines. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and some seasoning, then pour over the sardines and marinade for 15-20 mins. Meanwhile, heat up a griddle or get your BBQ good and hot.
- Lay out the leaves shiny-side down, then brush them with a little of the marinade. Wrap each fish carefully in a leaf, then cook them seam-side down for 6 mins, turning halfway through, at which point give them a brush with the marinade. Tear open the leaves, then squeeze lemon over the sardines and serve with pilaf and a shredded salad of red cabbage, carrots, spring onions and cucumber.
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.
Orecchiette with crayfish
- To make the orecchiette, make a paste with 500g of 00 flour, 500g of plain flour, two tablespoons of cuttlefish ink and around 200ml of warm water. Knead this paste to form an elastic dough and then roll it into long sausages about an inch thick. Cut these into discs the thickness of a £1 coin and push out the middle with your thumb to make ear shapes. Dry on a rack for a couple of hours.
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and blanch four ripe plum tomatoes. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Salt the water well and add the spiny lobster, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 mins. Lift out the lobster and add the orecchiette. As soon as they rise to the surface, lift the pasta out into a dish. Toss the pasta with the chopped tomatoes, seasoning, a little coarsely chopped parsley and some olive oil. Split the lobster in half, chop into chunks and serve with the pasta.
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.
Spiced Speculoos flan (Crème caramel à la pâte de Speculoos)
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.
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Have ready six 125ml ramekins or custard cups. Make the caramel by spreading the sugar in an even layer in a skillet. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar begins to dissolve around the edges. Very gently stir the melted sugar into the centre of the pan, mixing it with the undissolved sugar, stirring as little as possible. Cook the caramel, stirring only as necessary, until all the sugar dissolves and the caramel turns a dark amber colour and just begins to smoke. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the water. The sugar may seize a bit but stir until the caramel is smooth. (You may need to reheat it over a very low heat to dissolve any stubborn bits of caramel.) Stir in the five-spice powder and divide the caramel among the ramekins and then quickly swirl each dish to spread the caramel around the sides while it’s still warm. Set the ramekins in a roasting pan or deep baking dish.
- To make the custard, combine the milk, eggs, yolks, Speculoos spread and salt in a blender and blend until everything is well combined. Don’t overdo it – you don’t want it to be foamy.
- Divide the custard mixture among the ramekins.(Due to variations in the size of ramekins, you may have a small amount left over.) Fill the roasting pan with warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan tightly with aluminium foil and bake until the perimeters of the custards are just set and the centres are still slightly jiggly, about 35 mins. If you check them and they’re very close to being done, remove the pan from the oven and keep the custards covered for a few minutes; they’ll usually glide to the perfect doneness out of the oven.
- Remove the custards from the waterbath and cool them on a wire rack. Once cool, chill them thoroughly in the refrigerator.
- To serve, run a knife around the edge of the chilled custards to release them from the moulds. Turn the ramekins on to individual serving plates. One at a time, grasp each plate and the overturned ramekin on it in both of your hands and shake it a few times until you feel and hear the custard release from the mould. Some caramel will stick to the mould, which can be scraped out on to the custards with a small flexible spatula. If desired, you can serve them with a dollop of whipped cream, as the French sometimes do with custards.
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.
Steamed bluefish with tomato salsa
- Place bluefish on parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Steam on a steamer for about six minutes, until cooked.
- To make the tomato salsa: pulse garlic, shallot, basil, tomatoes, vinegar, oil and salt until combined but chunky. Top the bluefish with the salsa, serve and enjoy.
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.
Goat’s cheese with Spanish orange blossom honey
- For this simple lunch, take a roll of good quality goat’s cheese (Monte Enebro is best) and cut into slices. Dip these in some plain flour and dunk in a couple of beaten eggs.
- Fry gently in olive oil with some salt until the edges go golden brown. Place them on kitchen paper. Drizzle with orange blossom honey. Serve sprinkled with lavender or thin slices of fried or steamed beetroot. Drizzle with more honey. And to drink, try a nice glass of Fino.
Founder, Wahaca, London
Chicago and Mexico
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.
Cucumber and jalapeño margarita
- Blitz the cucumber, chilli, lime juice and sugar syrup together in an upright blender. Slowly pour in the apple juice to purée the cucumber and chilli as finely as possible.
- With a rolling pin or professional drinks muddler, muddle the mint in the bottom of a cocktail shaker to bring out its oils.
- Pour in the puréed liquid and tequila and shake over ice. Pour through a fine sieve into glasses chilled in the freezer. Garnish with a slice of cucumber.
From ‘Chilli Notes’ by Thomasina Miers (Hodder)
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