Food-obsessed individuals know that the appetite ignites a certain type of wanderlust, one in which the traveler continuously seeks novel flavors, dishes, and ingredients.
Describing his first-ever trip to Japan, Anthony Bourdain felt something similar: “[It] was absolutely life changing. It was like my first acid trip. It was that mind-expanding and climactic. I came back thinking about everything in a completely different way.”
Chefs too find inspiration from their travels, experiencing meals that are not only memorable, but go on to influence their cooking. To dig deeper into this phenomenon, we turned to a handful of L.A.’s top chefs to talk about the most inspiring meals they’ve had while traveling this year. All the participants—including Jon Shook, Ray Garcia, David Lefevre, and more—will be sharing their own travel-inspired dishes and the tales behind them at Tastemade‘s first-annual food and travel series, GALLIVANT!, happening September 24 in Santa Monica.
Without further ado, here seven kitchen pros share milestone meals they ate while traveling in 2015 that both ignited their imaginations, and inspired their culinary identities.
Chef at Broken Spanish, BS Taqueria
Garcia says: “The food at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco was innovative. The flavors were bold, but balanced, and the staff’s excitement for what they do complete the experience. You would have trouble finding a dish on that menu that isn’t exceptional. Sometimes you don’t have to travel too far for great food.” (Photos: Andria Lo, Yelp/Bevi K.)
Chef at Animal, Jon & Vinny’s
Shook says: “My experience was so special at Alain Passard’s restaurant, L’Arpege, in Paris. Ludo had put me in touch with Passard. We were seated in this area past the dining room, our table was in part of the kitchen, but not on the line. I was completely blown away by the compilation and flavors of each of his dishes, especially with them mostly being vegetarian. The vegetable tartare tasted just as good, if not better, than any beef tartare I’ve had. Everything about my meal and this evening was so special. It was truly a one-of-kind experience that I will never forget.” (Photos: Donato Sardella, Yelp/John K.)
Johnny Ray Zone
Chef at Howlin’ Rays Hot Chicken
Zone says: “Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, TN spoke to me in a deep way. I pulled up to this chicken shack in a strip mall next to a nail salon and barbershop. There was a line out the door. I ordered a 1/4 White Hot (breast and wing), not knowing what was going to come from it. The food arrived and it was so humble in its presentation, but had a refinement of fried chicken I hadn’t seen before. This was some of the best fried chicken I’ve had in my life—so good, in fact, that it motivated me to study this dish over the course of the next eight months and open a hot chicken business in Los Angeles. The crispy, salty, sweet, spicy, and savory chicken made me feel alive. It’s not often that food can give you a buzz, but this one definitely left me feeling it.” (Photo: Yelp/Lee G.)
Chef at Starry Kitchen
Tran says: “Well SHIT…that’s a hard question. The best meal was super understated, surprising, and not what I think most would expect: the tea salad at the little Burmese counter—eight to ten seats—with two cute, older Burmese women who almost kicked me out for taking a (I GUESS) forbidden food porn shot. The place was called YAMO, and it’s in San Francisco’s Mission District. It was so surprisingly delicious, refreshing, bright, complex, inexpensive, and honestly my favorite kind of place to eat: NOT FUSSY! Everyone can take their Michelin Star meal and wave their pinky at me because… hot DAAAAAAAAAAAAMN that tea salad (and their passionate fire) is delicious!” (Photo: Yelp/Aaron Y.)
Chef at MB Post, Fishing With Dynamite, Arthur J.
Lefevre says: “I had an amazing Arctic Char that I caught ice fishing in Iceland. We snowmobiled from the frozen lake to a cabin and cooked it over live fire. It was such an amazing experience.” (Photo: Big Fishes of the World)
Chef at Phorage
Cheung says: “One of the best meals I’ve had so far in 2015 is Kusakabe in San Francisco—a small restaurant in the Financial District which features a traditional Japanese kaiseki menu, and a journey into the different cooking styles incorporated into Japanese cuisine. I had the full tasting menu with add-ons at the end. The way they incorporate different cooking techniques into the dinner kept me entertained throughout the entire meal.” (Photo: Yelp/T.)
Chef at Corazon Y Miel
Ruiz says: “2015 has been especially noteworthy to me because I have gathered inspiration from what on the surface are two different styles of cuisine and dinning experiences. This year I had the privilege of dining at Eleven Madison Park in New York and at the home of a extremely talented carnitas maker who on the streets is known as El Momo in Boyle Heights, California. The first is one of the most respected restaurants in the world, and the other is the home of a humble family working hard to make a living. What I experienced at both these places was not only an incredible meal that would influence my cooking for years to come, but a philosophy that I hold true to when cooking at Corazon Y Miel. When dining at these two places I was welcomed to the kitchen to see the back of house, and the chefs at both places shared stories of local history and culture. They each expressed that a meal is more then technique, care, and ingredients. It is about being a servent to your guest, and making sure they always feel at home, even if you are not there to welcome them; the food should be inviting, always.” (Photo: Yelp/Lenny H.)
And if you’re bummed that you’ll miss out on Tastemade’s Gallivant!, cheer up: We’re giving away a pair of general-admission tickets to Thursday’s event. Click here to discover how you can win.