Some of the world’s best chefs share their dreamiest travel destinations for the day when we can taste everything the world has to offer again.
For the past several months (and foreseeable future), travel has existed only in our dreams and memories—and our dining options have been similarly limited. The closest we’ve gotten to Italy is a Postmates delivery from a favorite trattoria. And sushi is a much different experience when eaten on your sofa.
To try to satiate our culinary curiosity, we asked ten chefs around the world where they can’t wait to visit and what they’re excited to eat there once we can travel again. Their responses left us hungry for indecipherable menus in new cities, for fresh tastes and endemic ingredients. Journey with them from the Basque region to Bangkok below.
1. Mango season in St. Lucia
Nina Compton, James Beard Award–winning chef of Compère Lapin in New Orleans
“I would go to St Lucia in a heartbeat. Ever since the lock down, I have been chatting with my mum every week and have grown more and more home sick. The fondest memories I have are growing up on the island surrounded by my family—especially learning to cook with my grandmother. I try to go back to St. Lucia once a year and have been dreaming of going recently, especially because it’s mango season and Carnival season. Every time I go, I create new memories with old friends and family. I never grow tired of going back to the Caribbean.”
2. A fresh catch in Micronesia
Tobias Funke, Michelin-star chef in Switzerland
“I’ve been dreaming of going on holiday in Micronesia for quite some time. This island region in the Western Pacific is said to have one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world: untouched, wild, in its original form. Simply pure nature. You can also find incredibly well-preserved wrecks from WWII. As humans, water isn’t our element. To move in it, to be allowed to become an absolutely insignificant part of the largest living space in the world for a short time is an indescribable feeling for me. To be able to encounter weightlessness, the sound of nature underwater, and a world of incredibly intense colors and impressive creatures in their most natural form is always an unforgettable experience.
When traveling, I always try to get to know the cuisine of the respective culture and to cook with the locals in order to learn about their products and cooking methods. As far as the trip to Micronesia is concerned, I wish to experience not only the cuisine but also the customs of the locals: their colorful dances and ceremonies, and their legendary stone money traditions.”
3. Adventures in Bangkok
Omar Allibhoy, founder of Tapas Revolution
“I have been in Thailand once before, seven years ago with 13 of my mates. You can imagine the type of holiday that was: full moon parties, adventures, crazy nights in Bangkok (which ended with one of my friends in jail for a couple of days). But amongst all the relentless nights out, we managed to do everything else that the daytime had to offer. We hired motorcycles to roam freely, sometimes without a final destination. No matter where you are in the country, you will end up with a beautiful scenery—sometimes a beach, other times the top of a hill with views across the rice fields—always riding through small picturesque villages on our way. For those 23 days, we went all around the country. Everywhere we visited, Thai people were just so welcoming, engaging, and genuinely nice. I have been dreaming of coming back with my wife (as much as I love our kids, they were nowhere to be seen in my dream for some strange reason). Relax, dive, eat delicious food, enjoy the views, feel the breeze, and get bitten by mosquitos. Sounds like a good plan to me.”
4. The “succulent treasures” of Basque Country
Deborah Hansen, chef, owner, and sommelier of Taberna de Haro in Boston
“My daughters and I, with our respective male-partners, are planning a trip to Spain’s Basque Country in August 2021. I’ve been there several times, but nature’s feasts for the eyes and palate beckon. I can’t wait to eat huge fish in tiny towns! I plan to drink Txakolina by day and Rioja by night. Our mouths are already watering for the grilled goods of the Basque asadores, the grill-centric restaurants where the menu looks simple but holds a bounty of succulent treasures like anchovies, red prawns, bivalves, peppers, lettuces, asparagus, and bloody, salty red beef.
We love being in places where the traditions run deep. Centuries deep. We immerse ourselves in the daily rhythms of a place and delight in the perspective it gives us. We’ll buy foodstuffs from the market stalls devising recipes and working out the five courses as we go. Lunch for six—considering each one of us is connected to the restaurant business—will take on hyperbolic proportions. We’ll finally have two whole weeks together as a family, something more precious than gold in our jam-packed American lives. On this trip, the only thing jam-packed will be the cans of sardines we tuck into backpacks before taking a sea-misted hike.”
5. The culinary technique of Japan
Rodrigo Pacheco, executive chef and owner of BocaValdivia in Ecuador
“We, as a family, have the opportunity to live surrounded by nature, exploring our natural ecosystems deeply to better understand and take care of the regeneration of the forests that are around us. While in this global lockdown, I’ve been dreaming of taking my family to Japan—a completely different ecosystem and culture than ours here in Ecuador. I would really like to spend time there with my wife and two sons exploring more of the culinary heritage of Japan as well as the local art and landscape. There’s also this story about a connection between our pre-Hispanic culture (I’m talking about thousands of years ago) where they’re said to have met with Japanese navigators. I find this amazing and I would like to find new connecting dots with their culture.
As a chef, Japan is definitely on my bucket list because of the big variety of techniques and the exquisite finesse that the master Japanese chefs put in practice. And the concept of beauty and aesthetics in the Japanese cuisine is greatly surprising and interesting for me. We are a gastro family. We are a family that loves food in all dimensions. So, it would be a treat to all enjoy the beauty and the uniqueness of this amazing nation.”
6. Home-cooked in Marseilles
Lauren Paige, kitchen creative based in Marseilles
“Before coronavirus, I had an entire summer travel plan mostly focused on eating—back to some of my favorite places like Switzerland and the Netherlands, and then to new places like Tuscany and Croatia. But since travel has been shaken up all over the world, especially in the EU, I have been forced to explore the little province in the south of France where I’ve been for the past two years. In Marseilles, a lot of shops closed, so I’ve been seeking out and supporting the small, mom-and-pop spots that are open (fish mongers, bakers, local farmers, and spice shops) and it’s totally changed my perspective on cuisine. I’m having to work with minimal ingredients and trying different spices and vegetables that I normally wouldn’t go for because they’re the only thing I can find. My isolation creations took me to a whole different level of flavors and combinations and creativity on my plate.
I’m not pining over the places that I could have gone. Instead, I’m finding an appreciation for the place that I am in. I’ve spent so much time thinking about getting out of this village that I forgot that there’s so much magic and so much I can learn from inside of my own town. While I do want to travel outside, I think the most important thing that I’ve found has been close to home.”
7. West African exploration
JJ Johnson, James Beard Award–winning chef of Fieldtrip in New York
“For me, I always travel for culture, and right now my dream trip is to Morocco, Nigeria, and Senegal. I think, more than ever, as more and more people are trying to understand Black history and how Black lives matter, these are great countries to recognize where people have come from and see the culture at a deep dive. And the food is phenomenal. I’ve been to West Africa, but not to these countries, so aside from the cuisine: In Nigeria, I would definitely go for the party scene and the kindness of the people. In Morocco, I want to experience the spas and the architecture and design. In Senegal, again, I’d go there specifically for the food and culture. I’m known for cooking the food of the African diaspora—my cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven talks about that specifically—so it would be more of an exploration of what I already know of the food of the diaspora, while learning more about it and seeing it in its origin in order to come back and express it in my restaurant.”
8. Maui’s laulau vs. Puerto Rican rice
Eric Rivera, founder of Seattle-based Eric Rivera Cooks restaurant group
“If I could go anywhere, I would go to either Puerto Rico or Maui, Hawaii. One, because I’m Puerto Rican and it would be dope to just go relax and disappear for a little bit, to be honest. My restaurant has been open this entire time, so it’s been really crazy. And Maui is just a good place. If I could move anywhere that would be it. The food is phenomenal in both areas. I’m not a beach and sand type of person, so food is definitely what drives me. And in both destinations, it’s a different speed. They’re on island time, which I like. It’s not so fast and not so regimented as here, and it’s okay if things don’t get done today. In Hawaii, I love to cook (and eat) Laulau pork or any of the plate lunch kind of things. In Puerto Rico, anything pork or any rice dish.”
9. Crayfish on the Swedish countryside
Emma Bengtsson, Michelin-star chef of Aquavit in New York
“I was trying to think about maybe a more fun option, but to be completely serious I was really looking forward to and had almost completely planned out a trip to go home to Sweden this year. I don’t visit very often, so I am really upset that I can’t go to my parents’ country house for a week over the summer. They live a little bit outside of Stockholm, about an hour and half driving, in the town of Norrtälje. It’s this amazing little house with a jacuzzi and a big backyard with my mom’s garden. They just got a couple hens. We had timed everything so that my sister and my nephew would be there. The whole trip was meant to be about family and food—I don’t think we do anything other than cook when we’re together. We have a massive grill and this gigantic wok pan with an open flame under it. I was excited to make Swedish crayfish. We boil them in salted water with beer and sugar. The quality is so different there. We only have crayfish in July and August and it’s my favorite time to go home to Sweden.”
10. Staples of Tokyo
Mike Bagale, founder of Super Food Concepts
“I can’t wait to return to Tokyo. The cultural takeaway that I absorb while traveling in Japan (Tokyo specifically) has made the biggest impact on me. Not only from a culinary perspective, but from a general appreciation of craftsmanship that the Japanese apply to every facet of day-to0day life. From ingredients to cooking techniques, fashion, art, and architecture, Japan seems to create current trends that are unique and adopted all over the world. My best memories include exploring the diverse neighborhoods from Ginza to Golden Gai, wandering the vast underground malls, the old and new Tsukiji fish market, Ginza bars, and discovering the best of every food staple (sushi, yakitori, ramen, omakase sushi, tempura).”