This trip to Antigua was pretty spur of the moment. Every year in late winter in New York, I’m kind of itching to get into some warm weather. Going into this trip, I didn’t know that much about Antigua, besides it being a pretty affordable, direct 5 hour flight from JFK....
I try to fit in a vacation at least once a year that is not affiliated with work aside from leisurely cooking. This year, I visited the South of France with six long time friends. I was lucky enough to stay at my friend’s beautiful villa in the mountains of Thoules, overlooking Cannes – want to talk about waking up in paradise everyday… this was it.
Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure? This summer while filming another episode of Bar Rescue in Sonoma County, every free moment I had, I explored this beautiful area. I loved this region so much that I extended my stay, deciding to take a road trip through St. Helena and stay in Napa for a few nights.
Before this trip, the last time I visited Montréal I was with a group of friends and 19 years old. Needless to say, the emphasis of that trip was cheap hotels, cheap drinks, cheap food and the world famous Montréal strip clubs. Fifteen years later with the dollar still strong and Valentine’s weekend approaching, I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this city as an adult. Montréal only being a 6 ½ hour car ride from New York City, makes it a great destination for a long weekend...
I have to say that Piemonte is my favorite region of Italy that I've visited thus far. It has it all, from beautiful mountains that border many different countries, to delicious regional food (including the infamous white truffle), and of course - the bustling city of Torino and some of the best wine the world has to offer. I stayed in this region at my cousins house in the small village of Villar Focchiardo. This village is very quiet and peaceful. Most of our mornings started with fresh fruit from their garden and coffee on the porch. In less than 2 hours in any direction, there was so much to see - from a Michelin star restaurant in the mountains, Alps of France, to wine tasting in Barolo.
This city is famous for many different reasons, and for the short time I was here, I tried to indulge as much as I could in each. I started my morning in Modena trying to work up an appetite walking around the Enzo Ferrari Museum salivating over the unbelievable work of arts known to the general public as cars. After a visually stimulating morning, I went on to tease my appetite with the scent of parmesan cheese. I was extremely lucky to have a private tour of a parmigiano reggiano factory, seeing the process of the cheese making start to finish and ending with a tasting that included their top selling cheese to their most prized and rare varieties. Wandering through the streets of Modena, you get a real sense of this city's culture from beautiful architecture and roadways left from the Romans, to ultra modern impressions of Italy. I ended my visit to Modena in a very special way, having the opportunity to dine at Massimo Bottura's 3 Michelin star and currently ranked number 2 in the world restaurant, Osteria Francescana. Continued...
I had high expectations for the rustic, regional cuisine that I heard so much about in Bologna. To be honest, it is rare, but my expectations were surpassed. I stayed at a hotel directly in the center of the historic areas and was able to walk to dinners passing surreal buildings and sculptures from Roman times to the 18th century. Here I found what I was craving so badly, old family restaurants with at least two generations working there that served passed down bolognese recipes. All the pasta was extremely thin and had the mouth feel of silk. The tiny house-made tortellini simply served in a delicious broth were some of my memorable bites of this journey. Everyone in the restaurants were extremely friendly and open to conversation with an American chef. In one of the restaurants, I had a 15 minute conversation through google translator with the owner's mother about exactly how she makes her bolognese sauce. For a true expression of rustic Italian cuisine, I would recommend Bologna first on the list.
I was very fortunate that the Milan Expo was still going on during my visit to Italy. This was an amazing experience with over 130 countries, each creating an art exhibit that expressed their portrayal of food in their country, along with a restaurant serving a small menu with their country's flavors. This is by far, the largest, multicultural event I've ever experienced in my life. And to top it all off, it was solely based on food. The event was so large, and some country's lines were so long, that I had to limit it to a select few exhibits to see. Just to give you a perspective of how large this event is, I spent 10 hours there and walked 11 miles, while only being able to see and taste about 10% of what the expo had to offer.
Cartagena is an unbelievably beautiful city on the water that has a unique mixture of old world cuisine and architecture, mixed with new world. Some of my most memorable culinary memories come from this city. The vibrant fruits that stem from the Amazon is like nothing I’ve ever seen from anywhere else in the world.
St. Croix is a US Virgin Island that holds a close place in my heart. Over the years of participating in the St. Croix Food & Wine Festival, I’ve developed many close relationships with chefs that were visiting as well as locals. In my opinion, this is one of the most fun and relaxing food and wine festivals in the world, and definitely worth making your list of places to vacation.
Me being first generation American with both parents stemming from Italy, my Roman pride is definitely high, but I will say – Rome is similar to New York in a way that it’s easy to get sucked into tourist trap restaurants that are below par and advertise themselves as “authentic” Italian. Also like New York, Rome is a city where you have to know which restaurants are actually the real deal. This city still stands as one of my favorite cities architecturally, that is packed with endless stories of history.
Much like Barcelona, Madrid offers outstanding cuisine from some of the oldest restaurants in the world to some of the most modern 3 Michelin star restaurants. There are not many cities in the world that can offer that kind of diversity in food. Within the same day, I ate at the world’s oldest running restaurant, Botin, and one of the world’s top ranking, 3 Michelin star restaurants, DiverXO.
Annually, the city of Reykjavik holds Iceland’s largest food festival and competition. I’ve had the pleasure of competing at this event twice where 17 top chefs around the world come to take over a restaurant and compete for 5 days. Iceland for me, definitely ranks amongst one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was lucky enough to be able to experience seeing some things that many will never have the opportunity to – standing on the beach with a group of chefs from all over the world, gazing up at the sky in awe over the Northern Lights will be something I’ll never forget. Iceland offered many of these experiences along with a cutting edge, new Nordic cuisine style of food.
The unique experience of cooking in the capital of Colombia was a memorable one. For the Botoga Food & Wine Festival, chefs travel from all over the world to bring their own, distinctive style to this city. In the food world, Colombia is still a bit under developed, but the beauty of cooking there was all the young cooks and chefs were unbelievably welcoming and excited to learn new cuisine.
Barcelona is one of the most vibrant food cities in the world. From the unbelievable food markets with pristine produce and fresh, local proteins – it’s hard to find a bad meal here. What I appreciate most about this city, is that the local, rustic comfort food restaurants packed as much of an experience and flavor as the Michelin starred restaurants.
I’d be lying if I wasn’t a tad bit nervous about my first visit to Russia. I think St. Petersburg was the perfect city to start off with because I believe it’s the most diverse and most familiar to Western culture. I think the cuisine in St. Petersburg is still a bit underdeveloped, but it’s the only place in the world where you can enjoy Beluga “000” caviar, world’s most premium vodkas, and visit palaces that are literally gold plated. This city is definitely one I would visit again one day.
The Discovery channel is what brought me to Taiwan, filming an eight day documentary with myself and two other chefs that ended with a competition using local flavors and ingredients called Taste Taiwan. The hospitality that I found from the locals in Taiwan is of such that I never experienced anywhere else in the world. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity of this experience. There aren’t many times you can tour an entire country in 8 days and also have it documented every step of the way. Experiencing Taiwan first hand helped refine my knowledge of Asian cooking. I’m also proud to say I left Taiwan with a check in the win column.