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Discovering Places, One Eat a time

What do chefs look for when they travel? Three seasoned chefs share their go-to destinations and what takes them back to it, again and again.  


SPAIN BY ABHIJIT SAHA, SEASONED CULINARY CONSULTANT  

Known for his innovative style, interesting dishes, and the unsurpassable ingenuity to turn concepts into reality, Saha is considered one of the pillars of progressive Indian food. A prove of this is the superlative food experience he serves at his many restaurants including The Pet’s People Café and Glass. What keeps the chef going? “Travel and food. Through food I’ve always ended up gaining rich and often unusual insights into the place’s culture, history and of course that invaluable ingenuity that made the place and its people what it is today.” One such destination that has hugely inspired the Master of Cuisine is SPAIN. “The depth of flavor that can be conjured through the simplest of ingredients and techniques is awe-inspiring. Chefs will still use the best traditional ingredients available, but they serve it up with flair and imagination that is fascinating.” Here’s his way he looks at the Salsa country:  

DAY 1: My trip usually begins with a visit to the Torres flagship winery, Pacs del Penedès. Located in the heart of Penedès, about an hour from Barcelona, this winery was started over 150 years ago and still makes wines, traditional style.  Post the tour, have lunch at  Torres family’s private restaurant Mas Rabell, a medieval Catalan country house in the midst of the beautiful vineyard. Recommended dishes: terrine of roasted seasonal vegetables encased in a delicate pasta sheet with capers, goat cheese pinenuts and extra virgin olive oil served with a Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc 2008; and Garbanzos con espinacas, a Spanish traditional stew made of chickpeas and spinach and served with rice.

DAY 2: Drive down to the great chefs Albert and Ferran Adrià’s Tickets,  a tapas bar in Barcelona. Traditional in its approach, booking a table here is akin to moving mountains but the experience is worth it. Located in what is considered by many locals to be the epicenter of cabaret and theatre in Barcelona called Parallel, the highlight of the place is the undeniable  air of drama and theatre complete with a 130-foot facade that follows the cultural timeline of the history of tapas to the conception of different areas, each segment is dedicated to a fantastical gastronomy journey. Recommended dishes: Avocado cannelloni with Romesco sauce, tomato tartare with bread crisps and the very whimsical The Animated Forest.

DAY 3: Head to Gresca. Located in the beautiful lanes of Exiample, this modest eatery serves Spanish culinary heritage in the most inventive and imaginative way possible. Another gem is Chef Rafael Peña and his wife run restaurant that trailblazes the Bistonomia movement in Spain. This is a movement that is seen around the country; one where chefs aim to offer highly imaginative and avant-garde cuisine in casual bistro-like atmospheres, offering fabulous food at great value  

DAY 4: Next stop, San Sebastian, La Rioja and then finally to Madrid. Here lunch is at a restaurant that is considered one of Spain’s best-kept secrets, Sacha. Named after photographer turned chef owner, Sacha Hormaechea, this inviting bistro- restaurant served Catalan and Galician cuisine and  is replete with charming antique furniture and crisp, white linen tablecloths. It is close to the Plaza Cuzco and Paseo de la Castellana. It is the best place to sample Basque’s Ibarra chilli along with the best selection of wine.  

DAY 5: The last food stop is La Tasquita de Enfrente. Built by chef Juanjo López at the hamlet of Triball (Just off the Gran Via), it is known for its quirky takes on classics and popular dishes. Do try dishes here is the famed Russian Salad made La Tasquita-style with sea urchins, crayfish and caviar dressed in a rich mayonnaise, refreshing salmorejo - a chilled thick and creamy soup made with tomatoes, soaked bread, garlic and olive oil and Guisantes de Lágrima the traditional dish made of tear-shaped peas.


ARMENIA BY SABYSACHI GORAI, CHEF-OWNER, LAVAASH BY SABY  

Having spent his impressionable years in the Armenian culture town of Asansol, Chef Gorai love for the globetrotting community began as a young teenager. However it was sometime in the mid 2000 that the celebrated culinary anthropologist began revisiting his childhood favourite and researching on it. The result of this was India’s first Armenian restaurant called Lavaash. And while the restaurant lived its glorious period, for Chef Gorai it gave him the finest insight into one of the most amazing food culture and his second favourite historically rich spot: Armenia. Says Chef Gorai, “Armenia is the perfect example of good local ingredients, fascinating herbs, and great food. But more than the produce, Armenia and Armenian are known for their culinary excellence. Imagine they created and popularized culinary highway staples such as khorovats (barbecued meat) and byorek (dough stuffed with meat) 1500 years ago.”  

DAY 1:  My trip starts by soaking the enchanting view of Yerevan and Mother Armenia followed by  visiting Matenadaran Ancient depository of books. Lunch can be at any local Restaurant before I head towards Cascade, Northern avenue, Republic square. Evening dinner the national dish Khashlama, Tumanyan Pandok along with music. The good thing about the small country is that the food across places is consistently good and pack a punch of history and culture, much like the guest rooms in Yerevan.

DAY 2: It is a traditional visit to the Saint Hripsime Church. Enroute is the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, which is considered the mother church of Armenian. Lunch at a local restaurant, my preferenace  Cross of Armenian Unity NGO, where you can taste the famous Dolma and also take part in master class. After lunch, it is straight to Zvartnots Cathedral, a soon to be UNESCO world heritage with the day ending at Yerevan Megeryan Karpet, Armenia famous restaurant and resort.  

DAY 3: A little further from the church is Armenia’s oldest pagan temple of Garni that was built in the first century AD. Lunch at Sergeys Hab house with masterclass on lavaash baking and traditional Armenian chicken khorovats in a tondir. This is followed by visit to the breathtaking Geghard monastery. Built between 11-13 AD, it is a classic example of how cultures and religion has shaped up this little country.  

DAY 4: Begin the day with a scenic drive to the Khor Virap monastery, yet another interesting place enroute to the famous Areni Winery known for the degustation of Armenian vines. I simply love to visit the 12th century Noravank monastery for lunch with a side of history  before heading to the traditional cheese factory of Exegnadzor. The Armenian cheese were once considered their worth in gold. The Yerevan Mamulyan restaurant is the best place for dinner and socializing.  

DAY 5: One of the beauties of visiting Armenia is the breakfast, which can be had overlooking a view, in this case close to the fascinating Lake Sevan. This is followed by a visit to the 9th century Sevanavank monastery, a good place for lunch too, especially if you like sea food. Their Sig fish dish and the unusual crayfish kebab are one of my favourites. A visit to Sevan is incomplete without the tour of Dilijan city and monasteries like Hagartcin and Goshavank. Wrap the day by heading back to Erevan, where you can visit the oldest brandy factory called Ararat.


SAN ANTONIO BY VIKAS SETH, CULINARY DIRECTOR, EMBASSY LEISURE  

For Vikas Seth, falling in love with Mexican food as a young chef was akin to movie-style love at first sight. Seth visit to Mexico first as a curiseliner’s line cook left a long-lasting impression that led him to open one of India’s finest Mexican restaurant called Sanchez. And the prime reason that takes him to the Aztec kingdom frequently with an occasional visit to Texas, especially “its restaurants that are run by Mexicans and are always the place to explore authentic styles of cooking Mexican dishes, their innovation and their culture.” And while the Mexican specialist and author of two books has evolved into a Mexico encyclopedia when it comes to culture and food, it is the relaxed Texas trip that often rings in the best memory and inspiration.  

DAY 1: There are many things to explore in Texas starting with Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston  while detouring for a Gulf Coast getaway on Padre Island National Seashore. However, the one city I find culinary-wise thrilling is San Antonio - a city that celebrates cultures, cuisine and a common zeal to preserve tradition. While here do try the following Mexican restaurants for sure. The top of the list is La Fogata, Jacala and La Gloria.

La Fogata: Founded in 1978, this little taco station is now famous for its fire-roasted salsa and classic  margaritas served within the cocoon of gorgeously landscaped dining space.  

JACALA: A family-run restaurant, Jacala is the place to go for all Mexican staying in the vicinity. In fact, this true to ground Mexican restaurant today is run by the fourth generations serving patrons who are bringing their second and third generations to teach the Mexican culture through food.  

LA GLORIA- PEARL:  From tacos al pastor in Mexico City, tlayudas in Oaxaca, tococtéles de mariscos from Veracruz, La Gloria is a celebration of the vibrant street food of Mexico. Translated as "the heavens", its Mexican dining at its best – innovative yet deeply rooted in culinary traditions. The restaurant is situated on the grounds of the historic Pearl Brewery.  

DAY 2: The next day should belong to a tour of the 'Sea World' and 'Alamo'. Formerly called the Sea World of Texas, this is a 250-acre wide marine mammal park, oceanarium, and animal theme park, located in the Westover Hills District of the City of San Antonio, Texas is the largest marine world and brings to light some of the most amazing species in this part of the continent. The Alamo Mission in San Antonio or better known as Misión San Antonio de Valero on the other hand is part of the San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site. Founded in the 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, it was the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Food wise, this place has the oldest street style eateries run by Mexican themselves. As for the hotels, Crockett is a better place to stay in, especially if “haunted” sounds exciting to you.  

DAY  3: While San Antonio is full of places to eat, it is a repository of some interesting places to learn cooking as well. You can get an entire list of culinary session that span from three days to seven, but my favourite remains the short term courses run by the Culinary Institute of America in Texas – it is the single place that can turn your Mexican love into an obsession.

As told to Madhulika Dash