JWM MAGAZINE 48
traveling enormous distances, enduring great hardship, crossing potentially
hostile territory and risking your life — all to stock up on spices? But
that’s exactly what happened thousands of years ago, when enterprising
merchants and adventurers braved the seas between Asia and Europe to
discover and trade exotic spices like cassia, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
and of course, exchange ideas and cultural perspectives.
Today, the only treacherous part about getting your hands on some
10 times a year for inspiration.
Himalayan sea salt may be rush-hour traffic or the crowds at Whole
Foods. Modern life has made it possible to acquire almost any ingredient,
no matter how far-flung or rare, easily and quickly and often with a click.
But of course, learning to make mapo tofu with doubanjiang in your
kitchen is a far cry from actually traveling to Chengdu for a taste of the
classic Sichuan dish. Just ask Oklahoma-raised
Korean-American chef Danny Bowien, of much-
lauded Mission Chinese Food, who didn’t realize
the breadth and subtlety of Sichuan cuisine until
he visited the region. Or fellow Oklahoman
chef Rick Bayless, proprietor of a collection of
restaurants that focus on Mexican dishes, who
makes pilgrimages south of the border up to
AT HOME IN THE WORLD
Indeed, professional chefs know there is no
comparison between watching a You Tube
tutorial on making gnocchi and seeing it done
in real life, with authentic ingredients, by a
wizened pasta magician in Italy — which is why
chefs may be some of the most well-traveled
people in the world. Think of them as the
spiritual descendants of those fortune hunters,
swashbucklers and wanderers who trekked the
Silk Road in search of new flavors.
For many culinary pros, though, a study-
abroad experience isn’t just backpacking through
Southeast Asia or doing a stint at Le Cordon
Bleu in France. These chefs are moving to for-
eign countries and living there as expats to learn
new techniques and recipes or to introduce their
native cuisine to different cultures — and often,
to do both. Take Mexican chef Gabriela Cámara. Not content with having
just one celebrated restaurant — Mexico City’s Contramar — she ventured
to the United States a couple of years ago and opened another, Cala.
With Cala, she isn’t preoccupied with authenticity but with exploring new
flavors. “The real special thing is just that there’s all this excitement about
Mexican food here, so let’s see what Mexican food we come up with,” she
explained in an interview with the SF Gate.
That seems to be a common theme among expat chefs: It’s not enough
to merely replicate dishes from the old country. For Mingmitr “Eddie”
Amnuaypanich, who was born in Thailand but now calls New York City
home, cooking abroad has been mind-opening. “You try things you never
would have thought,” says Amnuaypanich, who is the chef de cuisine at the
Asian-inspired Brooklyn restaurant BarGlory. “Take our lamb tartare summer roll. Where I’m from, raw seafood makes sense; raw lamb doesn’t. But
we take a classic Vietnamese dish, add this twist, and it harmonizes.
“On my days off, I like to explore other restaurants,” he continues. “It
helps me come up with new ideas and stay fresh.” Relaying those ideas can
be a challenge, of course, when his staff hails from all over the world. “In
our kitchen, we have people who speak Thai, Spanish and English, so it’s
interesting trying to figure out how to communicate.” No worries: With no
disrespect to love, food may just be the ultimate universal language.
Here we profile three JW Marriott chefs, each of whom has migrated from
his country of origin in search of new experiences and flavors abroad. [