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Food + Drink

8 Top Chef Travel Secrets

Spanish, Greek, Mexican-Chinese. Few chefs can claim a more globe-trotting array of influences than culinary scion José Andrés. Colleen Clark dishes with the chef on space travel, street food and his new Peruvian-Asian spot China Chilcano.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart | Photo by Ira Lippke

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What are your earliest food memories?

Making paella with my father. On Sundays we would always cook a large paella outside for the family, and my father would only let me collect the wood for the fire. Despite my objections, he always told me not to feel bad because it was the most important part of the meal. It was frustrating at the time, but later in life I realized my father was teaching me a very important lesson, which is in order to be successful, you have to start at the bottom and build a foundation, like that fire for a paella.

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How does travel inform your work?

As a chef, I’ve always been fascinated with how food is a bridge between different cultures, and I see this a lot when I’m traveling. Each of my restaurants is about telling these stories. Peru is the perfect example of a country that has embraced the world with its culinary culture, with influences from China and Japan so deeply ingrained in their cooking. I knew I had to bring those flavors back to DC, and that was the birth of China Chilcano, which opened in January of 2015. So as you can see, travel is very important in my line of work.

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What is your most memorable travel meal?

I had the most perfect tuna dish in Japan at Hasegawa, which is this small 6-seat restaurant where they have been making and perfecting the same tuna dish for the past 90 years. When we were developing the Nikkei, or Japanese-inspired, part of the menu at China Chilcano (pictured), my mind kept going back to that dish.

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What is your most beloved childhood travel memory?

I was seven when my father took me to go see our relatives in a small town called Rivas in Aragon. It was a cold day and my uncle was making us dinner. He started cutting up day old bread, and in a big iron pot he started cooking it with some vegetables and pork fat and made one of the most astonishing dishes of my life called migas. I will never forget how amazed I was that he could turn something so simple into this amazing dish.

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Favorite street food destination?

When you walk down the streets of Port au Prince, Haiti, you will see people set up along the way with huge pots of something amazing simmering away. It’s the most incredible street food I’ve ever had. I love the bouillon stew with djon djon made with the Haiti’s black mushrooms. It is so unbelievably good.

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Do you approach creating a hotel restaurant differently than a standalone restaurant?

Whenever I’m creating a restaurant for a hotel, I try to make it a representation of the city it’s in. It should tell its own story and have its own unique adventures in store. For example, even though I have three Bazaars, they each have their own personality to reflect the cities they’re in (Miami, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills).

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How have your travels informed your view of the way food can empower people?

When we started the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, we were doing a lot of work in Haiti, and the most inspiring thing was to realize the power of the human spirit. Working there after the earthquake, I learned that those people don’t want our pity, they want our respect. And so, my team and I have helped them open bakeries and restaurants and cooking schools, businesses that not only feed their communities but turn a profit and give them the ability to support themselves. Food gave us the power to do that, and it helped us see how it can be a sustainable solution to many of our world’s problems.

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Dream destination?

Outer space. But really, scuba-diving in the coral reefs of Australia.



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