Chefs’ Picks: Travel-Inspired Dishes
Chefs spend their days absorbed in their own kitchen — rarely getting the opportunity to experience food beyond the day-to-day operations in their own restaurant. When they do get a break to travel, many of them find inspiration in food that becomes fodder for dishes that later appear on their restaurant menus. We asked a few chefs to tell us which cities have inspired some of their favorite new dishes.
Chef Stephen Gillanders of Chicago’s Intro — which rotates chefs in from around the country — found his inspiration in Beijing. “Beef and broccoli is one of my all-time favorite Chinese dishes, albeit an American-Chinese one — but the best version I ever had was in Beijing,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to serve it in a restaurant, but knew I could never get away with serving it in its traditional, stir-fry form.” The chef tried upscale variations, ultimately landing on the perfect dish. Flat iron steak is caramelized and glazed with a soy sauce that mimics a classic sauce for beef and broccoli. The broccoli is displayed in three different forms: pureed with toasted garlic and olive oil; pan-roasted; and steamed. “The dish may not look like your typical beef and broccoli, Gillanders says, “but if you close your eyes and eat it, you’ll know exactly where the inspiration came from.”
For Ralph Scamardella, chef-partner in New York’s Tao Downtown, inspiration came from an encounter with a chef who was reluctant to share his secrets. “My first experience with this dish was during a great dinner I had in Hong Kong. I’d asked the chef for the recipe, but he wouldn’t give it to me,” Scamardella recalls. “It was only after I bribed the whole kitchen with a round of beers that he showed me how to make the dish. I captured the demo on my camera phone so I could bring it back to my chefs in the States.” The dish is the Crispy Snapper in the Sand, a whole snapper coated with tempura powder and then deep-fried until crispy. The fish is accompanied by more pieces of fried snapper, and mixed vegetables topped with minced garlic, which makes up the “sand.” The dish has been on the menu at the restaurant since 2013.
For Alon Shaya, co-owner and executive chef of Shaya, a restaurant in New Orleans focused on Israeli cuisine, inspiration came from a restaurant in Tel Aviv. "My grandmother was Bulgarian. She made the best kebabs in the world. Seasoned with cumin, paprika, garlic and parsley, they were one of my favorite things to eat growing up. I was excited to put them on the menu at Shaya when we opened,” he says. “Not long after, I went to a Bulgarian restaurant in Tel Aviv called Shishko and had some that really reminded me of the way my grandmother made them. I met the owner, Tal, told him how much they reminded me of my childhood and asked him about his technique. When I got back to Shaya, I continued to test the recipe until I found the perfect balance. Now I'm proud to say they are almost as good as my grandmother’s."
Chef Vijay Sadhu of Cook Hall in Dallas says his new flavor ideas stemmed from the southwest coast of India, where influences from Portugal are strong. Pulling from his travels, he created a Goan Portuguese seafood stew. “This particular entree was inspired by a trip my sous chef, Andy Jacobs, and I took last summer to Goa. The city of Vasco takes a lot of influence from its Portuguese heritage, so much of the culinary offerings there are mainly pescatarian in nature” Sadhu says. “Being there takes you back to a time when explorers were plying the waters off the coast, and the entire area still feels Old-World European in nature. We had a version of this stew while trekking along Bagmolo Beach. There is no refrigeration there, so the seafood is absolutely fresh from the sea. Combined with the local aromatic Indian herbs and spices, this dish really wakes up the senses, creating a very memorable experience.”
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add potatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, chile flakes, garlic, onions, bay leaves and green pepper, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 12 minutes.
Add fish stock, wine, and salt and pepper, curry powder, cayenne and saffron, then cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add mussels and cover pot; cook until mussels just begin to open, about 3 minutes. Add fish and continue to cook, covered, until all mussels are opened and fish is cooked through, another 3 minutes. Add cooked potatoes and sprinkle the dish with cilantro and parsley, then serve.