This post was sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton, and as always was authored by me. A little window into the background of what I do, and what drives me. Enjoy!
Thinking back to my old desk job days, where I knew I was in the wrong job and ached for change, I was always frustrated. I had lots of ambition but nowhere to put it. I felt misdirected, everything felt disconnected, especially me.
I knew what I loved, and I could see what was wrong, but I didn’t know how I could dip my toe in a world where exploring food culture and travel was the centre of it. I wanted to spend my life working with my passion. I did what I could. I spent all of my disposable income on trips abroad, embraced quirky new ingredients in food shops from unfamiliar food cultures and I bought and read so many books about cooking and travelling. It wasn’t enough.
One day I had enough. I went home, deeply dissatisfied. I had never written anything for public consumption before, anything that wasn’t about what I studied (science and technology) or put myself out there in any way. I had talked about it endlessly with friends, what I wanted to do, a blog I wanted to start. I was worried. What if I failed?
I realised that fearing failure was stopping me from beginning. And so I started. 10 years later, it is one of the best and most important decisions that I have ever made. Risks are important. What is the worst that can happen? And, what is the best?
1o years on, a few highlights distilled. Excited for 10 years to come.
Living the High Life in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a wonderful city for food lovers. From perches on rickety stools slurping bowls of noodles on street corners watching the world whizz by, to Cantonese fine dining nearer the stars. All with an unstoppable energy driving it. Hong Kong fizzes and buzzes. Hong Kong gets on with it and demands the best on its plate.
I love Hong Kong for the dim sum breakfasts. Steamer baskets hiding small parcels of joy. I love some congee too, plain chicken or pork with century egg, with a little soy sauce, coriander, peanuts and spring onions.
From the the 102nd floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong at Tin Lung Hing I had a two michelin starred Cantonese tasting menu. I will never forget the deep fried breadcrumbed crab shell, filled with crab and onion. Extremely decadent, and gorgeous. A memory worth treasuring.
Tempura and Yakitori in Tokyo
Tokyo is one of my favourite world cities. Bright tall and exciting, from the bright lights of Shinjuku to the gorgeous calm of the shrines dotted throughout.
The food of Japan is misunderstood. It is so diverse. People expect it to be all sushi, but sushi isn’t every day. Sushi is a treat. It isn’t just ramen, either, ramen is also not every day, despite the national (and now international) obsession with it.
I thought that I knew this, but it wasn’t until I visited that I realised, appreciated and also noted the reverence that chefs pay towards food and their specialised cuisines. In Hinokizaka at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, traditional Japanese food is served from a modern setting on the 45th floor. There is kaiseki, sushi, teppanyaki and tempura spaces. The chef explained to me that in good tempura, it is not about the batter but what about the tempura process brings out of the ingredient. All very mystical and magical, and really good.
I discovered monjayaji when I visited Tokyo too, a dish I have never had even in London. Almost a pancake, fried on the teppan grill, and traditionally eaten by school kids after school. I had one with mentaiko (seasoned fish roe, usually cod) and mochi (squidgy rice cakes) and it was wonderful.
Wood Fired Duck in Beijing
Duck. I don’t think I ever really understand the theatre and the flavour surrounding Peking (Beijing) Duck until I visited. The ducks are prepared a couple of days in advance, at least. The skin separated from the flesh using air, and left to dry, before being roasted in a wood oven. Sublime and one of my favourite food memories. The duck is served with great ceremony, presented first with pancakes, cucumber, pickles and condiments. Then as a soup, and with rice. Lots of different ways. I will return to Beijing and dedicate days to exploring duck. And next time jiaozi, some of my favourite dumplings.
Hipster and Old School in New York
Williamsburg is home to the hipster, but it is also home to an exciting weekend food market, Smorgasburg. I adored the bon chovies (fried anchovies with pickled peppers and smoked paprika mayo), the cheesy corn dog and the jerky. Then down by the river, I spied a guy with a thermomix, and wondered what he could be doing with that there? Pressed against the chicken wire and on rickety wooden table, he was making foie gras poutine, as I had had at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal previously. I loved the distillation of passion and creativity.
Peter Luger’s is an essential stop for steak lovers and anyone looking to experience old school New York. The Brooklyn steakhouse established in 1887 is still a deservedly popular spot, serving USDA prime beef steaks, thick sliced bacon, wedge salads and terrific creamed spinach. Service is swift and witty. As you would expect, when in that town.
Feeling the Heat in Budapest
A trip to Budapest was a journey to a food culture where I had little prior knowledge. Budapest is a city with a bright energy about the local food culture, both the traditional interpretation of it and how chefs are interpreting it in a higher end setting. When you think of Hungary you think of paprika, sweet and hot, sausage and goulash. Right?
On arrival, I indulged in a bowl of room service goulash at The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest. A terrific start, setting me up for dinner that evening at Deák St. Kitchen, a Hungarian Wine Bar and Kitchen celebrating all things local food and wine. There I had seasonal cherry soup with Hungarian smoked duck breast and heirloom tomatoes. The cherry soup had a bright yet sour savoury flavour which played beautifully with the smokey duck breast. Bright pops of tomato too.
In Hungary, it is essential to try mangalitsa pork too. A Hungarian breed of pig that looks like a sheep with its thick coat of curly hair. The taste is sublime, marbled meat with rich flavour. Mangalitsa has been called the kobe beef of pork and tasting mangalitsa sirloin cooked simply over the grill here, I can taste that comparison.
A Hungarian breakfast with sausage, gorgeous hot peppers and goose crackling on my last morning saw me on my way. Full of ideas for cooking when I went home, and plans to return as soon as I could.
I arrived in Toronto on the hottest day ever recorded there. A pale Irish person in 47 degree celsius heat. Here I discovered the Canadian passion for local wines, few are exported and the nearest wine region Niagara has some exceptional tipples. Toronto has a wonderful contemporary food culture inspired and fuelled by immigration and passion, as with most major cities.
Chinatown here is very impressive, but it was the Italian food in Toronto that I fell in love with via a meal at Buca. It was here, not Italy, that I had my first taste of gnocco frito, hot hollow bread pillows which I poked a hole in and speedily stuffed with house cured lardo. The lardo yielded, melted, and I did too. One of my favourite food memories ever. I remain obsessed with gnocco frito and lardo and seek them out in Emilia Romagna as well as making them at home.
Celebrating a Life’s Passion
Fast forward to nearly 10 years later. Almost 10 years of blogging, lots of travel and immersion in wonderful and varied food cultures. I have visited all continents – except Antarctica, which is absolutely on my list – and had some terrific experiences. I have explored varied places, taken risks, tried many different things. More than I had imagined possible when I started, and I am itching to continue.
The world continues to inspire me and I feel as energetic about it now as I did on that fateful day 10 years ago and better than that, I am in it, not outside looking in. A great start. I feel like I am just beginning.