10 Chefs Share Their Best Tips for Eating Like a King While You Travel
By Amanda Topper / February 7, 2019 9:00 am

Later this month, a coterie of Chicago’s best chefs are headed down to Miami.

Not just to escape, but to attend Miami’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, an annual meeting of culinary minds under palms and over mojitos.

Got us thinking: When chefs travel, what essentials do they bring on the road? How do they find great restaurants and bars? And can any of them actually stomach airplane food?  

So we asked them — 10, in fact, all of whom are scheduled to appear in Miami.

Consider this the insider’s guide to eating well on the road.

Diana Davila, Mi Tocaya Antojería

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? Whenever I’m cooking in a new city I almost always bring my sauces with me. They typically take a lot of time to make and I like to be alone when I make them so I prepare them in advance, pack them up and bring them with, usually as checked baggage.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? A Bloody Mary — I don’t really like to eat on planes, but a drink is great.
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? I don’t really like to plan a ton before I go somewhere new. I enjoy traveling with an open mind and then seeing where the days take me. It’s good to do some research in advance but there’s truly nothing like going with the flow and getting to experience things as they come in a new city. I like to talk to people when I’m at my destination for recommendations, but I don’t like to be tied down to a pre-decided list of places.

Jason Hammel, Lula Cafe and Marisol at the MCA

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? I never bring anything with me— why bother exploring if you’re not going to try something new?
Favorite airplane/travel snack? My airplane snack is almost always Tortas Fronteras (in O’Hare).

A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? I usually check what my favorite magazines have to say about a city, and the New York Times.

Abe Conlon, Fat Rice

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? Generally, I’m not bringing anything for myself but at times I will bring special things for friends that I’m visiting whether it’s some chilies that I have grown or something Chicago-centric like a Chicago-style hot dog condiment kit. For the most part when I’m traveling I’m looking to bring things back like spices, heirloom seeds or condiments to use back here in Chicago.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? Almonds, seaweed, yogurt, Naked Juice — Green Machine and chocolate, always chocolate.
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? 27 Restaurant & Bar, Alter and Taquiza
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? ChefsFeed has a great app that you can see popular spots and where chefs eat. Eater is also a great resource. Chefs and industry folk are always the best people to ask about favorites and local food options in their city.

Paul Kahan, avec, Blackbird

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? La Boîte in NYC has two of my favorite spice blends that I like to take with me. You can certainly buy your own ingredients and try to make yourself, but it won’t be as good as theirs. The Cancale with fennel pollen and orange is a workhorse and goes great on anything, and the Coquelicot with poppy seeds, sesame, cumin and dried lemon is fantastic to crust fish with.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? Water! I don’t tend to eat on planes much. I travel a lot and know the importance of hydration.
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? Michael’s Genuine — Michael (Schwartz) is an old friend and a great chef. He doesn’t take himself too seriously but serves amazing food. Plus, he’s so handsome!
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? I’ve checked out the local Eater 38 and found some gems from that, and I ask my chef pals. Usually, it comes up in our normal conversation and they just tell me to go there. Word of mouth is still the best way to finding the best meals.

Ryan Pfeiffer, Blackbird

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)?
I like to consider myself more of a minimalist and see no issue in borrowing knives, tools etc. but I have to bring my Birkenstocks if I’m going to cook so that I’m comfortable on my feet. Also, I always have my notebook with me because if I have an idea, I need to write it down. You never know when inspiration might hit you. It’s always at the most random of times.
Favorite airplane/travel snack?
Probably bananas — they’re easy and come in their own packaging. Plus, I just like them.
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town?
Michael’s Genuine. It’s comfortable, easy and they serve food chefs like to eat.
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city?
I like to ask locals, not just people I know in the culinary world, like tattoo artist friends. They are looking for the best food and because they are artists, they have an acute sense of what they like. I also like to just pop into the off the beaten path places and figure it out for myself. Getting lost is all part of the experience. I like to experience places without pretense or bias, so I can truly figure out if I like it for myself.

Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? When I travel for culinary events, I always make sure to pack a bottle of good balsamic vinegar, like from Acetaia San Giacomo. You’ll never know when you may need to add it to a dish. I also have a little container of Maldon salt as sometimes you may need that certain crunch to add to a dish. Then, I always have a small container of cinnamon Altoids to keep that breath fresh.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? I have a love-hate relationship with Hudson News. I’ll buy a SmartWater, a bag of mixed nuts (cashew focused), sometimes a Sabra hummus/pretzel kit and then gummy bears if it’s a long flight (or returning from a busy trip).
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? Too many favorites to list just one. A must is lunch at Mandolin, lunch or dinner at Michael’s Genuine, dinner at Macchialina, dinner at 27 Restaurant followed by drinks at The Broken Shaker. If needed, a late-night stop to Le Sandwicherie for toasted sandwiches. If you do that, I recommend skipping the additional veggies option as it quickly turns into a salad on bread and difficult to not wear it on your shirt – maybe just add some lettuce and tomato.
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? We’ll usually look up some of the more notable chefs in that city on Instagram and see where they’re eating. Also, if we dine at a restaurant we end up enjoying, we’ll ask the chef or server where they like to eat in the city. The recommendations may not always be the newest but usually the food is good and the vibe is what we like.

Anna Posey, Elske

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? We [Anna Posey and executive chef/partner David Posey) always bring a little xanthan gum with us if we are doing a culinary event in another city. Xanthan gum a really great, easy-to-use binder. And when you’re working in new kitchens or new environments, sometimes sauces break or things don’t go as planned. Depending on what you’re making, a pinch of xanthan gum can go a long way! It’s like a little bandaid. Jacobsen salt also makes the most perfect little travel-size salt container. Their salt is ridiculously good, and we’ve become addicted. I just keep the little salt container in my purse, because you never know when you’re going to need a little pinch!

Favorite airplane/travel snack? I always make my own trail mix. It’s an easy snack with good fats and protein. And when it spills in your bag (which snacks-in-transit always seem to do) it’s not too hard to clean up! I recommend not packing anything oily or smelly (from past experiences).

A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? We like to find a place that has good food, good drinks and a nice vibe. Then we usually ask our server or bartender what they would recommend. We feel like the locals, or people in the industry, definitely know the hidden gems and the spots not to miss. Sometimes the lists online of “best restaurants” can be a little overwhelming when planning trips. From years of over doing it on trips, our recommendation is to only make a few reservations or plans for dinners and keep everything else flexible. It’s more fun for us to explore a city with a loose agenda. And we don’t eat a breakfast, followed by two lunches, and two dinners, and then hit up all the bars when we travel. We used to kill ourselves with food and it really just made us feel terrible. If we don’t get to all the places we want to try in one trip, it’s okay! And it’s just a reason to come back another time.

Charlie McKenna, Lillie’s Q

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? Obviously my knife kit and certain tools are important, but a little bottle of Red Boat Fish Sauce always comes along to bring out the umami flavor of things that need the extra level.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? Well, United Airlines sells our Sea Salt & Black Pepper chips on board so I tend to be biased and get those.
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? Yardbird is one of my favorites to meet friends have quality food in a great designed space.
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? I always ask local chefs friends or people I trust that know food from Chicago that have traveled there or friends from that town – friends never steer you wrong.

Jeff Mauro, Pork & Mindy’s

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? My trusty thermapen instant read thermometer and baggie of Ajinomoto.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? Whisky and Diet Coke. Its a drink I only drink on a plane and NEVER drink off a plane. its a pressurized air tastebud thing and goes great with salty nuts.”
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? Yardbird for some fried chicken.
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? Find a local online Food Forum like LTHFORUM.COM in Chicago. Every city has these foodie-run forums were there are no ads and legit foodie talk and often have great lists.  The big sites can be misleading and hard to navigate.

Noah Sandoval, Oriole

What are your culinary travel essentials (e.g. certain spices or sauces you must bring with you)? Diamond Crystal salt. It’s what I’m used to, so if it’s not available I find myself over/under salting things.
Favorite airplane/travel snack? Hot and Spicy Cheez-Its, Stroopwafels
Go-to Miami restaurant you visit when in town? Alter
A general tip or hack on finding great food when visiting a new city? The Michelin Guide, OAD (Opinionated About Dining), Local food focused media, Local Chef buddies, etc. OAD really knocks it out of the park when it comes to food at all price points nationwide.

Main image via Unsplash