The Travel Secrets of Restaurateur and Top Chef Dale Talde
From how to find a restaurant in an unfamiliar city to the cooking essentials he doesn't leave home without
No matter how tight the airlines want to squeeze us onto planes, no matter how long the TSA lines, no matter the expenses you’re sure to incur along the way, there is a way to travel well. To help you figure it out it, we’re asking people who do it for a living what they’ve learned along the way. This is Life on the Road, and for this installment, we talked to Chef Dale Talde, who‘s overseen restaurants all over the US, and spent plenty of time trekking back and forth between them.
As you might expect of a chef of his caliber, Dale Talde leaves town a lot. Whether the owner and chef at Food Crush Hospitality — who also has three seasons of Top Chef under his belt and recently opened Goosefeather, a restaurant inside the Tarrytown House Estate on The Hudson in Tarrytown, New York — is flying for business or pleasure, he’s always determined to find a great meal, though he’ll be the first to tell you that’s easier said than done when you find yourself stuck in an airport.
InsideHook caught up with Talde to get all his best travel tips, from the cooking essentials he never leaves home without to how to find the best restaurants in a city you’re unfamiliar with.
Talde is typically a light traveler — “the thing I hate the most is traveling with stuff and then never using it,” he says — but he does have a few standard items that he packs on every trip. He brings a Chrome Industries backpack packed with one set of clothes, his toothbrush and toiletries as his carry-on just in case his checked baggage gets lost, and he always brings vitamins. “Flying and traveling always takes so much out of me, and a multivitamin helps me get to normal,” he explains.
To limit how much traveling takes out of him, he always brings a set of headphones to put on to discourage people from talking to him. “I’m the asshole who doesn’t engage during flights,” he says. “Haven’t we all been on that 6:30 flight that you had to get up at 5 for, got four hours of sleep, and then the two people behind you are long-lost cousins or something and they decide to strike up this conversation? That’s always the case for me.”
Matcha is another must-have for him. “There might not always be good coffee where I’m at, so having matcha ensures a good source of caffeine,” Talde explains. “Have you ever flown out of LaGuardia? That is like you are in a post- or pre-Cold War Russian airport. It’s awful. It might be the worst airport. So, you’re trying get coffee at like an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I can’t have dairy, so I’m like, ‘Hey do you have soy milk?’ and then the look they give me is … I mean, in this day and age, any place that serves coffee that doesn’t have soy milk or some type of alternative, that’s appalling.”
What a Chef Eats on the Road
While their coffee options are bad, the food selection at the airport can often be even worse, depending on where you’re traveling. If you’re forced to eat while waiting for a flight and don’t have enough time to leave the airport for a proper meal, Talde has a few suggestions. If you happen to be in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, he recommends Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera. If you’re in Newark, he says to try Little Purse. But generally speaking, he says, no matter where you are, a burger or a pizza is usually a safe choice.
“Pizza is always a consistent for me, burger or pizza,” he says. “‘Cause it’s always like, with everything else, you just don’t know. Right? And if pizza sucks, it’s like, ‘Eh, it sucks, but it’s still pizza.’ If the burger sucks, whatever, it still was a burger, something that I could understand what it was. But I’m always attracted to something like carbs. Because at least it’s filling, you know what I mean?”
When he’s able to venture outside the airport and have a meal in a new city, however, he relies on suggestions from friends and strangers alike to point him towards the best places to eat. “I always look for recommends,” he says. “I always call my chef friends, and I put it out there on the ‘gram or on Twitter or whatever, like ‘I’m headed to this city, anyone have recommendations?’ I use food sites like Eater, and I hashtag. I’m in this city, hashtag the city and try and find what people are hashtagging for food in that space or in that area, you know what I mean? You can search a hashtag, and then people will tag where they are.”
“That’s why I travel,” he continues. “I travel to eat. This is what I try to do: I try and mix it up between super authentic and modern — super authentic, the must-have, and street food and anything that is not exactly Michelin starred, but something that’s a dope meal.”
How to Pack When You Know You’ll be Cooking
Chefs often face unique challenges when traveling specifically to cook — packing and transporting ingredients, getting knives and other equipment through security and generally making sure there’s enough space to bring everything needed to prepare a meal.
“For me, especially if I’m doing something serious, packing my clogs is always the first thing,” Talde says. “My tennis shoes, it’s always like the number one thing. If you have access to a sous vide machine and Cryovac, which a lot of restaurants do, I recommend that. Cryovac-ing your shoes. [Beyond that], it’s always an apron. I typically don’t wear a chef coat in general, especially if it’s not my restaurant. So I don’t normally have that. And when it comes to utensils, if I’m traveling with someone — I always have a sous chef or somebody come with me — I make sure that they pack a knife, so they have to check it.”
“And then it’s always the thing of traveling with very sketchy ingredients and stuff,” he continues. “You’re always traveling with some type of sauce or some type of jar of something funky. [For example] when I did a thing for Maker’s Mark, it’s Loretta, Kentucky. They’re not going to have XO sauce, so I’ve got to bring it. They’re not going to have kombu dashi, or they’re not going to have these ingredients that I need. So you got to pack them, and then if you didn’t pack it or your sous chef didn’t pack it, you’re holding it on your personal, and you got to explain to somebody what this, funky jarred thing is, or some funky powder. You’re making dumplings, I’m traveling with a kilo of wheat starch that looks like a bag of narcotics, and you have to explain to the person, ‘This is a bag of flour.’”
Talde says if you have to pack ingredients in a checked bag, be sure to pack it in a separate bag from any of your personal belongings — especially clothing. “There’s nothing worse than traveling with a box of fish sauce and then it explodes in your stuff and ruins everything you own,” he says. And leave those nice chef’s knives at home.
“Really expensive, beautiful-looking knives, don’t travel with them, ’cause they will disappear,” he says. “And then you have to explain to somebody why something costs $2,000. I won’t do it. I’ll have someone else carry knives, or I’ll bring that house knife that — that’s the thing when you’re traveling to cook, making sure that what you’re cooking is delicious, but also not a big pain in the ass. It’s not like, ‘Yo, it needs 15 steps to make this and a bunch of equipment.’ It’s like, ‘Listen, let’s make delicious food. Let’s make it as chill as possible.’ Cryovac-ing and all that stuff is the easiest way to go about it.”
When You’re Booking
When it comes to scheduling flights, Talde always prefers to give himself an extra day to get wherever he’s going. “Don’t catch the earliest flight out,” he says. “You’re useless, you know what I mean? I’d rather catch the last flight in and get a full night’s rest, than have to get up at 4 a.m. to get in by like 7:00 or whatever and then start cooking at like noon, and then by 3:00 you’ve had a full day, and you just want to pass out. If you have to, I get it. But if you can not do that in any way, don’t. What’s the rush? Enjoy your time traveling. You know what I mean? Traveling is hard enough that, trying to do all this, it’s not worth it.”
And he has a personal request when it comes to booking your hotel: always do a little research on the hotel restaurant beforehand.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re here over the weekend, and we’re just going to walk in for dinner at this new restaurant,’ and I’m like, ‘Yo, we have 170 reservations. We are 100 percent occupied.’” he says. “You know what I mean? People get super disappointed by it, and it’s like, do a little research. Because people show up at the bar like, ‘Hey, can I get a shot of Jameson and a Bud Light?’ And it’s like, ‘I’m sorry, our Irish whiskey is Tullamore Dew, and the lightest beer we have is this craft beer from so-and-so.’ And it’s immediate in their faces, like, ‘I just want a regular beer and a shot of Jameson.’ I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not this kind of bar.’”
Nevertheless, he says, “in a perfect world, we would love to have you in. We are a restaurant.” Just be sure to do a little poking around beforehand to find out what you’re getting into — and please, make a reservation.
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