Cook with a Local: Four Destinations For Culinary Inspiration

By Krystal Hauserman, Foodable Contributor

Travel Cooking

Travel is a surefire way to reignite your passion for food, discover new ingredients and techniques, and find inspiration for new products, menu items and concepts.  Connecting with a local chef and spending a few hours with them perusing a local market -- and if you are lucky, cooking with them in their home or restaurant -- is a great way to dive in to the culture and cuisine of a new place. Below are four local cooks that will inspire you with the classic flavors of lemon and herbs in Tuscany and Provence, fiery chiles in Mexico, and exotic galangal in Indonesia.     

Mexico City, Mexico

Beto and Jorge, Casa Jacaranda

The stunning home of Beto and Jorge in the quaint Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City is ground zero for inspired, “back-to-basics” Mexican cuisine.  Although Beto and Jorge are quick to reject being labeled “chefs,” they are undeniably extremely talented cooks. After an enlivening tour of  Mercado Medellin, with stops to sample specialties like Oaxaca cheese, dried chiles and smoked habanero salsa, Beto and Jorge will guide you on a short walk to their lovingly restored early 19th Century home, Casa Jacaranda (named for the towering Jacaranda tree that delights with beautiful purple blooms in the spring).

The day’s menu is scrolled on a giant chalkboard on the wall, and Beto and Jorge expertly guide you through preparing each dish, encouraging you to get your hands dirty and sharing tricks and secrets they swore to their grandmothers they would never tell.  Staples like guacamole, smoky fire-roasted tomato salsa, and coconut flan with caramel, are accompanied by more complex dishes like mole poblano, enchiladas with salsa verde, sweet corn tamales, and squash blossom and mushroom stuffed molotes. The impressive spread is then transported to the rooftop garden, where stories are swapped, laughs are shared, and the afternoon sun slowly fades away. 

Ubud, Bali

Puspa, Laplapan Village / Paon Bali

Ubud is the cultural center of Bali, rich with artists, non-conformists, health enthusiasts, yogis, spiritual seekers, wanderers, eccentrics, mystics, gurus and everything in between. There’s no denying that since Elizabeth Gilbert penned “that book” (as the locals refer to her bestselling memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love”), the streets have become a bit more chaotic. But don’t let the increased attention dissuade you from visiting.  The bewitching power of Ubud is very much alive, as is the exotic, soul-stirring cuisine.  Even the most seasoned culinarians will be spellbound by the abundance of fresh produce and exotic spices.  From spicy chili sambal to rich coffee, Ubud offers sensory experiences not to be missed.    

Bali

Make sure to leave room in your suitcase for treasures like coconut palm sugar, hand-harvested sea salt, pure coconut oil, vanilla pods, rich cacao powder and beans, coffee, tea, cashews, tamarind, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and the unusual Balinese long pepper. Local chef Puspa welcomes guests to her family compound (Laplapan Village) for a hands-on experience preparing a traditional, multi-course Balinese feast, incorporating many of the mysterious ingredients this little island paradise has to offer. 

Tuscany, Italy

The Grandmas, Tutti a Tavola  

There’s no denying that Italy is utopia for chefs, restaurateurs and other foodlovers.  Even a brief visit will undoubtedly reinvigorate your culinary passion.  And an afternoon with four Italian grandmas will likely reinvigorate your soul.  The Tuscan “mammas” who founded Tutti a Tavola will welcome you into one of their rural farmhouses in the Chianti region of Tuscany, each offering an old-world setting for the rustic dishes they will teach you.

In Mimma’s kitchen, the soft glow of the sun at the golden hour filters in through the kitchen window as she offers you a bubbly glass of Prosecco. A duo of crostini (garlicky Tuscan white bean and spicy mortadella and ricotta) are quickly assembled and the first glasses of Chianti are poured. You quickly find yourself gathered around Mimma’s long wooden table, chopping onions and garlic while enjoying homespun stories. The menu focuses on straightforward Tuscan fare using the freshest local ingredients, like roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary, farfalle with caramelized leeks and tomatoes, pan-roasted zucchini, and tiramisu with farm fresh mascarpone. For those with more time, the mammas will host you in one of their homes and take you under their wing for a two-day culinary experience.

Saint Jeannet, France

Corinne and Benoit, The Frogs' House

Benoit likes to start the day taking you on a tour of the famous Cours Saleya market in Nice.  Nestled among picturesque buildings and only steps away from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, Cours Saleya is one of the most beautiful markets in France. Although largely a flower market, you will find a generous offering of the freshest fruits and vegetables in Southern France, including the elusive and fragrant fraises des bois (wild strawberries), as well as heavenly vanilla sea salt and spectacular sun-dried tomatoes. 

After coffee and ice cream, Benoit will take you to a boutique winery near his home in St. Jeannet, where they age their wine in giant glass vessels (“bonbonnieres”) fully exposed to the sun.  For dinner, Corinne and Benoit will direct you to some of the treasured restaurants in their tiny village.  After a comfortable night’s sleep in one of their guest rooms, you will join Corrine in her kitchen where she will teach you to prepare some classic French dishes.  Corrine’s fresh strawberry tart with violet jam will undoubtedly make it into your repertoire.