Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where'd they stay, what'd they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?!
Michael Ferraro is no stranger to the simple pleasures of comfort food. As Executive Chef/Partner of the popular SoHo restaurant Delicatessen, the former contestant on Iron Chef America and Chopped has overseen a significant menu transformation to what can best be described as “sophisticated comfort.” He also serves the same role at macbar, Delicatessen’s single-item sister restaurant that dishes out only, well, mac and cheese. You could say that the man seriously knows his comfort food.
The alum of some of New York City’s most renowned kitchens – including The Four Seasons and Café Centro – recently spent time shooting a documentary in Taiwan about the country’s cuisine, which he describes as “a great example of comfort food.” Well, at least that’s what he calls the cobra snake, duck blood and stinky tofu that he encountered.
What was the main purpose of your trip, and how did you plan the trip?
The main purpose of the trip was to film a documentary on the food of Taiwan. I was lucky enough that between a travel company and the Taiwanese travel bureau, they had planned an amazing journey around the island of Taiwan for me.
What was the highlight?
The highlight of the trip was on the east coast of Taiwan. We had the opportunity to go to a family’s home on the Loushan Organic Farm and learn how to make tofu from start to finish. This family owns the farm and has been making tofu with the same method for close to 100 years.
The only (if you can call it a lowlight) lowlight of the trip was a tremendous amount of travel. We changed hotels every night, and between filming and traveling, our days were completely jam-packed leaving us with very little free time.
What airline did you fly and how was it?
We flew with EVA, and surprisingly enough the long flight wasn’t as dreadful as I had imagined. I was very grateful for the spacious seat and was actually able to get some rest on the flight.
Where'd you stay, and what's your mini-review of the place?
I stayed in six different hotels. Three were highlights for sure. Shangri-La Far East Hotel was an amazing hotel with central location in Taipei city with my room overlooking Tower 101. Silks Palace Taroko was a completely zen experience. This resort focused on tranquility which was much needed during this very busy trip. On our last night we stayed at Grand Hi-Lai Hotel in Kaohsiung, which was my favorite. Grand Hi-Lai was an amazing luxury hotel in the center of Kaohsiung city, which offered unmatched service and beautiful décor.
What was your best meal on the trip?
My best meal was at the home of the family with whom we made tofu. Their hospitality was touching, the way they welcomed us into their home. As we arrived, they brought us into their dining room, where they had prepared an unbelievably delicious traditional Taiwanese lunch. Aside from their obvious skill of cooking, all of the vegetables came from their organic farm in their backyard. All of the fish, chicken, pork and beef came from local markets and farms, and the tofu had been made earlier that morning. After leaving their home, I sat back and thought about the experience I had just had. From the amazing lunch to this family sharing their century-old tradition of tofu making with us the whole experience was a perfect example of true comfort food.
Did you meet with any chefs?
We met with many different chefs throughout Taiwan. Culinary school chefs, fine dining chefs, dumpling-making with the chefs from Din Tai Fung, and an amazing experience of fishing and then be able to cook what we caught with an aboriginal chef.
How did the trip inspire what you are cooking today?
Taiwanese cuisine is a great example of comfort food. They cook with all local, fresh ingredients and with the passion and flavor of their roots. The simple and bright flavors of their dishes reminded me that less is more. These culinary experiences will definitely inspire dishes on my menu.
What do you think about stinky tofu?
Stinky tofu is quite common and as you walk down the street, your nose will guide the way to the next stinky tofu stand. Along the trip I tasted many, many exotic things. From cobra snake to duck blood, I tried it all. But the stench of the stinky tofu was a little too much to bear so I decided to pass on it.
Now that you are back, are you craving any dishes in particular?
Now that I am back, I’m craving spicy beef noodles.
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