Top chef Gareth Stewart tells Stephanie Holmes why some of his favourite travel memories involve food.
As Executive Chef for the Nourish Group, British expat Gareth Stewart knows a thing or two about food. So there was no better candidate to be our guest on a special food-themed episode of our travel podcast Trip Notes.
Stewart has most recently created the excellent menu for Nourish's new gastropub venture The Brit, but when he's not busy there — or at one of the group's other 12 restaurants (Euro, Andiamo, Jervois Steak House and more) — he is also an avid traveller. And he has a theory about why some of our favourite travel memories involve food.
"Food is a nostalgic memory, it's got to be right — you've got to be with the right people, in the right environment, and it makes the food taste even better," he says. "When you look back at the meals you've had, you know that it's everything combined — it's got to be where you are."
You can hear more from Gareth Stewart in the new episode of Trip Notes, available to download now on iHeartRadio or wherever you usually get your podcasts.
Here's a taste of some of Stewart's favourite food destinations and memories.
He grew up in Portsmouth, on England's south coast, but at 18 he hot-footed it to London to begin his cheffing career. "I went to London as soon as I could," Stewart says. "It was good, I met so many people from all over the world, and my eyes just popped.
"In London, you've got a bit of everything, when it comes to food. I used to go to a place called Dalston, and I used to go and get my Jamaican beef patties there. I'd buy two or three — put a couple in my pockets and chomp on one on the way home.
"At Brick Lane, the Indian cuisine is just incredible. And then finish it off with a salt-beef bagel from the 24-hour bagel shop. It's always at its best at one o'clock in the morning when you've had a few jars, and they stuff it with salt beef that they carve in front of you, add English mustard, and it's so good."
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While living in London, Stewart says he made the most of the opportunites to travel to Europe, and Greece is one of his favourites when it comes to food.
"It's one of those places that is just beautiful. I did Kefalonia, Corfu, Zante — beautiful islands but the food is kind of geared up for tourists. If you do go, you have to go off the beaten track, you have to go down to those little villages, and the food becomes more simple, but they have the best produce — the best tomatoes I've ever tried."
Stewart is half-Jamaican, and some of his favourite dishes to cook — and eat — are from the Caribbean island nation. "It's my number one [cuisine]. My grandmother's curried goat, rice and peas; ackee and salt fish — ackee is a fruit from Jamaica and we get it here tinned — when I can get hold of salt fish, that's my brunch on a Sunday. No one else likes it in my family which is great for me, means I can eat all of it. It's spicy. And I've learnt to put hot sauce all over my food, and then I don't have to share it with my kids."
When it comes to the most extravagant, luxurious meal he's ever had, Stewart says he found it in New York at a restaurant that's been named the world's number one.
"I was lucky enough to go to Eleven Madison . . . it's one of my favourite restaurants. It was beautiful.
"But that was part of a food trip, and it was at the end of my trip, so I was pretty nervous going there. Not because of how I'd feel, but I was so full. When you're eating non-stop for three days, all you want to do is have salad."
Working in restaurants all his adult life, means Stewart has picked up friends in high hospitality places, allowing him to get the inside scoop on some incredible restaurants around the world.
"I was in Singapore recently, I stopped there on the way back from the UK, and I was lucky enough to see a friend of mine who has a few restaurants in Singapore. He's got a place called The Cure, and if I didn't know it was there, you wouldn't walk past it. It was kind of down a back street, and it had beautiful food. It was just insane — we had nine courses of beautiful food, and all I paid for was the wine. Food always tastes better when it's free."
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Find The Brit at 122 Quay St, in Auckland's Britomart. thebrit.co.nz