“Food is the foundation,” Gordon Ramsay says. “It gives rounded insight into the actual culture of a place.” He should know, after taking deep dives into the food scenes of six destinations around the world for the new National Geographic television series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, making its premiere July 29, on National Geographic Channel.
The 52-year-old British-born chef, famed for his Michelin-starred restaurants and intense competition shows like MasterChef, traded tricked-out kitchens and TV studios for “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore and reconnect” with the source of ingredients. Since Ramsay believes in learning by doing, he followed the lead of locals on sometimes harrowing expeditions, such as perching precariously on a mountainside in Peru to harvest the specific cactus needed for a particular dish. The Ironman athlete admits he felt vulnerable at times. “It looks crazy,” he says, “but it’s what they do on a daily basis.”
The people Ramsay met, and their resourcefulness and respect for ingredients, made a deep impression on him. What’s his advice to travellers? “Stay off the high streets,” he says. Be adventurous, and seek out what really defines the culture. Here he offers some takeaways and tips for each destination in the series.
“The hangi is my new favourite way to cook meat,” says Ramsay. “Dig a hole, light a fire, bury the meat, and go enjoy a few hours relaxing.” Methods for this traditional Māori way of cooking have been handed down for generations, and the hangi is still used to prepare meals on special occasions. Ramsay also marvels at how Māori cook with seaweed in inventive ways—and how they retain these techniques in their modern-day culture. Smoked eel, he says, is another best bite. And be sure to sample the sips. “New Zealand has some of the best local wines.”
Matt Brock of Kika restaurant in Wanaka, known for seasonal, tapas-style dishes.
An almond pastilla (top right) from Morocco’s Mes’Lalla; A mai tai (bottom right) at Lineage in Hawaii; The Mekong in Laos. Photos by: GaetanPenec (dessert), Brendan Smith (drink), Ewen Bell (river)
One of Ramsay’s most memorable moments came when he visited an indigenous Tlingit community. As he entered a family smokehouse, he saw that the 12-year-old daughter was “braiding with absolute, utter finesse” the 23-foot-long intestines of a seal so they could be smoked and later eaten. “You stop in time and just think, wow,” he says. “It’s how they will continue to survive across very dark, hard-core winters.” For local fare requiring a less adventurous palate, he recommends Alaskan white salmon and gin from Juneau’s Amalga Distillery, which has a lively tasting room. The owners forage many of the botanicals themselves. “A must try!”
Beau Schooler of In Bocca Al Lupo restaurant, serving handmade pastas and pizzas in Juneau.
“High altitude is no joke,” Ramsay says. Even the pisco sour, a brandy-based tipple that’s considered Peru’s national drink, packs a more potent punch in the lofty villages dotting the Sacred Valley.But his greatest discovery in the land of the Inca? “The amazing diversity in potatoes. Each one was unique and different, and they were incredible to cook and eat,” he says. Indeed, it’s estimated that 4,000 types of potatoes grow in Peru, ranging from the pale papa blanca to the jewel-toned papa púrpura. But not everything succulent is starchy. Alpaca jerky, says Ramsay, makes a salty, satisfying snack.
Juan Luis Martínez of Mérito, a restaurant in Lima that puts Venezuelan spins on Peruvian ingredients.
Before the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea, it flows through six nations, including Laos. On his first trip to the country, Ramsay learned that “the Mekong is the lifeblood of the community. It’s not only where a lot of the food comes from, but it’s how you get to any location.” The river is so key, in fact, that its name in Lao can be translated as “mother water.” Along the banks, find historic temples, lush jungles—and tempting refreshments. But “don’t drink the moonshine unless it’s in a mixed drink,” warns Ramsay. Do try the roasted bananas, which he calls “simple, delicious, and the perfect treat.”
SengLuangrath, who’s brought Laotian flavours to Washington, D.C., with her Thip Khao restaurant.
Alaska’s Amalga Distillery (left); A salad (right) at Peru’s Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. Photos by: Maura Selenak/@amalga distillery (bar), Alec Jacobson (salad)
Think truffles, and you likely conjure up the forests of France or Italy. But these delicacies also grow in Morocco, says Ramsay, along with mushrooms such as morels, porcinis, and chanterelles. Head to cities’ old quarters for produce and just about anything else. “The medina is full of diverse things,” he says. “You can buy the most amazing olives and a vintage carpet all in one place.” Don’t forget to try Berber pizza, or medfouna, dough stuffed with meat, onions, and spices.
Meryem Cherkaoui, of Marrakech’s Mes’ Lalla restaurant, specialising in new takes on local flavours.
The best way to start the day in this Pacific Ocean archipelago? “Banana bread,” says Ramsay. “It’s the perfect morning snack with local coffee.” While the Big Island’s Kona coffee claims the spotlight, the rich volcanic soil supports several varieties. After fully caffeinated outdoor adventures that might include scuba diving or lava hiking, pull over for a meal. “Roadside dining is some of the best food,” Ramsay says. His pick is barbecued and basted huli-huli chicken, devoured right by the water.
Sheldon Simeon, of Maui’s Lineage restaurant, dishing up his family favourites.
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, makes its Indian premiere on July 29, airing every Monday at 10 p.m. on National Geographic Channel.
Additional reporting by Jill K. Robinson
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