On The Road with Food

January 13, 2011

I am better at packing food than clothes when going on a trip. I have more success getting chocolate sauce safely to a location than a shirt wrinkle free.

For charity events, to publicize my books, or to promote Waterbar or Farallon I frequently cook at out of town events. Food is the priority over clothes as the former makes life easier when I get to my destination. Whatever dish I am cooking on location I try to take some of the ingredients or mise en place with me.  My chef coats and work pants are rolled and stuffed in between food and equipment.

Ziploc bags and vacuum sealers are part of every traveling chef’s kitchen. Tripled sealed apple marmalade or cold caramel sauce will arrive in one piece. The plastic bags take up less room than containers and also keep the weight down. It is easy to get a small suitcase, cooler or Styrofoam lined boxed over the FAA weight limit.

It helps that the air cargo hold is very cold as you can’t use dry ice to protect your stuff. A few cold packs keep everything at the proper temperature. Frozen raspberry sauce doubles as a cold pack and a needed ingredient.

Any container gets over zealously wrapped in duct tape. Once you arrive it is frustrating wrestling it off but it makes you feel better when you are in route that you have taken every precaution that your candied almonds have not sprung loose. Aprons or towels on top of the cooler or box act as buffer. Plus you can use them once to get there. In some kitchens these can be hard to come by.

For knives I take a paring knife, a chef’s knife and a serrated knife. Of course bringing knives means you have to check your bag. No getting through security if you have knives even if you have your chef coat on.

Some kitchens are well equipped and others not so much. Even if you ask ahead you never really know until you get there. I have to be prepared for Plan B and go with what they have for equipment and ingredients. That’s part of the challenge and the fun. In my knife roll I always take an ice cream scoop, a rubber spatula, a whisk, measuring spoons and a set of collapsible measuring cups.

Anything delicate is put in a box and hand carried. I have gotten bewildered stares from TSA agents as they see me with 500 cookies or 350 chocolate truffles. Luckily it can all go through the X-ray machine and they don’t have to clumsily search the boxes with their rubber gloves.

Once I get to a location if I can’t get to the kitchen right away I have been known to empty out the mini bar and fill it full of Meyer lemon curd. If I am in a humid location I crank up the air conditioning so my tuiles stay crisp.

Once you get through the packing part its fun to cook in other kitchens. I always pick up a tip about technique, equipment or a source for an ingredient. On a recent trip I discovered a stronger and cheaper plastic piping bag. On another trip I discovered that pasteurized egg whites in the carton don’t make as stiff meringue as fresh egg whites. I get to meet other cooks, see the desserts they have on their menus and how they have laid out their pastry kitchens.

New kitchens take you out of your box and comfort zone. Just before I leave home I say a prayer to the chef traveling god and bring my recipes in case I need to make anything over when I get there.


  1. I really enjoyed this post. The next time I attend a traveling chef’s event I will savor the moment knowing all he/she went through. xo

  2. This is very intersting. I never thought of all the work that it takes to travel with food.

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