by Leah Bhabha
For chefs, meals take myriad forms, from a spoonful of a dish in development to a crust swiped off the line during service to an overflowing plate eaten hurriedly during staff meal. So when they’re given larger pockets of time and the freedom to savor breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s a real event. Pre-COVID-19, hours or weeks away from the kitchen meant sitting at the table with family or flying across the country or world to try the creations of contemporaries.
Without the bounds of time, stomach capacity, or the current pandemic, where would chefs eat? We asked them. Introducing My Perfect Food Day, a monthly feature where industry members share the tables they’d visit and the dishes they’d savor in varied locales.
First up is Gabe Erales, formerly of Austin’s Comedor. The El Paso native opened the downtown Mexican spot in 2019 after widespread experience at notable restaurants both domestic (La Condesa and Fonda San Miguel) and international (Noma).
As summer draws to a close, he’s looking ahead and hoping for more assistance in the industry. “The food system truly is a closed loop circle that everybody must support to preserve,” he adds. “As restaurants were closed and restricted, people were forced to cook more, which gave a true understanding of what the hospitality industry means and how difficult it can be sometimes for both FOH and BOH."
For him personally, focusing on his own meals has taken on greater importance lately. “I have been really focused on what I eat and where it comes from more than usual because I want to use every meal as an opportunity to support my peers in the industry—both farmers and restaurants,” he says.
Here, he shares his ideal eating day from coffee in Copenhagen to stuffed plantains in Comalcalco, Mexico.
7:00 a.m. Cappuccino at Prolog Coffee in Copenhagen
“This quaint little coffee shop in the meatpacking district has been one I think about often from the brief time I lived in Copenhagen.”
8:00 a.m. Guava Pastry and Chocolate-Vanilla Concha at Panadería Rosetta in Mexico City
“This elegant and beautiful bakery by Chef Eleyna Reygadas is now one of the most popular in the city so if you aren't there early, everything quickly sells out.”
10:00 a.m. Root Vegetable Hash with fried eggs, onion granola, and Gruyère at Destroyer in Culver City
“This continues to be my first stop whenever I visit Los Angeles. Not only is everything incredibly delicious and thoughtful, the food is priced very attractively.”
12:00 p.m. Purito con Mole Chontal at Cocina de Chontal in Comalcalco, Tabasco, Mexico
“Chef Nelly’s outdoor kitchen transports to you pre-Hispanic times with her beautiful and unique Tabasqueno cuisine. A puriot is a plantain that is fried then stuffed with heirloom black beans, wrapped in a banana leaf, then cooked again served with a traditional mole from Tabasco. This meal was probably one of the most transformative meals in my life.”
3:00 p.m. Ceviche Tostadas and micheladas at La Guerrerense in Ensenada, Mexico
“Sabina Bandera serves insanely fresh seafood tostadas with perfect flavor combinations.”
5:00 p.m. Tapas, Snacks and Wine at La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain
“This historical market dating back to the 1200s has so much to see and eat but is also perfect for a mid-day walk while enjoying tapas and wine."
7:00 p.m Korean BBQ and banchan in Seoul, Korea followed by soju and karaoke
9:00 p.m. Tasting menu at Smyth in Chicago
“This has consistently been my best meal for the last two years. Each dish that Chefs John and Karen Shields make is so carefully and thoughtfully crafted that you're constantly questioning how they are able to arrange such a variety of ingredients (many which are grown for them on their own farm) so harmoniously.”
11:00 pm. Burger at The Loyalist in Chicago
“After wrapping up at Smyth, push your stomach's boundaries and don't sleep on a cocktail and the most incredible burger downstairs at The Loyalist (Smyth's sister restaurant). During my last visit, they sent us a burger as one of our courses as a sweet surprise.”
12:30 a.m. Pulque and Mezcal at Pulquería Las Duelistas in Mexico City
“Pulque is an acquired taste but to me it’s another magical elixir from the agave plant. I often find that it settles the stomach, so it's great after a long day of eating.”
2:00 a.m. Panuchos de Relleno Negro and Cochinita Pibil in Merida, Mexico
“These incredbile bites are tortillas that have been fried and stuffed with black beans and turkey that is braised in recado negro or pork with recado rojo. The garnishes vary depending on which you get, but they are both served with a fiery habanero salsa and pickled onions (xni-pec).”
We hope that one day soon we can mimic Gabe’s itinerary (or part of it at least) and can’t wait to travel the globe in search of the next transcendent bite.