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A Chef’s Guide to the City

Article by Shayla Martin

From the best markets to little-known restaurants, follow in the footsteps of Ritz-Carlton chefs and discover travel-worthy dining destinations tucked away in these six iconic locales.

It’s no secret that sampling regional cuisine is one of the best ways to truly connect with a destination, and there may be no better way to explore a city than by tracing the tracks of a local chef. From Hong Kong to St. Louis, Ritz-Carlton chefs offer an insider’s look at exciting culinary scenes around the world.


Hong Kong: Where ancient tea houses sit alongside Michelin-starred restaurants

From eclectic street food to fine-dining restaurants, there are more than enough ways to eat well in Hong Kong. For a truly authentic experience, try one of the many Cha Chaan Teng casual diners commonly found all around the city, or visit Yum Cha for the sights, sounds and smells of the time-honored dim sum culinary tradition. “Yum Cha best epitomizes the spirit of Hong Kong,” says Peter Find, executive chef of The Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong. “You can feel the energy and buzz filling up the restaurant to create a unique experience.” Chef Find recommends that visitors not only try quintessential dishes like wanton noodles, beef brisket noodle soup, hot pots and barbecued pork, but also explore the vibrant markets in Wanchai and Sau Kei Wan, where he sources fresh ingredients for his own kitchens, and the city’s traditional tea houses for an only-in-Hong Kong experience.

Travel Deeper: The two-Michelin-starred Tin Lung Heen at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong serves what may be some of the city’s most elevated and innovative dim sum, making it the perfect place to try some of the more adventurous local delicacies.


Cancun, Mexico: Coastal ingredients elevated with vibrant fruits and vegetables

Lemons, limes and other fresh produce fill market baskets to the brim.

Set along the Mayan coastline on one of Mexico’s spectacular beaches, Cancun’s culinary scene pairs Yucatecan gastronomic traditions with sea-to-table fare for a fusion cuisine unlike any other.  “Mexican food is so diverse depending on what part of Mexico you are in,” says Mara-Isabel Barba, chef of the Culinary Center at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun. “The food here is a combination of the pre-Hispanic influence and the European influence brought by the Spaniards.” To gain a better understanding of the local products used in Cancun’s cuisine, Barba suggests a visit to Mercado 23, a local fruit and vegetable market that stimulates all the senses as you shop. From there, enjoy a traditional Yucatecan lunch at el Pocito — don’t miss the Tikin Xic style fish, an achiote-marinated filet that’s wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over an open flame.

Travel Deeper: Try your hand at creating some of the region’s classic dishes and discover a cuisine that’s evolved over hundreds of years with an interactive chef experience at the Culinary Center at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun.


San Francisco: Innovative menus driven by locally sourced ingredients

San Francisco is known for being home to one of the most diverse culinary scenes in the world, but it’s the city’s farm-to-table culture that truly sets it apart from other metropolitan areas. Locally sourced produce and meats are at the root of nearly every cuisine, especially at The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco, where executive chef Jason Rea prides himself on crafting a produce-driven menu. “Most things I prepare are purchased at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market during the peak of their season and then paired with items that complement their true flavors,” says Rea.

When he’s off duty, Rea likes to explore the wide assortment of international cuisines in the city, like French food at Monsieur Benjamin, barbecue at 4505 Meats, vegan Mexican at Gracias Madre, cruffins (a croissant and muffin hybrid) from Mr. Holmes’ Bake House and acai bowls at Basik Café.

Travel Deeper: Spend your morning meeting and greeting the farmers and vendors that supply the ingredients for Rea’s menus at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, then end your day dining on Rea’s cuisine — and those local ingredients — at Parallel 37 at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco.


St. Louis: A Midwestern melting pot of culture and cuisine

Specialty cheeses are arranged on a store counter.

As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States for immigrants, St. Louis’ cultural diversity is reflected in the city’s dining scene, making it a dream destination for culinary enthusiasts. Melissa Lee, executive assistant manager of food and beverage at The Ritz Carlton, St. Louis, finds menu inspiration each season thanks to the variety of cuisine on offer around the city. “There’s a world of flavors to choose from here, including Lebanese, Ethiopian, Bosnian, South African, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, Irish, French and more,” she says. “The cultural diversity here is highly represented in my cuisine and inspires new flavors, techniques and fusion opportunities all the time.” On her off days, she stocks up on produce, cheeses, spices and coffee at Soulard Farmers Market, Global Foods Market, Thies Farm and Greenhouse, Eckert’s St. Louis Farm Market and Kaldi’s Coffee. To sample the global gastronomy, try Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine at Seoul Taco, ramen and pho at Nudo House, and traditional Vietnamese and Chinese dishes at Mai Lee. If you’re in the mood for classic Midwestern staples, don’t miss Pappy’s BBQ for wood-smoked meats and the thick and creamy Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.

Travel Deeper: Take a journey through Lee’s diverse menu with a private chef-led dinner in the wine cellar at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. Menus can be customized to the group and more than 7,000 select labels and rare vintages are available for wine pairings.


Tucson, Arizona: Ancient culinary traditions, celebrated and reimagined

The Sonoran Desert may not be the first place that comes to mind as an historic agricultural site, but Tucson has the longest agricultural history of any city in North America, extending back more than 4,000 years. The region’s past and present are deeply intertwined, and the thriving food traditions, agricultural heritage and distinct culinary scene earned recognition from UNESCO as the first City of Gastronomy in the United States. To get a taste of the culinary heritage here, start at the local farmers markets. Emily Dillport, executive sous chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain suggests Mercado San Agustin on Thursday nights and the Rillito Park farmers market on Sundays for seasonal ingredients like dates, prickly pear, Chiltepin peppercorns, tepary beans and Sonoran wheatberries. 

Travel Deeper: For a truly quintessential desert dining experience, Dillport says, head to the great outdoors. “I think any experience where you are eating outdoors is a must-do … foods that are indigenous to this area, cooked over an open fire, just like they have been doing for 4,000 years,” she says.  “There is a magic to this experience that everyone should take part in.”

Ask the concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain to help you plan a special desert dining experience.


Geneva, Switzerland: Fresh, foraged ingredients meet classic Swiss dishes

The wild and rugged Swiss landscape provides some of the freshest ingredients to restaurants and markets in the capital city of Geneva, and Alessio Corda, executive chef of Fiskebar at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix, Geneva makes sure to take full advantage. “Every Wednesday and Saturday I go to the market to meet my local suppliers to choose seasonal and organic vegetables to use in Fiskebar,” he says. “During the spring I also spend hours foraging for wild herbs, edible flowers and vegetables like ramson, elderflowers, burnet and wild asparagus. In the summer I pick blackberries and raspberries.”

Although the menu at Fiskebar is Nordic-inspired, Chef Corda is also partial to traditional Swiss dishes — his must-tries include fondue, Swiss milk chocolate, regional cheese and longeole sausage.

Travel Deeper: On any given night at Fiskebar, diners can expect to find some of Corda’s foraged ingredients peppered into the upscale Nordic fare. Revel in nature’s bounty with a seasonal dish inspired by the local ingredients.


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