Chefs’ Picks: Summer Travel Eats

Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

Chefs may leave their kitchens behind when they leave for summer vacation, but food is still top of mind — especially when it comes to snacking in transit. Whether they’re on a long-haul flight or road-tripping cross-country, these pros make sure to keep fueled with their favorite travel foods. Read on to find out what snacks warrant a spot in the suitcase.

Tempting Trail Mix
After driving cross-country with her husband and two dogs (twice!), Jenny Dorsey, chef and founder of New York City underground dining venue Wednesdays, is a road trip snacking pro. “The two of us are guilty of bored-eat[ing], so I always make this gigantic bag of healthy trail mix for us,” she says. The mix is anchored by a crunchy trio of pistachios, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Dorsey tosses in goji berries and mulberries to add sweetness, then balances it all out with bitter-tinged cacao nibs. But the chef admits that she has a weakness for instant noodles from Korea, which she treats herself to during gas station pit stops. “They are a guilty pleasure because they are super unhealthy — tons of sodium, preservatives, and God knows what else — but [they’re] so good… and occasionally splurging is good for the soul!”

Fried Chicken Picnic
When mid-July rolls around, Alma Chef-Owner Alex Roberts and his family pack up their car and head to Holland, Michigan, for a respite from the steamy Twin Cities. They make it feel like vacation before they even reach those balmy Lake Michigan shores by packing a celebration-worthy lunch. “One of our all-time favorite [road trip eats] is to pack a cold fried chicken picnic with sides,” Roberts shares. “Sides can be stuff we make — like potato salad, rice and peas, slaw and fresh fruit salad — or stuff we buy to make it easy. It feels like a special occasion. Everybody loves it!” And because the whole family craves a little heat, they never leave home without their favorite hot sauces.

Try your own spins on cold fried chicken with quick and easy recipes like this one from Food Network Kitchen.

Tried and True… With a Twist 
“I try to take a summer vacation with my family every year. We were going to a family ranch in Montana, outside Bozeman, which we absolutely loved. We really like the West — the mountains and National Parks are a big change from city life,” says Executive Chef Bill Telepan of New York City’s Oceana. Though Telepan is switching up the destination (either Montreal or Route 66), he plans to stick to tradition when it comes to travel eats. Lunch typically consists of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, though in true chef style they’re made with gourmet ingredients like sourdough boule, organic peanut butter and homemade jam. Healthy snacks like cut-up veggies, fruit and nuts round out the spread, along with a few sweet indulgences like peanut butter cups.
One hit recipe for the highway is Ina Garten’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars recipe (pictured above).

Sinful Snack Mix
“Summer vacations are a rare chef indulgence,” shares Chef Allie Lyttle of Detroit’s Parks & Rec Diner. When she does get time off, Lyttle heads to her grandmother’s house along Michigan’s Lake Huron, a tradition she’s had since she was a kid. These days, her travel sustenance is a bit more suited to grown-up tastes: cold brew coffee, kombucha tea and a snack mix that she makes herself. “It’s a sinful combination of [cheese crackers], pretzels, crisped rice square cereal, oyster crackers, ranch seasoning and popcorn oil. It sounds horrendous, but it is the most delightful car snack,” says Lyttle. Her other guilty pleasures while cruising along the route include processed meat sticks, sour-cream-and-cheddar-flavored chips and cherry soda. “I only eat them when I’m road trippin’,” she notes.

Be the snack rebel of the road with your own addictive mixes like this one (pictured above) inspired by Chinese take-out.

Italian Deli Subs
Every year, Executive Chef Ted Hopson trades in the hustle of his Los Angeles kitchen at The Bellwether for the tropical breezes of Hawaii’s Big Island. Since he and his daughters face a lengthy flight, packing an ample amount of eats is key. “This is where I [tap] into my Italian roots in a major way,” Hopson shares. “Before I leave, I go to my favorite Italian deli, Claro’s, to get meats and bread. Then I make a ton of simple sandwiches that can travel — mortadella and aged provolone on sesame rolls, nothing else.” When they’re cruising around the island, Hopson gives in to cravings for spicy chips and beef jerky, and has been known to pull over to roadside burger huts to indulge in his favorite food, chili cheese fries.

A Caffeine Buzz and Baguettes 
As a chef and restaurateur in St. Louis, Mike Randolph juggles three restaurants (with another on the way) and a pop-up dinner series. It’s no wonder, then, that his go-to road trip sustenance is caffeine. “I really love great coffee. We have cuppings every week at my restaurant Half & Half and have a rotating list of really amazing roasters from around the country, so I know my coffee,” Randolph says. “That being said, I love what l call ‘road trip coffee,’ [from a gas station]. It’s so bad, it’s good.”

To keep caffeine jitters at bay — and make sure his family stays fed — Randolph packs a cooler filled with Provel cheese and ham (or turkey) sandwiches. He builds them on sturdy baguettes slicked with mayo or pesto (but skips the lettuce, tomato and avocado to minimize sogginess), then wraps them in aluminum foil to ensure freshness and curtail crumbs.

Make your own monster sandwiches with these picnic-ready recipes (including the Italian Combo Pressed Hero pictured above) from Food Network Kitchen.

Homemade Beef Jerky
For long car trips, Chef de Cuisine Ricardo Jarquin of Chicago’s Travelle Kitchen + Bar loves to make beef jerky. “I’ll make different kinds but my all-time favorite is a… bulgogi-flavored one which I make utilizing flank steak,” he says. “It’s easy to pack and doesn’t need refrigeration.” To infuse the meat with both sweet and savory flavors, Jarquin soaks it overnight in a kalbi-style marinade made of soy sauce, apple juice, ginger, scallions, garlic powder, and sesame oil and seeds. He then slow roasts the meat in the oven before dehydrating it overnight. For the ultimate meat lovers’ snack spread, Jarquin also packs top-notch salami or chorizo, crackers and mustard. And if his cravings turn sweet during the trip, he opts for powdered donuts and snack cakes.

Trail mix photo courtesy of Sarah Crowder and beef jerky photo courtesy of iStock/alexbai


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