By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
January 12, 2010
Andrew Friedman’s knowledge and love of food and sports comes through loud and clear in his latest book, Knives at Dawn: The American Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition (Free Press, $26). The 42-year-old author covers the rigorous international competition — which by comparison, makes “The Iron Chef” look like a kiddie cooking show — with gusto, flair and suspense.
As for life on the road, the Brooklyn resident says, “I love traveling, whether it’s for work or for personal reasons. Getting away from your home base is stimulating and gives you fresh perspective.”
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. I love to recharge at Rancho La Puerta (www.rancholapuerta.com) in Tecate, Mexico. I also enjoy urban vacations in big cities like Toronto, Paris or London. You can fill your days and nights with museums, shops, restaurants and theater.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. For me there’s nothing like heading to the ocean and experiencing that feeling of all your troubles falling away. So from my home in New York City, my favorite weekend jaunts would be to the Hamptons — for the beach, not the scene — or even just a subway ride to Coney Island to dip my feet in the water and let them get caked with sand. I think it’s because I grew up in Miami and the water just takes me back to a relatively carefree time.
Q. What are your favorite hotels and restaurants?
A. In the past year, I’ve come to love the Sofitel (www.sofitel.com) — their smart, simple aesthetic and European service style hits me just right. I stayed there in Lyon, France, and Philadelphia and the experience was impressively similar. Writing about food for a living, I’m lucky to eat at excellent restaurants all the time, but my favorite meals have been at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry (www.frenchlaundry.com) in Yountville, Calif. It’s a small but sophisticated town, and the restaurant’s own garden is right across the street. Eating great food in such an ethereal setting, then strolling back to a little inn and sleeping in peaceful surroundings is just magic.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. My tennis racket and shoes. If a vacation lasts more than four days, there must be tennis involved. Also, gym clothes for working off absurdly big meals, a hopefully great book and an iPod with all the necessary adapters so we can pick our own “soundtrack,” as we drive around and (spend time) in our hotel room. Having familiar music makes any place feel like home.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. London, Seattle, Toronto, Lyon and New York, where I’ve lived since 1985, but I still feel like a wide-eyed tourist sometimes.
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. I usually stay away from guidebooks and hit e-mail to find friends or friends of friends who have been to where I’m going or, better yet, live there. I’m looking for the well-kept secrets, the boutique hotels, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and little streets that the locals love to stroll. … There’s nothing like connecting with a savvy native to get the real deal.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Spain. There’s just so much creativity and energy emanating from there these days. And my wife is dying to go to Tokyo, so I’ll say Japan, although I’m a bit intimidated by how different things are there on every level.
Q. What is your worst vacation memory?
A. With plans to propose to my girlfriend, I bought airplane tickets to Rome in June 1999. The trip over was a nightmare. We missed our connection at de Gaulle Airport in Paris, where a computer glitch grounded all flights there for an additional eight hours. When we finally touched down in Italy we discovered that our luggage was in Amsterdam. We waited six more hours for it to turn up. By the time it was all over, we had been in transit for more than 24 hours and the restaurant where I had planned to propose was long closed. But there was a happy ending. She said, “Yes”!
Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. I almost never wear sneakers with jeans — even when doing a lot of walking. It’s the universal sign of, “I don’t live here.” In non-English speaking countries, I keep my voice down. As a New Yorker, when I visit other American cities, I always take a moment before touching down to prepare myself to be patient. Hotel clerks, bartenders, shopkeepers — they all seem to move just a click more slowly in other cities. I have come to realize that this is a good thing and I try to savor the shift to a healthier pace.
Q. Have you ever been guilty of being an “ugly American”?
A. Not that I’m aware of. But I never quite feel like I fit in — my jet lag tends to linger so I always seem a little wired. I don’t pick up other languages well. And I’m so concerned with getting the local tipping customs right that I think I go a little overboard. So, maybe not “ugly,” but certainly “funny looking.”
© 2010 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.