• sondra bernstein

Travel with a Chef

by Claudia Toulze

I am many things. A publishing executive. A parent. A Sonoman, a bibliophile, an animal lover. On June 1, 2013, I added “chef’s wife” to that list when I married John Toulze.

I could write a book on what it’s like to be married to a chef (“boring” would appear precisely nowhere in said book). For now, I’ll offer a peek into what it’s like to travel with one as your spouse.

One of the first things I learned (and fell in love with) about my husband is that he adores food that tastes good. One day, I will publish the story of the first meal I made for him. Cooking for a chef when you are not a chef yourself is intimidating, but when you are newly dating one, it’s an elite level of pressure. There is a common assumption that chefs only eat fancy things: lettuce picked fresh from their restaurant garden and rushed to their plate, a dinner dish with twenty-four ingredients and a sauce that took two days to prepare, souffle. I have a Betty Crocker Cookbook that my mother used when I was growing up. My husband loves its tuna casserole recipe, complete with crushed potato chip topping. He will, however, also eat those other things I mentioned earlier. He just doesn’t limit himself to things an award-winning chef “should” eat.

If only I’d known that when I cooked him my first meal…

When the Fig Family travels, John and Sondra have made lists and reservations months in advance. We’ve visited food markets in Paris where we’ve eaten some of the world’s best oysters and washed them down with enchanting champagne that we cannot buy in the US. We’ve experienced nose-to-tail cuisine at St. John in London, molecular gastronomy at The Jane in Antwerp, and strange semi-identifiable things from street stalls at the Tokyo Fish Market that were swimming in the sea minutes before. I love food, and I am thrilled to follow John and Sondra anywhere they’re willing to bring me and feed me.

Two things we never pass up in our travels are knife shops and charcuterie. Everything you hear about chefs and their knives is true, plus a bit more. John married me, trusted me to help raise his two children, bought a house with me, we adopted a dog, then five years later he let me have one of his knives so that I wouldn’t have to keep using “regular people” knives. It’s like that.

In addition to using high-quality knives, the team at the girl & the fig cures all charcuterie in-house. The process is extremely labor-intensive, and is only attempted by people who truly love what they do. There are precise measurements of time, weight, temperature, moisture, and it’s all essential to quality and safety. Whenever we pass a charcuterie shop, no matter which country we’re in or language spoken there, we go in. There is a passion that chefs who create charcuterie share that transcends everything.

Travel with a chef is everything you’d imagine, and lots more besides. I’ve lost count of the number of days in which we’ve consumed 10,000 calories. Each. If you want to see a city from a unique perspective, get into places that regular people wistfully pass by in the street, eat and drink the stuff of fantasies, then chef travel is for you. I’ll let you borrow my husband, you just can’t keep him, and do not expect to touch his knives.

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