Author: Jocelyn Chen
Seventy flights, two hundred Michelin restaurants…that was about my life in a year before the pandemic.
Want to Do It All Over Again?
The year 2015 kicked off Tastytrip’s first gastronomic tour in Tokyo. Then we went on to add white truffle tour in Italy (which has become our annual activity in search of white truffles with truffle hunters), the Nordic tour, the Basque tour in Spain and many more. My feelings are deep when I think back on how we managed to pull everything through.
With the help of food journalists from other countries, our gastronomic tours have been extended to restaurants and place of origin of ingredients in more than twenty countries. Working alone would never let me accomplish this much, and I feel truly blessed to have worked with so many talented people. After all, what’s luckier than to have a career that pays you, interests you, makes you feel confident in devoting all your passion, and lets you experience the subtleties of good food from different perspectives?
Two great things about doing global gourmet trips:
- Visiting top-notch restaurants around the world and befriending the best chefs.
- Traveling with industry leaders from China. They may be business owners, celebrities, or overseas Chinese.
The knowledge and insights they share with me are sometimes a lot more than I can give back. Some even became great friend-mentors with me.
The trips offer more than just a chance of meeting people and getting to know each other; it produces amazing energy where we laughed together, witness together and learned together. It’s not just the food that nourishes the heart, it’s meeting those living legends that has created so many invaluable memories, memories that I know would stay with me forever.
The audience doesn’t always feel or see the work that goes on behind the scenes. Some restaurants are so difficult to book that we had to keep visiting for years before finally got a booking priority. Being mortal, I’m honestly over the moon when I received invitation to their circle of trust.
I was a food curator during our gourmet trips. Each day was new with challenges, organizing extensive visits to restaurants, conducting intensive exchanges with chefs and researching the origins of ingredients.
We would fly from different cities in different countries to meet at the same place abroad. Before our departure, we would communicate with the restaurants about the dishes, the wine pairing and other details. A lot of attention was paid to making sure that the meaning behind each dish is fully explained and conveyed to the fellow travellers. Of course, in each country we’d invite local food writers to join us for better understanding of the local culture.
At that time, I tended to avoid attending unnecessary dinner parties and unpalatable food when I went back to Shanghai. In contrast to other people, dining out is my job, so I wanted some alone time so I can focus on myself. Besides, slight hunger makes the next meal more delicious, and in the meantime, I seem to develop a sense of detachment from many things in life.
It’s common to hear this – I would like to dine at all the best restaurants in the world, but the truth is, you just can’t have it all. Restaurants are social places and eating good food is an important part of my life.
Before I became a gourmet curator, I’d arrange my own list of restaurants to visit for each year and tick those boxes one by one where I could really concentrate on appreciating culinary treasures. Dining alone is comfortable but dining with others is a blessing.
A restaurant for me means an entertaining experience, whereas many people go for meditation to achieve a state of Zen. For me it doesn’t have to be like that, it’s a matter of doing something with a lot of dedication and commitment.
When you eat delicious food, you are struck by the awe, and you listen to what all the senses have to tell you in that exact moment. For me, there are several times when I enjoyed the sushi so much that I literally felt like in heaven. When I say, that food is my weakness, I mean my love of food is a great strength to some extent (if I may say so).
These two years in China have been a great opportunity to have more in-depth conversations with many of the best chefs in the country. They are extra gains that come along, a present that I may never have again.
Life Now-Ten Years in Shanghai
Before the covid-19, I would fly about the world, organizing and hosting 20-30 cross-country gourmet trips a year. I was almost away from Shanghai for half time of the year. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I really felt settled down, looked at the city in a different way and re-examined our “relationship”.
The first time I came to Shanghai was some twenty years ago, when I stayed at the Peace Hotel in order to get a taste of the city’s famed, avant-garde “Haipai” style.
Then I came to Shanghai for business trip more than ten years ago, and I was fascinated by the amazing changes it had went through like no other place has ever done. I went back to ask my boss if he could send me to work in Shanghai, and he said yes!
Then here I am.
The atmosphere of freedom, of endless possibilities, together with its frenetic dynamism, make the city unique yetsometimes dazzling; you have plenty to live with, but you need to earn it. She is cosmopolitan and inclusive, and it’s just as easy to find people like you with common passion and interest. That’s the great thing about this city, but it’s also easy to get lost amidst its seemingly rosy promises. It’s more like a practicing dojo where you can train your determination to remind yourself who you really are and who you want to become.
Admittedly, I can’t let go of the traveling-around way of life, but in return I had the opportunity to revisit what my life was like way before the traveling.
Every year in Shanghai we see a lot of new things: new industries, new media… a lot of variety. Of course, there have been some surprisingly good new restaurants opening.
It’s nice to be able to focus on writing without having to be constantly out and about. Hopefully, we will be filming restaurant videos all around the world when overseas traveling is back on the agenda.
This year, we are most proud of the fourth anniversary of TastyTrip Talk, our annual event offering an exchange platform for Chinese and Western chefs in China to share insights and spark inspirations. In the future, we hope to invite foreign chefs to give speeches in China. I am extremely proud of our team who have shown great determination and perseverance in making the Talk a huge success despite the difficult time.
A recent change in my life is that I have somewhat become very keen on boxing, believing that exercise makes a person stronger both physically and mentally. It takes time and knowledge to truly appreciate the subtlety of a balanced life, after all there is no point being overly full but physically ill. As the cliché goes, keep active and eat healthy to improve well-being and feel great. Well, health, above all else, is wealth.
Many people worry about missing out on anything. They have everyday packed with a to-do list and hardly stop to enjoy the moment. With the exception of clothes and shoes, I can be confident that I am an expert when it comes to Danshari (to refuse, discard and separate).
- Delete contacts you hardly ever spoken to on a regular basis
- Try to avoid unnecessary dining out
- Only dine with people you know unless it’s work related
- Only eat good food
《Chef’s Table》Season 1_ Francis Mallmann
Discard the meaningless so that life can be surrounded by the things you like!
Would it be a surprise if I say I only eat one meal a day most of the time?
The Chinese terroir has nurtured a rich tapestry of stunning produce, of which the great variety of vegetables are increasingly gaining my affections. But I am not a vegan, I just tend to eat more plant-based food.
I am the kind of person who is willing to spend two or three hours on a meal if time permitted. I still kept this habit of eating one meal a day even when we were doing the trips in Europe. If there’s not the slightest sense of hunger in the stomach, the anticipation for a scrumptious meal is lost.A “serious culinary hunter” does not necessarily make a true gourmet; a little blank space is needed for a higher state of luxury. I could still recall us ending our dinner in Venice, with the group walking into the late midnight like the locals.
One of my acquaintances in the industry once suggested to me that I could include afternoon tea in the trips to “improve” the value for money. For me, this was unthinkable. Going to a restaurant with an empty stomach is a sign of respect for the food and it also allows us to satiate each meal with poise and good manner.
No matter it’s living a full life to seek confirmation of our value, or leaving a blank space to reflect upon our own existence, everyone has a choice.
You don’t need to have “important” events that you have to go to, and don’t force yourself to go if you don’t feel like it. Freedom is about having the right to say no.
Sure thing is, we’ve came a long way and I look forward to a whole new start, as the best is yet to come.