My Life In Travel: Gary Rhodes, chef and broadcaster

'I found fresh gherkins in a market; it blew me away'

First holiday memory?

When I was about five or six, my mother, brother, baby sister and I would go to Winchelsea in Sussex and stay in a caravan. We were a one-parent family so that's all we could afford, but there was something very special about it. We had some family friends who would come with us and who we have kept in touch with ever since.

Best holiday?

I was asked to do a few trips doing cookery demonstrations aboard the QE2 to New York. After my first trip I decided I wanted to take my parents and then travel onwards to Grenada. The QE2 was such an elegant ship with excellent food and service and when we got to New York, we went up the Twin Towers and ate in fantastic restaurants. Then we flew to Grenada and stayed at The Calabash for 10 days. I love Grenada because it doesn't feel commercial and you can have phenomenal experiences like pulling nutmeg and bananas fresh off the trees.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I adore Broadstairs in Kent, for its seaside village feel. There are little alleyways full of architectural beauty. I also love Cornwall to bits.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I was on the QM2 once and we got off to visit Lisbon. I remember walking up a street and saw some cured iberico ham in a shop window. It was about 9.30am and there were a few tables and chairs outside so I sat down and ordered fresh orange juice and coffee and asked for a plate of the ham. As I was eating I saw a huge crate of sardines, so I ordered some. They came grilled, with just a trickle of oil on. It was a culinary sensation. Those moments are what travel is all about for me. You have to take the opportunities to taste great things – a lot of the time you don't have to pay a fortune for them.

Ideal travelling companion?

Marilyn Monroe! Otherwise it'd be my family. We have also got some friends, Alan and Diane, who we often go away with and always have great fun. I also go with my chef friend Wayne and his wife, Kelly – it usually becomes a trip of culinary discovery. We don't like eating in top restaurants; we prefer to find local cafés like a pizzeria called Da Michele in Naples where they only make marinara and margherita pizzas.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

We often go for family holidays to the Côte d'Azur just outside Cannes and what I love doing is getting up in the morning and going on a two-mile walk to the local food market with my boys. I'll buy a slice of terrine and some cured meats and a bit of fish and salad, then take it back to make lunch, via the patisserie where I pick up some pissaladière. I once found fresh gherkins in the market, which blew me away.

Holiday reading?

The last book I read on holiday was Cornucopia: a Gastronomic Tour of Britain by Paul Richardson. It's about an English chap who was living in France and heard about the great revival of British cuisine. He comes back to the UK and goes on a culinary tour of the country. I was reading it in a villa by the pool and came to a section where he slated me, along with a lot of other chefs. It really aggravated me!

Where has seduced you?

South Africa. I went before Christmas for the first time in about seven years and I was seduced by the culinary scene and how it had changed. We went to Cape Town and Franschhoek and ate some sensational food. I found that the young population really didn't want to be associated with the South Africa of old; it was so warm and welcoming.

Better to travel or arrive?

If I could take my wife, I'd love to jump into a Ferrari and go on a three-Michelin-starred restaurant tour of France and northern Italy.

Worst holiday?

A trip to Mauritius. We checked into our penthouse suite which had a swimming pool – however, when we saw it I realised I have a bigger bath at home. It was also the winter season and the wind was unbelievable. It was one of the most expensive and disappointing holidays I've had.

Best hotel?

One&Only Le Saint Géran in the north of Mauritius is incredible. When we arrived, we were told the swimming pool was being refurbished so they upgraded us to an exclusive villa with its own pool. We had about nine members of staff dedicated to us, including two chefs. We went for a walk and when we came back, all our clothes had been ironed. That evening, the chefs set up a table on the beach and grilled fresh lobster for us. It was the most palatial place I've ever been.

Worst hotel?

The Hilton in Cannes. I stayed during the peak season so it wasn't cheap and it wasn't to my taste at all – the room was decorated in shades of pink and orange. I had to wait about two hours for it to be ready too, while drinking stale, burnt coffee.

Best meal abroad?

I was recommended a tiny, backstreet café in Barcelona that looked pretty grim and did nothing except roast chicken and potatoes cooked in the juices of the chicken. My sons refused to eat it, so I tucked into it and it was utterly delicious. We got down to the last piece and as I picked it up, a cockroach ran out from underneath. However, it was the most sensational meal.

Favourite city?

Moscow was a surprise to me. During the day, it is a boring, grey city. In the evening it transforms into one of the most fashionable, trendy, lively and exciting places that you can imagine.

Where next?

I spent a month in northern India and another in China for work and I'd love to go back to both with my wife.

'Gary Rhodes on tomatoes: the Great British Food Revival' is on BBC 2 at 8pm on Thursday 31 March

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