My Life In Travel: Ken Hom
'I've always dreamt about going on a cruise down the Nile'
Saturday 26 September 2009
First holiday memory?
I never used to go on holiday because it wasn't a tradition in my family. I took my rucksack and came to Europe as a student – I wasn't working, just eating and bumming around when I was about 22. I first came to London about 38 years ago, then to Amsterdam – where I slept in the park – and onto Paris, Lyon and Italy. It was what students with very little money used to do.
Brazil, because it's so warm and beautiful, the people are so nice, it's really tropical and everybody is vibrating. I love going because I don't work there, I just have a good time. My favourite place is Rio, staying at the Copacabana Palace. It's very old fashioned and very comfortable and there aren't too many gadgets. I go to the beach or chill out around the massive pool.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I love Cornwall. They have the best fish and chips there and the scenery is stunning. I love seafood, and Cornish fish is some of the best in the world.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That I really don't know anything. I still discover things and that's what I love about travel, realising how big the world is. I enjoy the sensation of discovery, especially with food – it enriches my life.
Ideal travelling companion?
It has always been my partner because it's important to travel with someone who shares the same values. I also love travelling with old friends – you don't have to say anything, you can just look at each other and laugh. However, some people you should never travel with if you want your friendship to last. I like people who are easy-going and open to suggestion.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I travel for work, so a holiday is not doing very much. I love being on the beach, doing nothing except reading.
Greatest travel luxury?
Travelling at the front of the plane, simply because I hate to arrive tired. I would always pay to upgrade because these days business is quite comfortable – it's worth it.
I haul around tons of books because travelling is the one time I get to catch up on reading. I enjoy anything from non-fiction to historical and social literature and thrillers by James Patterson.
Where has seduced you?
I am going to Egypt next year and I have a feeling I'm going to be seduced by it, because it's somewhere I've dreamt about all my life. I'm going on a cruise down the Nile with some friends. I'm also seduced by places like Thailand and Italy.
Better to travel or arrive?
I do enjoy travelling because I'm very good at chilling out. I have been travelling almost all my life now so I have learnt to be good at it. When I did the food for Cathay Pacific, I had to travel to 35 ports around the world over two years, from Hong Kong to LA.
I now have a regime – I make sure I have lots of materials in case we are delayed so I am never fidgety or bored; and I don't like to rush so I get to the airport in plenty of time. I like travelling in business class, because you get access to a lounge and can relax at the airport.
Worst travel experience?
Touch wood I haven't had anything worse than bumpy rides. For the amount of travel I've done, I've been really lucky.
I wouldn't go back to Morocco, because I found the food too repetitious – two weeks was too long for me. It's very rare that I find myself wanting to eat Italian food – it was a case of enough couscous! I couldn't eat Moroccan food for about two years I was so sick of it.
One in Florida; I was staying there on business. The room reeked of cigarettes – it was like living inside an ashtray.
Besides the Copacabana Palace in Rio, another favourite is The Dorchester in London. I know everybody because I've been staying there for 20 years and most of the staff have worked there that long, or longer. It's also old fashioned but modern at the same time.
I love driving along the road to Positano in Italy and snorkelling in places like Thailand, the Great Barrier Reef or Bora Bora. There are thousands of small fish of all colours, it's stunning.
Best meal abroad?
Some of my favourite meals have been in Italy, simply because the ingredients are so wonderful. I'm going to Sicily for the first time soon and I'm really looking forward to it because I'll be doing a lot of eating.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
I make sure I feel at home. I unpack and lay out all my things to get settled in. Then I like to walk around to get a sense of the place and get to know it.
Probably the Nile. I'm hopefully going to cruise down it in February. I do like cruises, because you don't pack and unpack and yet you see different places every day. I was once asked to cook on the QE2 and I expected to see people with canes and wheelchairs but it was actually much more youthful. I love the gentle rocking you get on ships.
I think it has to be Bangkok because it's so crazy. There's real a mish-mash of great food, spirituality and modernity – it's a bit like a scene from the film Blade Runner.
Sicily and then Shanghai, where I haven't been for a long time. Much of my travels these days is to catch up with friends; it's fun to be able to go and see them all around the world.
Ken Hom, OBE, is chef-consultant to Maison Chin, part of Bandara Hotels and Resorts group in Thailand (bandarahotelsresorts.com)
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