This summer Chef Todd Gray embarked on an adventure that is on my bucket list…a culinary RV trip along the CA coast! One day I will be able to experience this but in the meantime I will just have to live vicariously through him. Upon his return he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his magical journey!
From the seasonally-inspired dishes he creates every day in his award-winning restaurant to his ongoing support for sustainable farming and fishing practices, Chef Todd Gray’s impact on Washington, D.C.’s culinary scene has been immeasurable. A five time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Award he is as widely known for his exquisite cuisine as his effervescent personality and dedication to working with and promoting local and regional purveyors. Together with his wife/business partner Ellen Kassoff Gray, Todd owns and operates one of the East Coast’s premier dining destinations, Equinox Restaurant. Just last month the DC power couple decided to embark on a West Coast culinary adventure. Here is an excerpt of Ellen and Todd talking about their experience:
2014 has been a landmark year for us in more ways than one. In addition to celebrating milestone birthdays (50 for both of us), we also celebrated the 15th anniversary of our beloved Washington DC restaurant, Equinox.
A culinary couple through and through, we have spent the past few decades immersed in the very best this country’s food industry has to offer. We have had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most talented people and incredible organizations in the world. Todd has had the pleasure of cooking for President Barack Obama and the First Lady as they celebrated Mrs. Obama’s birthday and subsequently worked with Mrs. Obama on her Healthy Kids Initiative. We have traveled to the Virgin Islands to participate in the St. Croix Food & Wine Festival alongside chefs like Sam Choy and Tony Castellucci. We’ve partnered with renowned breweries and wineries like Goose Island to create exquisite dining events and tasting menus. At Equinox we have hosted celebrities, politicians and national power players like Bono, LeBron James, Carrie Underwood, Tom Brokaw and Hillary Clinton. In recent years, we proudly founded Washington DC’s original gourmet vegan brunch at the famous Corcoran Gallery of Art. Todd was named to the Inaugural Norwegian Seafood Council US Culinary Board and we traveled to Norway to learn about the country’s sustainable fishing practices.
At this point in our careers (and our lives as foodies) we have been lucky enough to dine at the best and most celebrated restaurants in the world. We decided we wanted to “go off the grid.” The concept was relatively simple: rent an RV and spend 10 days driving along the West Coast searching for culinary gems along the way. Bringing our 14-year-old son, Harrison, with us made it a family affair and that much more meaningful.
Our adventure started in Northern California’s wine country. We flew to Napa, CA where Todd had been asked to participate in Bouchaine Vineyard’s Celebrity Chef Demo Dining Series. The alfresco dining event was held on the property’s idyllic garden deck and featured live entertainment and a custom menu with wine pairings from Bouchaine.
Following the event, we headed to Fremont, CA, hopped into the RV we had rented from RV Adventure USA and hit the road! Over the next week and half we literally ate and drank our way through the West Coast, stopping periodically to “glamp” at pre-determined spots along the way. While our days were filled with great experiences from beginning to end one of the most unforgettable (and delicious) was the time we spent catching, cooking and eating salmon at a fish camp along the coast. Located on an Indian reservation in the tiny town of Klamath, CA this third generation fish camp is the real deal. James Bansemer of Gold River Guides helped us catch fresh salmon, clean it and cook it in a variety of ways. We foraged for ingredients like fresh fennel, which we used to season the fish. An on-site smoker, which was built by the fish camp community, smoked salmon for 36 hours – the result was simply mouthwatering! For our son (a true urban teenager) catching a 14-lb. chinook salmon and then watching his father grill for dinner what he had just caught was a memorable experience. There are a lot of firsts in life and this was definitely one for our family.
1) I have always said that if I won the lottery I would love to “pimp out” an RV and travel the US blogging about fine ding restaurants, dive bars and everything in between. You did the CA coast. After 7 days were you ready to turn in the keys or could you of kept going? We absolutely could have continued and rolled all the way up to Vancouver…maybe on the next trip.
2) I have only traveled by RV once and it was just for 1 night with 3 other people and a dog. It was a lot of fun but it got dirty real fast, was a gas guzzler, and was pretty slow and hard to drive. Had you and your wife traveled by RV before prior to this trip? This was our first time taking an RV “rig” on the road – this type of culinary road trip is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time and now we can check if off our bucket list!
3) I have lived in CA for 14 years now and absolutely love everything about the Golden State. Was the CA coast and it’s cuisine everything you had hoped it would be? The food and spirit in Northern California has always had a special place in our heart. We honeymooned there almost 20 years ago and have returned several time since. The approach and delivery of California cooking played a major role in the style of our restaurant, Equinox, over the years.
4) I absolutely love San Francisco and my mouth still waters at the memory of a homemade pasta I had at Flour + Water several years ago. If you had to go back to just one city you visited on your trip and re-eat something where and what would it be? If we return (and we will for sure) we would head straight to Klamath, CA. The river where much of the fishing in the area takes place is absolutely beautiful! Catching wild Chinook salmon and then grilling it, smoking it and curing it right there is something we would love to do again.
A few other culinary highlights from Chef Gray’s trip:
Boon Fly’s Famous Bacon Bloody Mary in Napa (Russian Vodka, Special Spice Blend, Tomato Juice, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Celery, Salt Rim) It looks a lot like Wade’s version here!
Dungeness Crab at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista in San Francisco.
What are some of your favorite culinary road trip memories?