Visiting Belém, Brazil #OnlyInSouthAmerica

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How I love discovering and visiting new places, especially when it involves South America, a region of the world filled with culture, beauty, vast natural interests and a blend of languages and cultures.

This recent excursion would send us to Belém, Brazil for several days of eating and exploring around the entrance to the Amazon. My South American experiences have always centered around Argentina and Uruguay, so checking out Brazil had me exhilarated and giddy, not to mention that I’d be traveling with Aida and Gaby, two of my closest friends.

As guests of TAM Airlines, I was excited to learn more about their destinations, check out their fleet, and experience their business class cabin. But first, I must thank Blacklane Limousine for getting me to LAX in style, and with their app it made booking so effortless. Thanks, guys!

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Belém is the largest city in the state of Pará, located in the north of Brazil. It’s referred to as sitting at the entry gate to the Amazon River. Speaking with tour guides and locals, it became clear that we weren’t near Amazon territory — we were actually in Amazon Territory, a fact that many visitors to the area often ask about. But I could see how you’d reach that conclusion as it’s easy to overlook thanks to Belém’s sprawling urban center and population. However, just a quick drive out of the city quickly puts you amidst fields of low-lying trees that slowly become the jungle before you even notice.  And just like that you are in the Amazon, left with the feeling that you are far away from anything.

Contrasting the city-meets-jungle experience can be a wee bit hard for this photographer to grasp. One second you’re among skyscrapers, the next minute you are in a forest so dense, so thick that is seems downright impenetrable. To truly experience it, we boarded a ferry for a 3-hour ride to the large island of Marajo, known as Ilha De Marajo. Rustic and rich of texture in a way that only sun, sea and river air can affect, it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. One noticeable fact about Marajo: BUFFALO! They wander freely and also do double duty as transportation. They also supply milk for the local regional cheese called Marajoara. Lean and tangy, it so closely resembles a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk than what you might be inclined to think. It’s definitely Latin and Central American in taste and freshness, something I certainly love. Having visited water buffalo in Italy, these Brazilian cousins have a docility and ease I have never experienced. Approachable, friendly, and with distinct personalities,  you still have to be careful when approaching, especially anything with horns this big!

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We even took a ride! I chose the buffalo who was doing his own thing prior to saddling up, a mistake I later learned as he was more interested in exploring the thick brush for snacks than follow the rest of our group to the destination.

A quick riverboat tour allowed for some miraculous selfies on our way to lunch and to visit a local chocolate maker. This house business did it all: they grew the cocoa plant, nurtured it, harvested it, ground it and processed it, delivering a hunk of raw chocolate to chefs and restaurants in the area. All done by hand without the trappings of modern equipment, I imagined I was going to back in time and visiting my ancestors as they made chocolate.

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No, it's not easy grinding cocoa.

No, it’s not easy grinding cocoa.

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Back in Belém, our tour was organized by Paratur, the government-run tourism office for the state of Para. I was looking forward to trying local dishes and various offerings at Ver-o-peso, the largest outdoor market in the region. As much as I love to travel, I have to say that Amazonian ingredients and flavors did make me feel like I was visiting another planet: new, unique, and different to me. In fact, we all struggled a bit with how to share the flavors of Belém with you via a blog post as many things are unique to the area and grown nowhere else. Chalk this one up as a win for true locality and anti-globalization!

Let’s look at some photos!

 

Thanks to  TAM Airlines and Paratur for the adventure that can be found #onlyinsouthamerica

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My Hawaiian Moment: Loco Moco

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Please raise your hand if you love you some Hawaii.

See? That’s an image of every single person raising their hands. Probably both arms, actually.

And we all know why.

As a traveler, there are many places I enjoy visiting throughout the world, and each place has it’s unmistakable, unique quality that makes it a destination. When I think of my travels through Asia, I think of technology and food. Argentina? Wine and culture. And with Hawaii?

It’s One Big Giant Hug.

It’s One Big Giant Hug from your family and your grandmother.

It’s Love. This is the way of Aloha, the concept which transcends a physical state and manner to a way of life, a way of being with yourself and others. You feel it the second you land on any island. It’s in the generosity and smiles of those you encounter, it’s a sparkle in the eye, a loving touch from a local, and a feeling that you are welcomed, cared for, loved. It’s these reasons why we visit Hawaii when we can, and of course having a brother-in-law on the North Shore of Oahu always helps, too! (Hey Ryan!)

Our days spent in Hawaii are like no other, and for this I’m thankful. For starters, I wake up extremely relaxed, a million miles away from my everyday responsibilities. After admiring the view or starting with a run on the beach, I always begin to think about food. And it’s always a casual effort, eating as much local food as possible, and I’m not satisfied unless there’s a plate lunch involved. Or two. Or Four. I’m not keeping track. One thing I always seek out is Loco Moco. While there are many variations, its main components involve rice, a hamburger patty, eggs and brown gravy. Maybe there’s another food so filling and satisfying, but I sure can’t think of it right now.

Like any regional favorite (I’m reminded of my childhood favorite Frito Pie), its origin is debatable, but it’s clear that it’s a Hawaiian original, hands down. Rumor has it that it was first served at Lincoln Grill in Hilo, which is no longer there. Luckily living in Southern California means I can get this dish right up the street from me, but you know what? It’s just not the same. Nothing compares to filling up on this satisfying dish surrounded by locals, great friends, and tons of the Aloha spirit. When I’m on the big island, Blaine’s Drive­In in HIlo is fantastic, and I hear that Cafe 100 does the dish right, including dozens of varieties. Maybe one day I’ll have to work my waythrough all the variations. A guy can dream, right?

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Loco Moco

The beauty of this dish is that nothing needs to be terribly exact. Rice, patties, eggs, gravy. That’s it. If you can cook rice then you’re already there, as patties get fried in a pan with the drippings saved for gravy. Add beef broth to the drippings and season, then create a roux with flour. Too tricky you say? You could always use pre­-made gravy. Fry your eggs. To assemble, top the rice with the meat patty, top with the fried egg and then with gravy. Prepare to be in heaven.

Of course, if you are the type that needs a recipe, these are always good sources:

Food Network Loco Moco Recipe

Cooking Channel Loco Moco Recipe

WikiHow’s Loco Moco, with photos!

And since we’re on the topic of food, I do indeed have favorite spots throughout Hawaii for food, including Poke at Fresh Catch, Malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery, cheese and chocolate from Surfing Goat Dairy, and fish tacos from Coconut’s Fish Cafe. Let’s just say those fish tacos in particular rival anything over here, that’s for sure!

Brought to you by The Hawaiian Islands.

So tell me, where are your favorite places to eat in Hawaii? I’d love to know and start my list for our next visit!

Travel camera gear and what’s in my bag!

Confession: I love when someone asks me what camera gear I travel with. It gives me a chance to geek out and talk cameras, which I can literally do for hours. Hours. It also allows me the opportunity to ask what others carry around and compare notes. I mentioned I could go on for hours, right?

As I was packing this morning for an upcoming trip to South America I thought why not snap a photo and talk about what I’m taking with me? I’ve long been mesmerized with magazine features of what photographers and avid travelers carry in their bags as well as sites like Shotkit. So here’s what I’m taking!

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Cameras
For this trip I’ll be shooting primarily with a Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II. I’ve put these cameras thru the wringer, and they never let me down! I’d love to take my studio set up and shoot medium format with my Phase One 645 IQ180 on this assignment, but because I’ll be in some pretty remote areas and constantly on the go I’ll use something a bit lighter.

Lenses
I’ll be using a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L, and a Canon 50mm f/1.2L. I should be able to cover just about everything with these lenses, from detailed food shots to interiors and landscapes. And on-location portraits made with the 50mm? Oh so beautiful.

Light
I’ll be bringing my Canon 580 EXII Speedflash for any moments where I need to fill in some light. I don’t use flash much but it’s great to have on hand. And so that I may use it off of my camera, I’ll be bringing a pair of Pocket Wizard Plus III which will allow me to fire the flash from across a room or from behind the subject if I’m facing them. Basically wherever.

Power
Lots of extra Canon batteries, an international adapter, and a travel power strip. I always carry a power strip when traveling as so many hotels (and airports) don’t have enough. It always comes in handy. I also never leave home without my duo of Ankor Astro E4 batteries. These suckers will charge an iphone and/or ipad 5 to 6 times on one charge, and having 2 just means I won’t be caught without power.

Memory Cards, Cables, Back Up, Card Reader, Light Meter
All my camera’s memory cards go into my Think Tank wallet, and I carry two 500-gig Seagate USB portable drives as well.  Provided I have enough of a robust wifi signal, I also upload to DF Studio for extra safety. I also use a Lexar Compact Flash reader… it’s fast! Oh, and that orange cable from Tether Tools allows me to download images from my camera to my laptop or shoot tethered. I always carry it with me! And I’ll be taking my Sekonic L-358 Light Meter so that I can get accurate and proper exposures as well as balancing flash with available light.

Extra Cameras
For those moments where lugging around a big dSLR might not be ideal, I’ll shoot with the Sigma dp2 Quattro. Its unusual design is a joy to handle, and the Foveon sense always gives me fantastic images! This camera is on loan from my friends at Sigma, I promise to keep it safe!

Because there will be live updates of my trip and lots of hashtagging happening, I’ll be shooting with an iphone 5S and 6 plus. I purchased additional lenses from Phocus (it’s that camera-looking iphone case next to the phone) that will allow me to get some telephoto and macro action while out and about. And let me say this: those lenses make for some beautiful images! Go iPhone! Go Phocus!

Oh, and I’ll be using VSCO Cam and Snapseed to edit on my phone and a small remote to trigger the shutter for those very important selfies with my travel mates :)

Color Card
Color is always so important to me, so I’ll be using a very small little portable grey/color card that I can keep in my pocket for proper color balancing. I’ll be shooting lots of food, tropical fruits and vegetables, beaches and foliage so this will definitely help me get accurate color.

Bags
All of this stuff goes into my Think Tank Airport International V 2.0 bag. It’s durable, compact, gives my arms a break, and allows me to slip in my laptop, as well. I love this bag! And those red things in the upper right? Those are Think Tanks’ Red Whips, which make cable management (and life in general!) so much more organized! Everyone around me LAUGHS AT ME because I carry them around EVERYWHERE! But I can’t help it. They are fantastic!

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At the end of every day I download images to my Macbook Pro and do basic edits in Capture One. I also carry a Moleskine notebook and tons of Pilot G-Tec C4 pens in 0.4. Ok, am I obsessed and a bit picky about writing instruments? You bet! Oh, and all the little cables for everything go in their own bag so I didn’t show you, thankyouverymuch.

Also Not Shown…
You should really have insurance for your gear and any necessary carnets. I cannot stress this enough! Insurance, people!

Note: I’d love to ask you what you carry with you as you travel, but I’m currently having issues with comments as I move to a new set-up here. As always, you can reach me via twitter any time if you have questions or just wanna chat!

Workshops at Gulf Photo Plus 2014 in Dubai!

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My feeble attempts at putting words together will not convey the excitement bursting from inside me regarding this announcement. I am joining several world-class photographers and instructors this year at one of the most preeminent photography festivals ever offered. And folks, this makes me giddy!

Next month I’ll be leading a few food photography related workshops and talks at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, and my activities also happen to coincide with the Dubai Food Festival. I’m doubly excited about this!

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On March 7th, I’ll be speaking about creating delicious images with your smartphone. This is going to be so much fun for me as I’m never without my iphone, and working within the limitations of this technology can actually extremely liberating.

On March 7th, I’ll be takin’ it back to my roots and discussing writing, food photography, and blogging in this talk titled “All About You: Great Writing and Food Photography For Bloggers”.

On March 9th and 10th, I’ll be leading an in-depth, 2 day food photography workshop that is limited to 12 participants only. This is going to be intense, packed with hands-on activity and information and we are gonna work. I mean that! The level of festival attendees blows my mind and I know I’ll get as much out of it as I put in.

Also — and I’m not gonna lie — I’m a bit starstruck when I check out the list of photographers teaching workshops at GPP 2014. Zack Arias, Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, Joe McNally, Steve Simon, just to name a few. I’m thrilled to meet everyone!

Visit Gulf Photo Plus’ Festival 2014 page for all the details and if you are planning on attending any of my workshops please do let me know! I can’t wait to meet you!

And check out Dubai Food Festival, too!

GPP2014 Dubai | A Week To Remember! from gulf photo plus on Vimeo.

A Quick NYC Trip

1475995_10152113122139510_946893226_nHappy holidays! We just returned from a week in chilly NYC, and let me just tell you what a fantastic time we had. Packed with food, friends, some work, more food, and even more friends, it was the best way to end the year and see all the pretty Christmas lights all over town.

We were in town for some work, a few meetings, a presentation, a radio show, and to check out the various prop houses and meet a few ceramacists along the way. I think I came back a few pounds heavier, and shopping damage was done. But put a beautiful handmade bowl in front of me and I cannot say no. But more on that later.

Armed with instagram, I took tons of photos. Let’s jump in, shall we?

 

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We arrived just in time to see the sun going down across the skyline from our view at the NoMad Hotel. And yes, you should stay there if visiting New York. It’s absolutely lovely.

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Monday we arrived to Good Light Studios bright and early. I can’t talk about the project we were working on and all the things involved, but I can show you this space. Soft, bright, gorgeous light that was diffused by snow flakes. Mother Nature was looking out for us!

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I ran with prop stylist Nidia Cueva to a few prop houses along the way and snapped some photos. As you might know, we have quite few props ourselves and it’s always great to see other prop houses and their magnificent selections. Our first stop was Good Light Props, and it was as amazing as I imagined.

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Back at the studio, sometimes a floor is a beautiful surface.

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Monday night we headed to Brooklyn to meet up with the delightful Grace Bonney of Design Sponge and her new wife Julia Turshen. That’s right, Grace and Julia are newlyweds and while I’ve know for a bit it has only been recently announced to the world! So much love, so much happiness and meeting Julia was a dream come true for me! We were there to record a radio show with Grace and Julia and my friend Kristina Gill, also in town from Rome. Grace’s show is called After The Jump and you can listen to it here. We talk about food, instagram, and pinterest, it was a blast! Afterwards I inhaled SOME OF THE BEST PIZZA IN MY ENTIRE LIFE at Roberta’s. Oh holy smokes it was delicious.

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Tuesday we woke up to light snow as we headed back to the studio.

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And then there was that view.

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I made a quick Okra Tree.

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On Wednesday I toured a prop house that exists deep down in a New York city basement. And that’s all I can say about it right now. It’s top secret. Sorta. Maybe later. However, I can show you one surface I found that made me weep with joy.

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Some various props on THAT SURFACE.  Yes oh yes.

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We also stopped by Prop Workshop, located on West 25th street. Can I just tell you how I wanted to stay there forever? Between beautiful props and the surface library, you really had to pull me away. Plus we were able to purchase new ceramic pieces from the owner Loren Simons who has started a new line with her daughter Aliza called Henry Street Studio. Beautiful stuff, can’t wait to get it home and start using it in photos!

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Then it was off to Mud Australia in Soho to visit with Shelley Simpson, Mud’s creator. She was in from Sydney and we were so lucky to be able to spend some time with her.  PLEASE don’t even get me started about my Mud collection.

But what did we eat?

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Sometimes there’s nothing better than a lobster roll and a glass of bubbles. Oh, and some Ipswich clams and some oysters and another glass of bubbles.

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Momofuku’s Bo Ssam lived up to its hype in EVERY.SINGLE.WAY.  It was the best way to celebrate the end of a great week and also Adam’s birthday. What a magical evening! Oh, and there were corn cookies (my fave!)

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Our last day was spent walking through the park and heading to ABC Carpet and Home with a quick trip to Shake Shack for a burger. And whatever you do, please don’t ask me to engage in the East Vs West debate of Shake Shack and In-N-Out. I must remain diplomatic about the whole thing. Perhaps one day you can shake the answer out of me.

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This spice display at ABC Carpet and Home was exquisite.

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This coffee and tea set is everythang and all that. So shiny.

 

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We also picked up some beautiful ceramics from our new friend, Marité Acosta. A chef, food stylist and potter, everything she does is lovely. And she’s so wonderful. A new lifelong friend, this Marité. We love you.

Dear NYC: Thank you for such a wonderful week. DP, thank you for being you. You make the world a better place.

Links and info for everything above!

Good Light Studio
ABC Carpet and Home
The NoMad Hotel
Henry Street Studio
Ed’s Lobster Bar
Prop Workshop
Mud Australia
Marité Acosta
Nidia Cueva



Santa Barbara Wine Tasting at Foley Food & Wine Society at Bacara

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A few weeks ago I jumped in the car with my wonderful other half and our best friends Gaby and Thomas and headed to Santa Barbara for a very quick weekend getaway. Or maybe it was a day-and-a-half getaway, which at any rate is easy to do when you live in Los Angeles. We were heading to Bacara Resort & Spa to sip wine, check out the resort, and experience their new Foley Food and Wine Society Tasting Room, located on the property. I’m pretty sure heaven is this: a gorgeous resort, sunshine, a spa, and a world-class tasting room all on property. And did I mention the fantastic food, too? Yep. That’s there, too.

After arriving and toasting with a bottle of sparkling rosé, we walked around Bacara’s 77 acres, taking in classic California coastal views and snapping photos before heading to the newly opened Foley Food and Wine Society Tasting Room. A new concept in wine tasting, the space features wines from Bill Foley’s portfolio which includes Kuleto Estate, Chalk Hill Estate, Sebastiani and Lancaster Estate. It was a fantastic afternoon of great wines with great friends.

We ended our day with a fantastic dinner at Bacara’s Miro restaurant, headed by Chef Johan Denizot. I’m going to be completely honest with you here: sometimes hotel restaurants are, well, hotel restaurants. This is not one of those places. It was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had lately, and I’ll go so far as to say the sweetbreads on the menu were the best I’ve had. It was a stellar meal from beginning to end, and I’d hop back in a second to dine there again. Everything was fantastic. This is a destination.

Now it’s photo time!

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These two: my life.  Even with Gaby’s Fashion Blogger What-I-Wore-Today pose.

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A special thanks to Bacara Resort & Spa for hosting us, and to the staff at The Foley Food & Wine Society for such superb service. Please read more about them here. Also, to Jenna Galloway at The Barn Group for being so Jennaful. We adore you.

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Four Seasons Maui and an experience of a lifetime

If you know me, you know I’m not really spontaneous. Not that I don’t want to be, it’s just, err, um, sometimes responsibilities take over. Or I let them, rather. So sitting around one night and flipping through a few friends’ instagram feeds, I turned to Adam (who just happened to be scrolling insta as well) and said “Let’s go to Hawaii.”

We had just celebrated 10 years together, and all the cliches apply: where did the time go? could it really be TEN years? how does it feel like 3 months ago? I suppose those are all great signs, and while we previously celebrated the event with a fantastic evening out, we needed something else. Something warm, tropical, and far away. After a few clicks on the laptops, we threw caution to the wind and were Maui bound.

It had been about 15 years since my last visit to Maui and I was excited to experience it again. Having worked with Four Seasons in the past, it was a natural that we’d book our stay at Four Seasons Maui, and my mind is still blown by the levels of service we received while there. I realize I tend to speak in hyperbole, but this experience was one of the best of our lives.

First, let’s talk about the property, specifically the views.

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Can you believe it?

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This is the view from the serenity pool. And yes, we managed to do our fair share of lounging around here, peppered with a little swimming up to the bar along with dunking our heads underwater to hear the music. As in, yes-there-is-music-underwater. Pretty amazing. Also amazing? The Missoni-designed cabanas.

The rest of the hotel is simply stunning. Expansive open air corridors comprise the main building, with lush greenery and artwork at every step. In the center is the main pool, one of three.

But man, something about that serenity pool. And the service. It must’ve been the mists of water and cooling cucumbers that are brought to you as you recline.

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Ok, so enough relaxing already!

Four Seasons graciously offered to plan a few culinary tours for us during our stay, so we joined Executive Chef Nicholas Porreca and Crissa Hiranga, Marketing and Public Relations of Four Seasons, on a day of sightseeing and exploration. With a strong and vibrant local food scene, it was nothing short of fantastic to see first hand what’s happening on the island to promote good food.

Our first stop was Kihei Elementary School to check out the garden from Grow Some Good, a non-profit community program that creates hands-on experiences for kids by teaching them how to grow food. Of course it’s so much more than just learning how to plant a carrot, as the students learn about nutrition, cooperation, food sources, history, science and agriculture. On our morning visit, kindergarten kids were learning about watermelons and planting seeds. I can’t even tell you how adorable it was watching co-founder Kirk Surry interact with the inquisitive students in the garden.

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After the school we stopped by Surfing Goat Dairy, located on the slopes of the Haleakala Crater in lower Kula. We sampled their delicious goat cheeses (which are also served at Four Seasons), but it was the goats that stole my heart.

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Friendly, playful, sweet and loving, they are all hand-raised from birth and treated with the utmost care. I wanted to sneak one home so badly. Adam said no. So I ate more cheese.

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Next we drove further upland to Waipoli Hydroponic Farm and immediately noticed a the drastic climate difference. Cool, foggy, wet, this garden grows lettuces and greens that are pristinely perfect. What’s grown here ends up on the tables of many Maui restaurants, and I can say they’re delicious. That’s Chef Nicholas Porreca of The Four Seasons looking over lettuce that is soon to be his.

After Waipoli Hydroponic Farm we headed to Alli Kula Lavender Farm for a quick tour through the terraced garden that ended with tea and a lavender scone, naturally. The views were breathtaking, and I don’t need to tell you how wonderfully fragrant the terraced gardens were. Something else I was excited to learn was that there are dozens and dozens of varieties of lavender. I had no idea!

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Our last stop was to see David Fitch at Malama Farm on Maui’s North Shore. They are Hawaii’s first providers of 100% Berkshire Pork, also known as Kurobuta. I had heard Malama Farm was doing great things and to also be prepared to see something unlike any other pig farm I’ve seen. Let’s just say that was an understatement.

This is it.

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These pigs are born and raised here, lush pastures included. Once they’ve grazed all they can they’re moved to another area that’s had time to renew and regrow, minimizing the impact on the land.  Amazingly serene pigs in a setting full of air and light, Malawa is creating a new standard for humane livestock farming that has to be seen to be believed.

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After a day of running around and discovering so many things about Maui’s food scene, we wrapped up our stay with an amazing sunset dinner from Chef NIcholas Porreca that was tailored to some of our favorite flavors. The meal, the sunset, the service, and the 10-year celebration was perfect. PERFECT. More on that later!

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I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

A very special thanks to my friends at Four Seasons Maui, and also to Jane Corrigan of Four Seasons Costa Rica. Also many thanks to the farmers and growers and the delightful crew at Ali‘i Kula!

Full disclosure: Ain’t nuthin’ to disclose about this post. Accommodations and airfare were paid for by author.

Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly Campaign. What a day!

I’ve just returned from one extremely packed trip in San Francisco where I was working with the fine folks at Marriott Hotels as they kicked off their Travel Brilliantly Campaign. You can read more about it in my previous post as well as on their main site, where you can also submit your most innovative travel ideas to Marriott. They are truly re-imagining the future of travel and you can be a part of it!

Returning to one of my favorite places (and a city where I lived for 4 years), I joined my fellow hosts Shira Lazar, Cass LaValle and Stefanie Michaels for a day of fun, exploration, food, and adventure. Emphasis on adventure, but more on that in just a few.

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Using Marriott’s new Mobile Check In app, I was able to check into my room quite easily. Sidenote: I LOVE PEOPLE. I really do. And I love meeting folks. I’m happy to introduce myself when I arrive anywhere, so my love of this electronic feature doesn’t signal the ability to avoid interaction. It’s just, well, after traveling, sometimes you just want to get to your room as quickly as possible, right?

Nestled comfortably on the 21st floor of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis with a jaw-dropping view of downtown, I was so happy to see the little nibbles waiting for me on my desk.

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Cheese? Fruit? Crackers? Who told you those are my favorite snacks? Thank you! Also, putting two ripe, fragrant, COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY PERFECT PEACHES from Frog Hollow Farms in my room? Thank you. They were gone in 4 seconds.

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After a lovely dinner that night at AQ, it was off to bed for my day of adventure.

 

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Our morning began with breakfast and a presentation from Peggy Roe, Vice President of Global Operations Services. Titled “Future Of Meetings,” we learned about Marriott’s Workspace on Demand and Workspring programs which incorporate new ways of using meeting spaces. Key items that interested me were the focus on natural light and good food when it comes to work meetings. Peggy’s presentation also included images of newly designed bright, accessible, and cheerful meeting rooms that say goodbye to the stuffy, boring, energy-zapping conference rooms of the past. Thank goodness.

And the breakfast? Heck yea.

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After our meeting we met up with Matthew Hearns, community manager for Uber. Are you an Uber user? Well, you should be. It’s a phenomenal way to get around. And get around we did, thanks to Matt and Uber!

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We made our way to the Path Offices, but first: the view from their office.

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At Path, the private social network that limits your contacts to 150 people only, we met with Matt Van Horn and discussed Path’s community, its users, new features and the company philosophy. It was great to see it all in action.

 

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After Path we Ubered it on over to Union Square for our next activity. Hosted by Adventure Girl Stefanie Michaels, we drove GoCars from downtown to the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not gonna lie: I was terrified of the thought of zipping in and out of traffic on the San Francisco streets in a go kart, but my worries disappeared once we began. It was such an amazing way to see San Francisco, and my carpooling companion Cass LaValle kept me in great company.

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After our driving adventure, we headed to the Ferry Building for lunch at Chef Traci Des Jardin’s Mijita for a spectacular lunch. Famished and chilled, we inhaled bowls of guacamole, watermelon aqua fresca, albondigas, tortas, and tacos with a few margaritas thrown in for good measure. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time, instantly taking me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Thank you, Traci!

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For our last adventure, hosted by Cass LaValle of coco + kelley, we headed to South San Francisco to visit Studio Choo, the floral studio of Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo. I wasbeyond thrilled to visit as I love their book The Flower Recipe Book (I should have brought my copy to be signed, darnit!) and could have spent all afternoon in their space. We all tried our hand at the Studio Choo style of arrangement, well, everyone but me as I was too busy running around snapping photos. But that’s ok, I was happy to stand out of the way and let my traveling partners create magic with flowers.

 

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After heading back to our hotel rooms for a quick second, we made our way to the 39th floor for Marriott’s interactive cocktail party. The view from The View? Unbelievable.

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After pulling myself away from the windows, it was time to enjoy the party. It was an energetic evening of innovation as guests were able to design their own hotel guest room layouts on an interactive table, test four new banquet chairs and vote on their favorite, the winner could be rolled out and implemented in Marriott Hotels’ properties throughout the world. We learned all about the Travel Brilliantly campaign from Matthew Carroll, Vice President of Global Brand Management. Sidenote: Am I the only one who noticed that all our meetings today were with “Matthews?”

I was so happy to see friends and familiar faces, including my dear friends Anita, Michael, Tracy and Mika. Signature cocktails were shared, along with delicious passed appetizers created by David Hollands, Marriott’s Executive Chef. All local, all seasonal, and all delicious. Delicious enough for me to ask if I could smuggle some of Chef David’s arancini back to my room after the party, where I sat in bed and ate them all, yesIdidthankyouverymuch.

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Thanks to Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly campaign for allowing us to go beyond the 4 walls of a hotel and experience our many adventures brilliantly.  I’m thrilled to see what’s around the corner and experience all the new initiatives, and I thank Marriott for inviting me along!

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Don’t forget to visit Travel Brilliantly to submit your own game-changing ideas. Thanks to my co-hosts and to Marriott Hotels for bringing me along! Full disclosure: Accommodations and events provided by Marriott Hotels. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly Campaign

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Over the past 3 years, I’ve visited 11 countries, over 150 cities, been on the road 326 days (give or take), and covered more than a quarter of a million miles. And in all those days of travel I’ve encountered dozens of hotels, experiencing all sorts of highs and lows along the way.  I’ve even created a mental checklist of things I’d love to see, fix, change or incorporate.

When Marriott Hotels asked if I’d be interested in joining them in participating on their Travel Brilliantly campaign, it took me all of 2 seconds to answer. Anyone who dares to re-imagine the future of travel only needs to ask me once!

So what’s all this about, anyway? Simply stated, Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly is a transformative way for the next generation traveler to inspire, create, and connect, no matter if they’re traveling for work, pleasure, or both (as I often find myself doing). It’s a campaign that reaches their customer where we exist — online and through social media — and introduces us to a brand spanking new website, an updated logo (I love it), and the opportunity to affect change by weighing in and sharing ideas on how we travel and use space.

What excites me most about the Travel Brilliantly campaign is that food has not been forgotten. It’s one of the key aspects of transformation, and Marriott has been taking guests’ insight into dining and incorporating that into their hotels. Personally, I’m super thrilled to experience the Travel Brilliantly campaign through the lens of food.

Of course, they do a much better job explaining their new ideas and campaign and you should head over to Travel Brilliantly to experience it all. On the website you’ll also learn that Marriott is listening; you’ll be able to submit your travel ideas for a chance to travel and work with them.

This week I’ll be heading to San Francisco with Shira Lazar of What’s Trending, Cassandra LaValle of Coco+Kelley, and Stefanie Michaels of Adventure Girl to collaborate with Marriott and one another to re-imagine the future of travel. We’ll all be hosting an activity (mine is food, of course!) that will take us beyond the four walls of a hotel, experiencing brilliant travel in the areas of design, adventure travel, culinary, technology and more. And there’s a party, but more on that soon :)

Of course I’d love it if you came along, you can follow me through Twitter and instagram @MattArmendariz and Facebook and make sure to follow the fun and join the conversation with my other hosts via @Marriott, #TravelBrilliantly.

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Flying the Qantas A380: An Interview with Chef Neil Perry

Image courtesy of Qantas Airways

Rosemary Lavosh Canapés with Eggplant Dip. Thai style Larb with Squid, Shallots, Galangal and Lime Dressing. Confit Duck Cassoulet with White Beans and Sausage. Rack of Lamb with Pearl Barley, Cauliflower Puree and Harissa. These are not the offerings of your latest local fine dining establishment but menu items for Neil Perry’s Qantas International Inflight Dining. And while the discussion of airplane food usually leaves so much to be desired, there’s no sense of irony in this program: it’s robust, delicious, and extremely ambitious. I was lucky enough to spent a few minutes asking Australia’s beloved chef how he brings quality ingredients and Australia’s best to diners at 36,000 feet in the air.

Matt: In-flight diners are treated to a Rockpool-designed meal on Qantas flights in first and business class. Have you ever included items that might veer away from this and come from your travels around the globe or say Spice Temple directly?

Chef Perry: Absolutely – I travel a lot and am constantly inspired by the food everywhere I go. That said, nothing would get a slot on a Qantas menu if it was not Rockpool style in terms of quality.  Some of our Rockpool dishes have been translated to work in the sky. Travel is the greatest gift – it is my single greatest source of inspiration for my menus for Qantas and in all my restaurants.

Matt: I’ve read that our palates are affected by altitude and flying conditions. Has this had any affect on how you prepare a menu for in-flight dining?

Chef Perry: Yes, we are constantly doing checks from the ground to mid air and beyond to ensure that the levels of taste are consistent.  If it tastes good on the ground it will taste good in sky.

Matt: What have travelers really responded to? Is there a single menu item that works well?

Chef Perry: The classic steak sandwich has become something of a signature dish in the sky – I’m not sure we can ever take it off the refreshment menu. For the most part though, our customers enjoy quality, unfussy food – the best produce cooked simply and beautifully, as is the Rockpool way.

Matt: Because menus are created on two different continents, how does one ensure quality control?

Chef Perry: The Rockpool Consulting group was created to help us control just this. I have a committed team of food professionals who create the menus, test the menus and spend a huge amount of their year travelling to the catering centres both domestically and internationally to ensure the quality of our product is both excellent and consistent across the board.This also carries through to service inflight where we consult in both business and first class.

Thank you Chef!