01 Which train journey has stood out for you so far?
The Hiram Bingham train in Peru. We were served Pisco Sours, got drunk, danced and had a sing-along – my idea of fun.
02 What is the gourmet experience on a train like?
The dishes are localised because the ingredients come from the stations at which the trains stop. How the staff serve soup is beyond me. They’re flung around but there’s no spillage. They just enjoy the challenge; it is in their blood. For example, Christian Bodiguel, the executive head chef on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, has been at it for 31 years.
03 What is a memorable food-related experience outside of the trains?
In Bucharest, Romania, we dined at Lacrimi si Sfinti, owned by political activist Mircea Dinescu. Malnourished and starved from a diet of bread and cabbage for 30 years, during the period of the Iron Curtain, he opened the restaurant serving local fare when the Soviet Union fell – because he needed to make up for those years of going hungry. Lima is one of the culinary capitals of the world and is an interesting city, where the rich and poor rub shoulders. The food is all about multi-grains and potatoes, and there are 2,000 brands of them. Every meal comes with a dramatic array of potato dishes in funny colours like purple and orange.
04 Why do you think train travel is so romantic?
Where else will you sit in a room with Lalique panels and marquetry on the walls, enjoy silver service over a six-course dinner, and see a country to its very core? Trains are the only way to fulfil that yearning for the bygone romantic era.
05 You spent 30 years in the fashion industry before dedicating your career to your true love – food. Why wait three decades?
I have been cooking since seven and cookery was the only subject I got an “A” for in school. Unfortunately, my father was a traditional Chinese man who did not approve of any job not Science-related. Things were different in the 1980s. Now, though, we are accepting of a Michelin-star chef as much a home-cook, so I felt encouraged to make the switch. Besides, good things come to those who wait. Jonathan Phang’s Gourmet Trains Seasons 2 airs on the Asian Food Channel.