"Always take the most direct route when flying" ... Simon Johnson. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
Simon Johnson loves to journey to the source of his produce, but will never again pack olive oil in his suitcase.
Which was your best holiday?
I have been very privileged to have been on so many great holidays, all of them very different. From travelling down the Nile, to amazing expeditions on Orion cruises as well as visiting the cocoa plantations in the Amazon. The Orion is not your typical cruise ship - it's an expedition ship, which is what I love. Every day you are cruising around amazing places and getting on small Zodiacs, going ashore to trek through an amazing rainforest or doing a dive along the barrier reef on Lady Elliot Island to Stanley Island. There's also the most amazing Aboriginal rock art you'd never see anywhere else. The Orion also has great entertainment at night and the restaurant has great food, with menus designed by Serge Dansereau of Bathers' Pavillion. I was also recently in Altamira, in the Amazon, visiting one of the cocoa plantations with the team from Valrhona, who are also my suppliers. My life is about sourcing great produce, so any time I have the opportunity to see where the raw product comes from, I am keen to go out of my way to learn about the production of all my products.
And the best hotel that you've stayed in?
I love the Copacabana Palace in Rio. It's an exquisite art deco hotel overlooking Copacabana beach. The amazing service, magnificent and relaxing pool area and luxurious and spacious hotel rooms, all make it one of the great hotels of the world.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
My love of food plays pretty much one of the most important parts of all my holidays. I love to go to places where I can be involved in going to the local markets, finding interesting and local produce, and preparing wonderful meals for friends and family. That, to me, is the perfect holiday.
What do you always take with you?
When travelling or flying, I always make sure I have Quies ear plugs as they are the best for cancelling out noise on flights and help you sleep. I like to arrive at my destination rested, so I don't suffer from lack of sleep or jet-lag.
What's your best piece of travel advice?
Always take the most direct route when flying. Forget saving money and doing the "milk run" to get to a destination; airports are not fun and the quicker you get to your destination, the better, rather than being stuck in transit here, there and everywhere.
Where do you want to go next?
Having just ventured to the Amazon, where I was visiting the cocoa plantations with the Valrhona chocolate team for work, I would also love to explore more of South America, including Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is a particular place of interest as I have heard great things about local chocolate production, which is so interesting and exciting to me. The Galapagos is one of those out-of-the-way places that I can't wait to get to and check out the untouched islands and wildlife. I am also very keen to do the Orion expedition to the Kimberleys in Western Australia, which I hear is a trip of a lifetime.
Which was your worst holiday?
The worst holiday I've been on would have to be as a child on our first family camping holiday to Whitianga, on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. It was a five-hour car ride from our home and we arrived in Whitianga to a very ordinary holiday park - by a beautiful beach at least - and then noticed, of course, that a storm had started brewing. We discovered dad had also never pitched a tent. Thankfully we called for help and got the tent put up and secured in the gale-force winds. Later that night, the storm hit and we were drenched. Mum, dad and the four of us children finally decided it was time to head home, so we packed up and left as soon as possible, never to return again.
And your worst experience on holiday?
Being sick when you travel is definitely the worst experience. I had a horrible travel bug when I was travelling down the Nile on a cruise. I ate or drank something that did not agree with me and spent 48 hours feeling miserable, not to mention missing a number of great walks to interesting archaeological sites. Be careful what you eat and drink.
What's the biggest packing mistake you've made?
Packing a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in my suitcase and getting home late, not realising it had broken. I showered and went to bed, only to wake up the following morning to find it had leaked all over the carpet, which then had to be replaced as I could not get the oil out of the sisal.
Which is the worst hotel you've stayed in?
That's an easy one - I really can't stand airport hotels. Having stayed in a few over the years, I avoid them like the plague. Many I've seen are grungy and small rooms. I have, though, had success with Yotels (located in London, the US and Asia) where you stay in the cabins. This is a very convenient option for before or after flights and ideal for connecting flights. They are very clean and decent.
What do you avoid on holiday?
Early flight departures at 3am are no fun at all. Getting up in the middle of the night, it's horrible and you'll only end up exhausted when you arrive at the next destination.
What do you hate about holidays?
I really can't stand airports. The security, the queues and waiting for delayed flights are so tedious and always a nightmare.
As told to Angie Kelly
Providore Simon Johnson runs the cooking school Talk Eat Drink at the Alexandria's Providores Market between March and November annually.