CHEF LESLIE DURSO
Growing up in a large, food-loving Italian family in San Diego California, it wasn’t surprising that Leslie Durso gravitated towards culinary excellence and became a world-renowned chef. What is surprising is that from the tender age of eight, she disliked the taste of meat and opted for a plant-based diet. “I remember feeling sad watching my dad fishing,” recalls Leslie, who now divides her time between California and Mexico creating sumptuous vegan programs for Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. “But my decision forced me to spend more time in the kitchen. My mom let me pick any vegetable I wanted and we tried different ways to cook it. We made salads, rolled out pasta; it was a lovely bonding experience.”
This early dive into experimenting is what drives Leslie to push the boundaries of what most people normally view as a limited diet. Believing in the possibilities of the world’s 25,000 edible plants well before veganism became trendy, Leslie’s lemon pistachio pesto pasta, artichoke bruschetta and mint chocolate ice-cream cake, among others, are bursting with flavor, healthy ingredients and color. In her quest to help build vegan communities and inspire healthier lifestyle choices, Leslie travels the world cooking and teaching. She’s always excited to discover new ingredients and learn how local cultures use them. On her website, Leslie lists dozens of restaurants around the world offering sumptuous vegan delicacies. But three cities remain memorable, stimulating more than just the taste buds and offering the totality of an incredible food and travel experience:
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
Leslie loves the kaleidoscope of flavors in Thai cooking, where meals are cooked with warmth and love.
Favorite dining experience: “Small restaurants with two folding tables, a burner, two pots and a smiling woman who’ll ask you what you feel like eating. Eating out in Chiang Mai isn’t just about ordering food and leaving; you must expect it to be a long experience.”
What a first-time visitor shouldn’t miss: “The historic temples are amazing and there are loads of them to visit.”
What she loves doing there: “A walk in the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary run by a woman called Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, and where the elephants aren’t exploited.”
With an abundance of relatives on the Amalfi Coast, Leslie’s annual visits to Ravello feels like a return home. She also loves renting a villa and hosting female-only, plant-based retreats.
Favorite dining experience: “There’s nothing better than making homemade pasta and using local ingredients like tomatoes, lemons and homegrown olive oil.”
What a first-time visitor shouldn’t miss: “A visit to the Piazza where you drink rosé and stalk the locals. An Amalfi coast boat ride is another must.”
What she loves doing there: “Hiking the Path of the Gods and inhaling the breathtaking scenery, then taking 2000+ steps down to Positano.”
Leslie believes Hong Kong to be one of the world’s most diverse cities, dynamic and vibrant, with luxury restaurants sitting alongside many, under-the-radar gems.
Favorite dining experience: “Interestingly, the restaurant, Gaylord, offered up the best Indian food I’d ever had.their menu does change often, however.”
What a first-time visitor shouldn’t miss: “A cruise around the harbor, especially at night when the spectacular dancing light show is on.”
What she loves doing there: “Just walking the city; it’s so full of energy. And I love making a city feel familiar.”
To keep up with her globe-trotting tendencies, Leslie is grateful to be traveling with her Q2. Although she’s always packed in a manner that prepares her for any surprise, she found The Q2 takes that to another level. “Ebby Rane has literally thought of everything,” Leslie says. “I couldn’t believe on my recent trip to New York, in the winter no less, I was able to pack everything I needed. Now, instead of throwing my jewelry anywhere in my suitcase, it’s got its own little carrying case. I’ve received so many compliments about my Q2.” To learn more about Leslie Durso, visit her website: lesliedurso.com
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