Jody Adams, the James Beard Award-winning chef and force behind three popular Boston-area restaurants, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Rialto in Harvard Square and her newer hot spots Trade in the Seaport District and the Greek-focused Saloniki near Fenway Park, adores globe-trotting and fund-raising. She’s led several culinary-focused bike tours in Italy and a safari trip in Tanzania.
All of that and she annually participates in the 192-mile Pan-Mass Challenge bike-a-thon to raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In January, she’ll lead another culinary journey to Africa.
Back here in the States, Adams recently announced that she will leave Rialto — where she has been for the last 22 years — in June in order to open a Mediterranean seafood restaurant in the Back Bay. Though our chat with the legendary toque occurred before she dropped the culinary bombshell, we were still able to pick her brain about traveling, underrated Boston restaurants and can’t-forget travel accessories.
How did you get involved with culinary bike tours abroad?
In 2008, a [now-defunct] travel company asked if I was interested in leading a tour in Italy. I was so nervous. That’s when I really learned how to ride a bike. I was determined never to walk or get in the van. I had to take breaks, but I did it. It was such a victory. Other trips followed.
After that first trip, it seems like you caught the cycling bug. What attracted you to it?
It keeps you fit, focused. Now that I do the Pan-Mass Challenge, I have this goal all through the year.
Your next group cooking adventure is Tanzania in January 2017. How did that come about?
The owners of Thomson Safaris are friends and customers. They kept asking me to go see the country and do a safari. It was never something I wanted to do, but once I was there, I was a convert.
On these group trips, who are your fellow guests? Are they fans of your restaurants?
It’s usually customers on my mailing list, friends of the restaurant, old and new friends. The trip is filled with people with a connection to me and food.
What’s the highlight of those tours for you?
I love to go to places I’ve never been before and cook, to respond in the moment. Travel takes you away, but it makes you vulnerable. I’m able to bring people together. I work really hard to make it cohesive, friendly and fun.
What’s the first thing you like to eat when you return to the U.S. from a trip abroad?
A simple grilled cheese sandwich.
Name an underrated Boston/Cambridge restaurant that visitors should try.
One is Café Sushi in Cambridge and another is Sultan’s Kitchen in Boston.
What’s one item you can’t travel without?
My Kindle. I used to have to carry so many books. Also, I always bring [the word game] Bananagrams and peanut M&Ms for the plane.
What destination is on your travel bucket list?
It would have to be India, Nepal and Tibet.