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Douglass Williams on the Basque region, slushy drinks, and that trip he took with his mom when he was 12

We caught up with the award-winning chef to talk about all things travel

Douglass Williams in Biarritz, a seaside town on southwestern France’s Basque coast.
Douglass Williams in Biarritz, a seaside town on southwestern France’s Basque coast.

Acclaimed chef Douglass Williams has practiced his craft around the world. And while his culinary skills have been sharpened during his travels, Williams, 35, said learning about different places and cultures has been “inspiring.” In Thailand, for example, he said it was “eye-opening” to see “the ease and simplicity with which the people live. Their culture is so rich and it’s not about money; it’s about people.” Williams, head chef and owner of MIDA in the South End, has been working with Off Their Plate, a nonprofit that provides meals to health care workers, during the pandemic, and said he was excited to begin offering outdoor dining at his Italian eatery. Williams competed on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” in 2018 and was recently named as one of Food & Wine’s top 10 chefs for 2020. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.” Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Williams lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife, Debra, a marketing executive at Citizens Bank, and their 2-year-old twin sons, Raffa and Lev. We caught up with the award-winning chef to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?

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The small towns on both sides [Spain and France] of the Basque region. I was there on my honeymoon, so lots of great memories. But what I was most drawn to is the lifestyle built around the beaches in those small towns. It surprised me, and I was taken aback by the warm and relaxed culture. It reminded me of growing up in the beach towns of Southern Jersey — sun bleached hair, suntans, surfboards, great food, and happy, friendly people.

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?

On vacation and pretty much all the time, I like to drink anything slushy — and of course with rum when on vacation.

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Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

Japan has been on my list for a long time. I was planning to do it years ago to train, but didn’t realize how expensive it was to get there and live there as a young cook, so I decided on Thailand at the time instead. Africa is also on my list. It’s the mother of all continents and is somewhere I’d love to travel to with my family when my twin boys are a bit older. I think it would be an amazing experience for all of us.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

I always take way more shoes than I need, but I never leave home for a trip without a great book and several hats.

Aisle or window?

Window as a child, because I loved looking out at the clouds and daydreaming. Aisle as an adult, because my legs are long now and I like to stretch and get up whenever I like.

Favorite childhood travel memory?

Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. I went there when I was 12 with my mom. It was enlightening. I was obsessed with Colonial times when I was young: the human condition as it relates to slavery, Ben Franklin, and everything surrounding that period. To this day, I still talk with my wife about that trip.

Guilty pleasure when traveling?

For some reason, when I’m on vacation, I like to eat copious amounts of ice cream.

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Best travel tip?

One word: Nexus [a program that allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing when arriving at airports in the US and in Canada].

JULIET PENNINGTON