In preparation of Cho77, the noodle bar ChoLon chef and co-owner Lon Symensma will debut this winter, he and chef de cuisine Ryan Gorby are eating their way across Southeast Asia. This blog series, written by Symensma, serves as a travelogue of the 12-day trip.

September 29, 2014: Saigon

Chef Ryan Gorby, who will lead the kitchen at Cho77 when it opens this winter, is with me right now on a trip to Southeast Asia. We’re hitting five cities in 12 days, looking for inspiration for the new menu, the interior, and the overall guest experience.

We’ve been in Saigon for the past three days and we went to ChoLon market to buy various things for Cho77 including chopsticks, bowls, serving pieces, baskets, and art. ChoLon is a Chinese-influenced section of Ho Chi Minh City. It lies on the west bank of the Saigon River. The Vietnamese name ChoLon literally means “Big Market.”

On our first night in Saigon we ate a huge meal that started with a dish made from goat brains, which have a nice creamy texture. We tried tamarind crab which had a perfect balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet. Then we had caramel pork and pomelo salad—we’re hoping to play with both of these traditional Vietnamese dishes at Cho77.

October 2, 2014: Kuala Lumpur

With so much to see, hear, and taste, it’s difficult to retain all of the things that are inspiring Ryan and me. We’ve got lists of dishes we want to work on for Cho77, pictures of plating techniques and decorating ideas, and new ingredients to work with.

On our fourth day of the trip we headed to Kuala Lumpur to eat (of course) and to visit chef Thomas Griffiths, a mentor of mine from the Culinary Institute of America. Griffiths is a Certified Master Chef (there are only about 70 in the United States) and the global vice president for Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute. He’s responsible for managing more than 20 chefs working to increase Campbell’s culinary presence worldwide.

October 4, 2014: Penang

We arrived in Penang from Kuala Lumpur and my friend Bee Yinn Low, a well known food blogger who writes the Rasa Malaysia blog, picked us up at 7 a.m. We immediately started eating—there was no time to lose. With a mix of Chinese, Malay, Middle Eastern, and Indian flavors, Penang is by far the best food island in the world. The food in Malaysia is amazing. Ryan and I are pulling a lot of inspiration from this country. Next stop: Thailand!

October 8, 2014: Thailand

Ryan and I are traveling around Koh Samui, a small island off Thailand’s east coast. We’ve been eating a ton of noodles, including several versions of khao soi. The dish has wet noodles and then fried, dry noodles on top and is served with a curry broth. As one of our favorite noodle dishes, Ryan and I agree that we must have a version of khao soi on the new menu at Cho77.

We are off to Singapore tomorrow. It’s the last stop on our trip before we head back to Denver. I’m excited to give a lecture to the CIA Singapore students and see our former interns from ChoLon.

October 12: Singapore

Singapore is the best food city in the world. In my opinion, it’s even better than NYC and I lived there for 10 years. Ryan and I hung out with two of our old ChoLon interns from the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] campus in Singapore. We also spent the day with Eve Felder who runs the CIA in Singapore and is an old instructor of mine from CIA New York. She took us on a food tour and I gave a lecture to about 40 of the students on campus.