WASHING DISHES AT A COUNTRY club as a teenager inspired David Belknap’s love of cooking. In order to pursue his dream, he spent five years working for different chefs before becoming sous chef at K2U in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He’s come home with his current position as executive chef at AC Hotel Columbus Dublin’s Spanish-inspired rooftop lounge and restaurant, VASO.
This isn’t his first hotel restaurant foray. After graduating as valedictorian from Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, he joined the team at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, then ventured to Puerto Rico; Denver; and Naples, Florida, before landing a dream job working under Thomas Keller at the 3-Michelin-starred PerSe. After his own NYC venture, L&W Oyster Co., he moved to Mexico. Home called to him, and he relocated to Columbus to raise a family and bring his culinary excellence to AC Hotel Columbus Dublin.
WHICH DESTINATIONS INSPIRED YOU, AND HOW HAS THAT INSPIRATION TRANSLATED INTO YOUR CULINARY CONCEPTS? Every destination has inspired me and can be seen at least in some small part of VASO’s cuisine. It’s not always recreating a dish you had before but more so incorporating the flavors and ingredients that travel with you. For example, lemongrass, kafir lime and fish sauce from Thailand, or plantains, pigeon peas and tamarind from Puerto Rico. All the flavor memories just tumble around in your mind and can end up being a truly miraculous dish without any particular lineage behind it. My wife is Mexican and believes more in tradition and heritage, while I tend to pair ingredients regardless of origin.
WHOM DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR CULINARY HERO? Thomas Keller — he, like many of us, started at the bottom and worked his way to greatness, but he didn’t make it without his fair share of failures, either. He’s had his challenges, but through steady and persistent determination, he continues to be a pillar of our industry.
WHAT ONE PERSON MOST INFLUENCED YOUR COOKING STYLE? Everyone you work with has an impact; but if I had to choose one, I would say my wife, Alexandra. When we first met 13 years ago, she taught me the art of Mexican cuisine; and two years ago, when we were living in Playa del Carmen, we were doing cooking classes and catering events together. You’ll notice a lot of my cuisine has Mexican and Latin American undertones. She also keeps me in check when I take too much creative freedom with a dish.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOD CITY? New York City, of course. It has everything you could ever want — and usually an entire neighborhood of it. Such a diverse number of people living in New York makes it a mecca for culinary exploration, not to mention the insanely talented, Michelin star-trained chefs working around the city. We all spend years in the fine-dining world but inevitably branch off to explore our own styles. That gives rise to these small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants putting out Michelin-quality food without all the pomp and circumstance.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE NEXT BIG TREND ON THE FOOD SCENE WILL BE? Interactive cooking will make a comeback. The days of sharing an expensive pot of fondue may have fizzled, but we still see huge interest in people taking part in the dinner production, like tableside service where things are prepared in front of you but outside of the kitchen. We hosted a dinner at VASO where everyone made their own gin and tonic at the table, and the guests got such a kick out of it. With the invasion of smartphones into our daily dining norms, interactive service forces diners out of their “selfie” world and back to enjoying an experience and engaging and sharing stories among people.
AC Hotel by Marriott Columbus Dublin
6540 Riverside Drive
Dublin, OH 43017
tel 614 698 2525
Arriving early afternoon in Puerto Rico, we jumped in an Uber and took a short, 15-minute drive from the airport to La Concha. As it was Tuesday, the streets were not too busy and the hotel lobby was calm. During the weekend, the scene likely would have been more bustling. We were greeted by a staff member who requested proof of vaccination and government-issued ID, and were given a wristband to indicate we were fully vaccinated. All guests are required to be vaccinated and wear masks at all times while moving around the hotel. Hand sanitizer stations were placed around the lobby, in elevators and in each common area.
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The Rittenhouse has long stood out as one of Philadelphia’s finest hotels, centrally located in one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods. Needless to say, I knew I was in for an afternoon of luxurious pampering when I hopped in my car and headed down I-95 from my suburban home to the heart of the City of Brotherly Love. As I drove through the seemingly endless roadwork on the highway, I realized just how long it had been since I’d driven this once-familiar route into the city as a result of the pandemic. Of course I was eager for the relaxation and bliss that was in my future, but it was also a welcome feeling to head back into Philadelphia for a moment of normalcy.
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It’s not even 9a.m. in the sleepy fishing village of Rawai on Thailand’s famous Phuket Island, but already the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea swarm with local fishermen casting their lines and releasing their nets from the bows of rustic long-tail boats. The scents of lemongrass, incense and sweet pandan leaves season the air as the villagers slowly rise from their beachside bungalows to start their day. In just a few more hours, the fishermen will return with their catches, filling the stalls of the iconic Rawai Seafood Market with buckets of shellfish and displays of fresh filets. Visitors line up each afternoon for the catch of the day, selecting their fish with care before hauling their purchases across the well-worn road to the restaurants opposite the market to have the fish cooked for 100 Thai baht per kilo.