Financial advisor, company board member
Some people live to eat. Now meet the man whose mission is to eat at all the best restaurants listed on all the top dining guides in the world.
He first came to the attention of the F&B world when he started documenting his quest to dine at all 100 restaurants in the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. But he was stuck at 99 for two years because he couldn’t get a reservation in Sushi Saito – the three Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo that is notoriously difficult to get into.
“I had 25 people making calls for three hours straight on the one day a month the phone line is open for reservations,” says Mr Grinberg, 58. He tried all his business contacts “to see if anyone knew a regular customer who could extend an invitation to me”. He sent handwritten letters to the chef. He even posted an appeal on Instagram.
He missed a few chances because of work or family commitments. In March this year, he finally got a seat through a restaurant concierge service, but he found out too late that it wasn’t at Chef Saito’s counter, but another room with a different chef.
“I was not thrilled. Fortunately, I know someone who knows someone who knows Chef Saito, so he accommodated me at his counter. But I ended up paying for two meals because I couldn’t cancel my reservation made through the concierge service.” But it was worth it for “the great sushi and the great experience” and the photo-taking that followed when Chef Saito learned about his mission.
For such a devout diner, the US-based Mr Grinberg – who recently retired from his finance job in San Diego – did not grow up enjoying good food and only started eating sushi at the age of 40 because he lost a bet. He ended up loving it and started to discover sushi restaurants and later, Michelin-starred restaurants.
He only started travelling seriously for food around 2016 when he decided to eat at all the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “So far, I’ve travelled to five continents, 35 countries and 138 cities,” says the man who is now “on the board of a company and am an advisory partner for a couple of funds”.
Besides Sushi Saito, he’s certainly gone the distance for food. “I’ve flown 12 hours for a meal and flown out the next day. I’ve driven for up to 10
hours a day for multiple days just to have lunch and dinner in restaurants in the same geographical region but not close to each other.” He’s had speeding tickets in Europe, asked for directions from people who couldn’t speak English, and even needed help to pull his car out of a ditch.
But the experiences have all been amazing and some of his favourite restaurants include “Ultraviolet in Shanghai; Frantzen in Stockholm; DiverXo in Madrid; Central and Maido in Lima; Somni in Los Angeles; Oriole in Chicago; and Mirazur in Menton, France.”
As for why he does what he does, “I have a Type A personality and when I set a goal, I do whatever is in my power to accomplish it. But – I would not go through the cost, time, fatigue if I didn’t truly appreciate the great food.”
What’s next? After completing the 50Best lists for 2017 and 2018, he’s now working on the 2019 list (all 120 on the extended list) and all the three starred Michelin restaurants. How does he stay in shape from such extensive eating? “I make sure I exercise 1.5 to 2 hours every day. And on days when I’m not dining out, I eat very healthily.”
Vice-president of marketing, YTL Hotels
Despite having to travel about five times a year for work, Geraldine Dreiser would not hesitate to pack her suitcases and hop on a flight when she feels the need for it.
The vice president of marketing for YTL Hotels and mother of three young children travels for leisure about eight times a year. She tends to take two long haul trips and six shorter trips around the region. “Going on vacation means being able to rest and rejuvenate both mentally and physically, but at the same time discover new cultures and destinations,” says Ms Dreiser. “It takes me out of my comfort zone. Every year, I try to visit a place that I’ve never been to, for an experience that is hard to find back home. Why travel otherwise?”
Some of her memorable vacations include sailing on a traditional phinai boat around Komodo island; chasing the Northern Lights in Finland in addition to husky sledding, ice fishing and cross country skiing; and completing a Half Ironman in New Zealand besides visiting the country’s many natural attractions such as Arthur’s Peak and Lake Tekapo.
A trip to South America with her businessman husband a few years ago was both her best and worst holiday. Machu Picchu had always been on their bucket list. “We chose to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and while it offered stunning landscapes, the terrain was often steep and the altitude made it hard to climb uphill, which was quite terrifying at times.”
After Machu Picchu, they visited the Galapagos Islands, and encountered orcas, a sperm whale and dolphins all in one day while sailing between the islands. “It was truly humbling and almost like a scene from a movie,” she recalls.
Ms Dreiser usually travels with her husband. She explains, “We deliberately pick places that we would avoid bringing the kids, so that we don’t feel gutted about them missing out.”
If their three kids – all under four – are coming along, they pick nearby locations to minimize layovers and jet lag. “There needs to be a lot of outdoor space for the kids to run about and a spa for the parents,” she says.
Ms Dreiser enjoys sleeping in on vacation, since it’s the only time that she can. Otherwise, if she’s at a beach resort, the former triathlon athlete can be found running outdoors or swimming in the open sea. One of her favourite beach destinations is Pangkor Laut Resort, a private island resort in Malaysia. No doubt it’s a YTL Hotels property, but it’s brimming with wildlife and greenery, a stunning beach called Emerald Bay, and a sprawling spa.
“My husband is an avid fisherman and the waters off Pangkor Laut offer some great fishing spots too,” she says.
When holidaying in city destinations, she makes it a point to visit local museums and dine at a handful of acclaimed restaurants.
The family’s next big vacation is to Niseko, where they will stay at Hinode Hills in Niseko Village. “The kids are coming, so we will stay together in a three-bedroom suite with our own kitchen to prepare meals. It also offers ski-in access which means less time wasted lugging around ski equipment, and an onsen to soothe those aching muscles after a day on the slopes,” says Ms Dreiser.
For entrepreneur Benjamin Goh and his wife Cynthia, a three-week holiday in Europe has been a must since 2012. It’s their highlight of the year, even though they do make several shorter trips around Asia.
The couple spend two weeks in Italy, followed by a week in either France or England. Where they visit depends on Mr Goh’s business and passions. He runs his own IT business, has two F&B establishments, a caviar production company, and is also an investor in a motorsports firm. Cars, watches and writing instruments are his passions.
The couple give the usual tourist attractions a miss, and instead go factory visiting. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a treat for collectors like Mr Goh.
He has visited Ferrari and Lamborghini in Italy, and in the UK, he has been to the Aston Martin and Bentley headquarters and design studios. Such visits are usually only via invitation. He finds it fascinating to watch how each car is made, from engine to upholstery. He even got to try his hand at stitching a steering wheel.
“The brands also have their museums, and certain displays are not open to the public. For example, some vintage cars are only shown to a small audience, and I feel very privileged to be invited to this inner sanctum,” says the BMW and Aston Martin owner.
The couple has also visited the factories of Audemars Piguet and Montblanc, the latter where Mr Goh had a bespoke nib made.
Factory visits aside, the couple also make it a point to check out the local dining scene.
“I have to since I’m in the dining business. I go to restaurants to check out the food, find inspiration, and to understand how Michelin-starred restaurants are run,” says Mr Goh.
Each year without fail, the couple return to their three favourite restaurants in Italy – Da Vittorio in Bergamo, Ristorante Larossa in Alba, and Miramonti L’altro in Concesio, for the quality of food and service. The couple have also become close friends with the chefs, who often dish out recommendations of where else to visit and dine at in Italy. He has also convinced them to do guest stints at his restaurant at Wilkie Road.
Mrs Goh, who helps to run their restaurants, does most of the planning. “We go in October, but Cynthia starts planning six months ahead, especially when the popular restaurants get booked out fast,” says Mr Goh.
The couple have their planning down pat, pinning out locations on Google maps on where they want to go, which restaurants to dine at, and where to spend the night. Mr Goh says the best way to get around is by car, as it gives him the freedom to make stops whenever he wishes. Some years ago, the couple made an unplanned stop at Lake Garda and visited the old town of Sirmione. They loved the charming destination so much, that they return every year, and even hope to have a holiday home there someday.
He highly recommends visiting Tuscany for its vineyards, castles and the beautiful scenery. “The best way to get around there, is in an open top Ferrari. The experience is just incredible, and you definitely won’t be disappointed,” he says.
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CEO of Oriental Remedies Group
Growing up in Singapore, Beatrice Liu, 35, always dreamed of a “white Christmas” in Europe. She fulfilled that dream in 2017 when she and husband went on a luxury cruise with Uniworld that took them through Hungary, Austria and Germany on the famous Danube river, to visit their biggest Christmas markets.
She recalls: “We were able to experience how the Western world celebrates Christmas in their unique local ways. For example, in Salzburg, other than enjoying the famous Old Town featured in The Sound of Music, we got to touch, feel and shop for Austrian lace, cinnamon marble cakes and special bathing salts, all of which are unique to Austria and cannot be found in other Christmas markets.”
She also loved Budapest for its romantic and historical feel. Since the reign of St. Stephen (975 – 1038 AD), the king who founded Hungary and encouraged the spread of Christianity, Budapest has celebrated Christmas in style. Ms Liu adored the Christmas Market on Vörösmarty Square which houses over 100 Christmas stalls selling lovely handmade Christmas porcelain, kürtoskalács (a pastry) baked over an open fire and other seasonal specials.
On Christmas night, the couple enjoyed an immersive dining experience at a family-owned farm in Bavaria, Germany. The dinner was organised by Uniworld and the guests got to dress up in traditional Bavarian wear. After dinner, everyone got on their feet and danced to lively Bavarian waltz music. Ms Liu, who favours small authentic experiences over popular ones, says: “It was a truly beautiful and local affair.”
Ms Liu was formerly a sales director at Procter & Gamble and senior strategist at PwC. Five years ago, her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. The family found that the elderly lady responded best to alternative medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), instead of the usual course of chemotherapy.
As a result, Ms Liu became a believer of TCM, leaving her corporate job in April 2019 to start Oriental Remedies Group, a chain of TCM clinics with well-qualified and bilingual physicians. She says that the cruise allowed her to meet fellow travellers who then became “longtime friends” and later “patients and business partners”.
She and her husband, fellow entrepreneur Nicholas Cheng, typically plan their own trips. But they’ve become hooked on cruises, which lets them travel from city to city without having to pack and unpack every few days.
In 2018, they signed up for Uniworld’s Russia itinerary which took them from the busy metropolises of St Petersburg and Moscow to the glorious countryside, with its quaint churches and monasteries. “With Russia, you need help and guidance to explore it. And we were usually given an educational briefing onboard about a particular location before we docked… that added to the depth of knowledge and experience of each place.”
Ms Liu and her husband, however, still plan trips on their own now and then. One of their most memorable was what they called their “Northern Lights trip”, in which they chased the elusive blue-green-purple sky light phenomenon across Sweden, Norway and Iceland. She recalls, with a laugh: “Living in glass igloos and camping out for the Northern Lights in freezing temperatures was definitely an experience.”
She chronicles some of their adventures on her blog eatprayflying.com.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.