For the third season of Avec Eric, chef Eric Ripert learned about temple food in Korea and tasted barramundi in Australia.

Melissa Clark: You just got back from taping the last season of Avec Eric. How long were you on the road for the show?

Eric Ripert: We went to Korea, we spent about 7 days and came back to New York. Then I went to Australia for 19 days and shot in six territories: the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Tasmania, in Melbourne, Victoria, and in Sydney.

MC: You're traveling with a group of people and you're all experiencing it together. How much does it change from what you think you're going to experience to what you actually end up with?

ER: Australia, for me, was a big mystery because I've never been. I had no idea what the country looks like, or what I was going to find there. I didn't even know the difference between the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

I obviously worked a little bit before the trip. When you are on site, whatever you imagine is never as beautiful as what you encounter. Korea was absolutely magical as well.

MC: Was there anything you ate that really surprised you? Or were you pretty much filled in on what you were going to get?

ER: No, I eat whatever people bring and decide to cook. It's not in advance that we decide my menu.

MC: It's not scripted. So it's all a surprise?

ER: Yes.

MC: What were some of the most memorable things?

ER: I have to say that when I was in Korea, I was in a temple. We studied temple food for 2 or 3 days. I even slept in a monastery as a guest on the floor, and I woke up at 3 a.m. with them.

It's a vegan diet with some restrictions: no onion and no garlic. Onions supposedly make you a bit sleepy and also give you nightmares, according to the tradition. Garlic makes you very sexual. Also, if you want to meditate, it makes your blood very active; it's not very good for being zen.

But the food is very interesting because it's food that has to be obviously delicious in a sense, but not addictive because Buddhists cannot be attached to anything. It has to be delicious, not addictive. You cannot crave that food. That food is good to nourish your body; it's good for your soul and everything has medicinal properties.

The nuns in charge of the kitchen and the cooking are using whatever is foraged, whatever is in season from their garden or from their surroundings. They put love, compassion and positive thoughts into the food, which is very difficult to prove scientifically.

However, one nun claimed that she could see who cooked what and if the person was happy, sad or stressed. She demonstrated to me that when this one person was cooking, the food did not have good energy. She brought the person over, talked to her and it was actually true.

When you master cooking, then you're allowed to go in the garden. They believe it's much more important to put positive thoughts into the seeds that will become a plant, a life, and then end up in the kitchen again. The experience was totally fascinating for me.

MC: What about Australia? What were some of the things that you found when you were there?

Garlic and Rosemary Studded Leg of Lamb with Cannellini Beans Ripert's recipe: Garlic and Rosemary Studded Leg of Lamb with Cannellini Beans

ER: Australia was fascinating. Depending on the territories, you can have something very tropical, like the Northern Territory of Australia. It's a lot of green papayas and whatever you would find in the tropics. They have also what they call wattleseed, which they grind like a spice. I ate barramundi, which is the local fish. I tried to catch it.

MC: Was it too hard to catch?

ER: It was too hard to catch, at least for me. But someone brought it, they wrapped it in the bark and put it completely in the fire.

MC: Tree bark?

ER: It was tree bark that I have never seen before -- it was wet -- and then they put it in the coals. The bark completely burned. But by the time the bark is gone, the fish is ready.

MC: The bark adds flavor?

ER: Yes, definitely. It's hard to describe because I don't have a reference; I cannot compare it with anything else. But the fish was absolutely delicious. The wattleseeds bring this nutty, almost like a bit of coffee flavor, to it. You can eat that with a green papaya salad the way they do in Asia.

But then when we were in Tasmania, it looks like Scandinavia.

MC: It's a cold climate?

ER: Scandinavia in the spring. The food was completely different.

Then I went to Melbourne. It is a melting pot of cultures like New York, but very influenced by the Middle East and Greece. There is a lot of fusion between local ingredients and Middle Eastern food.

Sydney was fascinating because of the seafood. I have a seafood restaurant. The products we found in Sydney were just unbelievable. There were crabs that I have never seen with claws that are like 5 pounds. It's unbelievable seafood.

There's not such a thing as Australian food like there is Italian cuisine, Spanish cuisine or French cuisine.

MC: There's not a unifying principle.

ER: No, it's mostly fusion because of all the immigrants.

MC: Where are you off to next?

ER: For the show, we will go to Puerto Rico. I find the island fascinating in terms of culture and in terms of beauty.

Not too many people think about Puerto Rico anymore. The Caribbean has been attractive with many other islands because of different hotels and so on.

But Puerto Rico has a rainforest, it has a coast that is very dry, and it has the city of San Juan, which is absolutely amazing. Old San Juan is a colonial city that's beautiful. The food culture in Puerto Rico is amazing.

Melissa Clark
Melissa Clark is a food writer, author, and host of our new podcast Weeknight Kitchen with Melissa Clark. She is a food columnist for The New York Times, and has written more than 30 cookbooks including Dinner in an Instant, Cook This Now, and In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.