What are your favorite moments from the Chicago episode?
One was Moto, the molecular gastronomy restaurant. A lot of the chefs, of course, when they’re in this genre are very serious, and [it’s] difficult to get to know what really drives them. And here, they have such a great sense of humor. I think it’s a real gem for Chicago because you’re such a gastronomy city. We stayed at the James [Hotel], and I loved it because I was close to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I’m on the road, like, 230 days out of the year, so I like to buy my own groceries and take them back to my hotel. Most people would be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m right next to Neiman Marcus!” But I’m like, “Oh, Whole Foods!” We also went to the Map Room—great bar.
Did you get behind the bar?
I did, yeah!
That seems to be a theme for you; you get to bartend.
Yeah, I demand it in my contract. [Laughs] We try to make it so I’m not just a spectator, and that gives us a more personal approach to the people who actually live there. Like Brad, the bartender at the Map Room. Another aspect was Second City. I actually got up on stage and improvised with them.
Do you get any time to explore on your own?
We’re filming pretty much all the time. It’s 12- to 14-hour days. And I guess that’s the one downside—there are things that I’d love to do [that I] don’t really get to do. I’d love to just go back to Chicago, and just do it on my own. One thing Chicago has that I can’t find here in Brooklyn is a kickball team. I love kickball. But I travel [so much] anyways, so it’s not like I could really be a part of a team.
Do you really film these in one weekend?
Four days, to be exact. It’s a long weekend, and obviously if we’re shooting something, it’s going to take us a little longer to do things. We do 11 scenes, and that’s a lot to do in a weekend.
What are some tips to planning the perfect, complete weekend in a new city?
Try and focus on an ethnic community there you don’t really get to experience where you live. That’s where I always start. If I pick up an accent with, say, the housekeeping at the hotel, I always ask, “Where are you from?” And if they’re from Poland or Peru or wherever, I ask them where they go for their favorite home cooking. And from there, I just find out where really great places are—that are cheap, of course—and off the well-worn tourist path. Then I feel like I’ve had a more intimate city experience.
Is there a city that surprised you?
Dallas was a lot of fun. It’s where I was born, but I moved to New Hampshire very quickly. So that show was “What my life would have been like...” And we did hair extensions and press-on nails. Although people in Dallas were like, “We don’t have big hair anymore!”
You said you travel 230 days out of the year?
Yes, and I’ve got the dry skin to prove it, too.
So, you’re really an expert traveler.
I guess so. I’ve always been really shy about that term, because when I think of experts, I think of people like [Today show travel editor] Peter Greenberg. They’re analysts—they keep up with news, and I just travel. So [my expertise] comes from sheer experience.
Do people always tell you that you have their dream job?
Yeah, absolutely—including my husband!
Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends featuring Chicago debuts Saturday 30 at 10pm on the Travel Channel.