Friday, April 9, 2010
I don’t know if my love affair will ever end. No, you silly thing, I’m not talking about my love affair with Joe, that's solid, I’m talking about Australia!
It all started very innocently. I love to travel. But this time, it was a special trip, I was invited to teach in Australia. When they asked me, I acted really cool and calm and said, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” Yet inside, I was screaming “OMG AUSTRALIA, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! OMG PINCH ME, IS THIS FOR REAL?”
The year was 1990. That first year I taught 24 classes and did 4 guest chef dinners in a month. The second year I went for two months and did almost twice as many events. I traveled to Australia every year for next 10 years until I got really busy with television in the US. The rest is history!
In my work I do a lot of different things but do you know what my absolute favorite is? I love doing my weeklong culinary journeys in Andalucia, Spain, sipping amontillado sherry watching flamenco dancers… I love my classes in Provence, going from outdoor market to outdoor market, buying everything from striped espadrilles to lavender and salt cod. Or then there's cooking with my students at Il Leccio villa in the heart of Tuscany? And what’s not to love about taking my students to the Veneto where we ride the water taxi up the Grand Canal and eat small plates of Venetian food called cicchetti in dark little bars called bacari. I love these weeks that I put together along the Mediterranean but this time I was planning something different. I knew I was taking a chance. Would they get it?
I was asking people to sit on a plane for 15 or more hours and travel 10,000 miles to see kangaroos and koalas. I really didn’t know if I could convince them that Australian food was more than throwing shrimp on the “barbie.”
I decided to go for it… I put together a fantastic itinerary and sent out an email to 20 friends asking who would be interested in a weeklong culinary journey around McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, two of the most gorgeous wine regions of South Australia. And to my surprise, 12 people got back to me immediately and said, “Where do I send a check?”
I worked on organizing the trip for a year and then just two weeks ago on March 24, we all met in downtown Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. We got on the ”coach,” as the Ozzies say, and headed out of town towards McLaren Vale, the land where the vines meet the sea. Here we all were at last, riding along through rolling hills and never-ending vineyards, through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I heard John say, "Hey, this looks like Tuscany!" I couldn't have agreed more. An hour and a half later, we landed at Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat, our home for the next half week.
Imagine, we got off the bus, hot and sweaty, and were greeted with a cool glass of Chapel Hill Unoaked Chardonnay 2009. White linen-clad tables were set outside under huge white umbrellas and a lunch of roasted Tasmanian salmon with a crunchy spiced dukkah crust was served. All the while, views over the Onkaparinga National Park and in the far distance, the Gulf of St Vincent, were before us.
I looked around and the stress from work and tension from flying were gone. Everyone’s shoulders weren’t up around their ears anymore. I noticed that people stopped texting and cell phones weren't glued to their ears. People were sitting back in their chairs relaxing, talking and laughing. “This is the life!” I heard Lynn say as another cork was popped. It was then that yes, they got it. I saw it in their eyes, they too had fallen head over heels in love with the land I love so much.
And that was only day #1!