Chronology of a Food Lover…Me!
Long Story (worth every single minute of your time, maybe pour yourself a glass of wine)!
Making dreams come true!
I’m a lover of four things in my life – food, travel & culture, meeting people and giving back (just ask anyone who knows me)! These passions make me happy and are the pursuits that I find rewarding – my recipe for the perfect dish. To me, success in life comes about by following your passion, making your dreams come true and somehow making people’s lives better! I always wonder, how can I make a difference in the world? These words always come to mind as I create my life:
“We must become the change we want to see.” ~ Gandhi
With that said, let me explain by going back in time…
When I created the Gourmet Safari ‘1.0’ concept, I took people away to experience authentic culinary adventures. With Gourmet Safari ‘2.0’, I brought people into my century farmhouse to experience the same culinary adventures. Today, with my latest creation of Gourmet Safari ‘3.0,’ you stay in your home, in your kitchen, to experience the same culinary adventures. My mission is to create poignant food adventures, food for your soul – a soulful culinary adventure to get back cooking in YOUR kitchen and love your food again!
Welcome to Mood Food, food that fits you!
The Back Story
My love of food
My Home Kitchen, My Apron Strings
This is where it all started…from the time that I was little, I always had an interest in cooking – watching (especially sampling) as my mother prepared our family meals. We had just immigrated to Canada from England. As you may know, England wasn’t exactly on the culinary map at that time! My mom taught me many basic skills of the kitchen – soups, sauces, gravies, roasting meats. The food wasn’t exactly gourmet cuisine, but I loved it. To quote my mother, “The English were just well-done meat ‘n potatoes people!” How true was that!
I then found (and fell in love with) Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet…remember him (I know, I’m dating myself now)! It was a brand new concept for television, a ‘live-action’ cookbook – how cool was that! I went on to develop an even greater interest in food as I watched, learning more about cooking from the TV than from my own home kitchen (don’t tell my Mom). I loved to watch him cook and savour the food with audience guests – made my little mouth water. Throughout these young years I cultivated a keen interest in good food!
First Taste of Restaurant Life
In my teens, I worked at the local Keg Restaurant as a Hostess & Cocktail Waitress – my first taste of the inner workings of restaurant life. I discovered the value of a strong restaurant brand and what delivering a high level of customer service meant. I also discovered ‘Silver Cloud Cocktails,’ Mushrooms Neptune and Teriyaki Steak…pay-cheque, what pay-cheque?
Cooking with Fire
My first experience in a kitchen outside of the home was at an historic site – Old Fort William in Thunder Bay. I worked as an historic interpreter and cook in the historic kitchen and bakery, creating authentic meals and baking bread from the 1800’s. I discovered how to cook with fire in an authentic oven and over a fireplace! It was the best summer job that I ever had – fresh warm bread with farm fresh butter every day! Oh and aside from the culinary experience, I fell in love with ‘the’ bagpiper and was crowned Miss Cannon Crew (yep, I got to fire a cannon, it was a proud moment)! Warm bread, love and fire – what a recipe!
Spreading my Culinary Wings to Paris
It was now time to spread my culinary wings and live elsewhere in the world. I spent some time living in Paris, France where I worked as an ‘au pair’ (nanny) for a French film actress. What better place to go in the world to expand my culinary horizons than France – the birthplace of classical cuisine. Yes, I know how to pick ‘em. This was my first taste of immersion into another culture. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen learning Parisian and Moroccan cuisine inspired by the Moroccan maid. It was an amazing gastronomic experience as I discovered the flavours and nuances of international cuisines. My taste buds were now fully awake, as I gained a true appreciation for great food, and I mean really great food! The foodie ‘switch’ was fully turned on (to prove it, I gained 20 pounds)! Yep, chocolate was my weakness – not French men!
Wanting to pursue my foodie interest, I started signing up for cooking classes, both at home and abroad. The Bonnie Stern School of Cooking was my first ‘in class’ experience in Canada (thanks to my husband for the gift of cooking). I took an introductory six-week course with a focus on the basics of cooking, kitchen tips and recipes using classic French culinary techniques. I absolutely LOVED it! Simultaneously, I also experienced my own Gourmet Safaris by learning about local cultures whenever, wherever I travelled, knowing that food is such a large part of it. While on my journeys I explored and experienced hands-on cooking in Thailand, New Orleans, Barbados, India, China, Laos…to name a few. Without even trying, my extensive global cuisine cookbook library took shape, as I couldn’t help but collect recipes. By now, it’s fairly obvious that my favourite hobby is cooking (spoiler alert). Creating and perfecting recipes and entertaining, I LOVE it! I attended George Brown College part-time, cooking and eating my way towards earning my Culinary Arts Certificate. The Culinary Arts program focused on mastery of basic and complex techniques of classic and contemporary dishes with a regional culinary approach (I was a star student – until I burnt my hand that is). The program was designed to train people in the preparation of fine food – it was perfect for me in my culinary pursuits. I studied Culinary Arts I, Culinary Arts II, French Farmhouse Cooking, Mediterranean Cuisine, Vietnamese Cuisine, Korean Cuisine, Indian Cuisine, Greek Cuisine and The Theory of Food (why it does what it does)! The Chef instructors at George Brown (as its affectionately known) taught me two of the most vital cooking lessons – “Cooking is always from the heart; not like baking, based on science” and “You eat with your eyes first.” I’ve dished out these phrases many times in my cooking classes (especially when it came to teaching men’s classes – they always wanted to follow the recipes with step-by-step precision, much like reading an owners manual for a truck, so I would remind them that they should experiment with the food and cook from the heart)! More recently, I studied an introduction to holistic nutrition, which further enhanced my knowledge of good, healthy food!
Gourmet Supper Club
As a founding member of a local Gourmet Club since 2000, I always look forward to the next country’s cuisine that we plan to explore. Each member designs and creates monthly authentic menus & dishes from around-the-world, crafted with the freshest ingredients and a multitude of globally inspired flavours. I can’t believe that we’ve been eating our way around the world for so many years…we’ve travelled everywhere without a suitcase in hand!
I worked at various gourmet foodie destinations as kitchen prep assistant for cooking classes, as well as a foodie location where customers whipped up their very own tasty, nutritious meals to take home and cook!
Recipe Online & Print Publication
I started off my writing career by writing recipes for my very own Gourmet Safari e-Newsletter. I researched, planned, tested (that means tasting) and created monthly authentic seasonal recipes sourced from Italy, France, Spain and Morocco’s key culinary regions. These were disseminated to a 500+ database of culinary enthusiasts (that’s a lot of foodies)! I also launched a Recipe ‘Store’ Collection of all of my curated recipes on gourmetsafari.com. It was all about sharing the recipe, spreading the gospel! Then I became a recipe contributor for four years to a local community-based newspaper, capturing life & entertainment in action (hey, I was published). My next project was to produce monthly local, seasonal recipes for the Toronto Slow Food web site and online newsletter (wow, published again). I was also a member of the Slow Food Organization, an organization whose aim is to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life (cool, ahead of the trend at that time). The Women’s Culinary Network, that I was a member of, is an organization of 300+ food professionals that provides a supportive environment to women in the food industry (loved being a member to support my peeps). My life was all about food!
My 15 minutes of fame on TV boiled down to about 10 minutes (I was shorted by 5 minutes)! I appeared live on City TV’s famous Breakfast Television program twice. In 2005, I did an interview with Liza Fromer – ‘Travel around Europe in three meals.’ Featuring breakfast in France, a pasta cooking demo of Salsa agli Aromi lunch from Italy and Tapas from Spain. Then in 2006, they invited me back again to do a demo cooking traditional Moroccan cuisine, featuring a delicious cooking demo of Roast Chicken Charmoula, Coriander Couscous and a Carrot with Cumin and Chili Pepper Salad dish. I was a TV star for 10 minutes, being in front of the camera with an audience was an interesting (and terrifying) experience! And then finally I made it ‘on-air’ (radio) and I had my own radio segment from 2010 – 2013. I developed and tested ‘Quick and Delicious’ recipes and delivered recipe segments weekly with morning show host Mike Melnik on a local radio station called KRUZ FM. It was a blast to be ‘on-air’ and to share my recipes (and jokes…I thought I was funny)!
Recipe Road Show
I took my recipes on the road as I taught a series of hands-on interactive and demonstration cooking classes at premier L.C.B.O. cooking school locations in Toronto from 2006 – 2008! I loved every minute of teaching how to create my delicious, authentic recipes from Italy, France, Spain & Morocco. And each dish was paired with wines hand-selected by LCBO Product Consultants – it was a match made in heaven. I had found my niche, teaching and sharing my passion, my food. That led me to do tasting events and demos for various gourmet clubs and festivals. I also participated in the massive Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, an event that attracted 35,000 visitors who taste culinary samplings and wines/spirits from around the globe. A great experience, long days standing on my feet!
The Corporate Culinary World
Around this time, the trend of culinary team-building took off, what perfect timing for me. I did a Novopharm Pharmaceuticals culinary event and planned a gourmet 5-course team menu, farmers’ market shopping experience (scavenger hunt for ingredients), wine/cheese pairing, and coordinated hands-on meal prep and finally the delicious meal service. It was a hugely successful delicious event, they ate it up! Culinary contests became a la mode as well and I worked with two large companies – Irving Oil and Dr. Oetker – to organize authentic culinary trip prizes.
This is how my love of food evolved, one step at a time and it all started in my Mom’s kitchen!
My love of travel & culture
My love of travel goes way, way back to my childhood. I used to love to pretend that I could fly. I’m not sure how this all started (probably with a dare), but my friend Miriam and I would scale her garage and ‘fly’ from the rooftop. We would sit on the rooftop ledge and stare out over the rooftops into the distance. We pretended that we were birds doing what they do best…flying of course. We sang a nursery rhyme about birds in flight (“Two little dickie birds sitting on the wall) and then we would jump into the air one at a time! I loved the feeling of being in flight, the freedom (even if it only lasted seconds before the earth was at my feet).
Years later when our family moved to the country, I was constantly reminded of my love of flying. I would stare up into the sky and watch the con trails drift by from airplanes flying overhead. It was as though they were skywriting a message just for me “Come fly with us!” I was ‘hooked’ I wanted to be on those airplanes, I had to find a way to fly!
I decided to go to school to study travel and tourism (yeah, I know – not exactly rocket science) – that was my ticket to the world of flying and travel (pun intended). From there, it was nowhere but up! I graduated and went on to work for 20 years experience in the airline industry – 10 1⁄2 of them I spent working for one of the most reputable brands in the world – British Airways (its still my favourite airline). I did absolutely everything in the airline industry (except fly airplanes) – I dispatched aircraft, loaded baggage (yes I did without breaking a finger-nail), worked as a flight attendant (that was the glamorous part of my career), did passenger check-in and concierge service and finally ended my career by working in sales and then project manager of interactive marketing for British Airways (that was my ultimate airline job). My career ran the gamut! I even took flight myself when I took flying lessons (thanks again to my husband). It was amazing to be at the controls and to fly an airplane, now that was the ultimate experience! Although am I a licensed pilot today – no – long story.
My Culinary Travel Experiences
Working in the airline industry allowed me to travel to 58 countries (to date) to pursue my love of local cultures and their cuisines. I expanded my culinary horizons over and over again, there’s an endless supply of amazing cuisines in this big world. This experience exposed me first hand to an authentic culinary education ‘on the road’. On many of my culinary journeys I participated in delicious cooking classes – some of the most memorable cuisines that I devoured were Thai, Creole and Bajan, Indian, Moroccan, Chinese, Laos (yep, Laotian cuisine is absolutely delicious). The most unique cooking lesson I experienced was in a taxi in Cuba with my sister (after our driver found out that I was a gourmet cook…I told you I always talk to taxi drivers)! As our driver drove, he told us in painstaking step-by-step detail in Spanish how to make arroz moro (black beans and rice). I couldn’t wait to make it! I admit it, I’m addicted, I’m a foodie destination junkie and I’ll travel anywhere for the food and talk to anyone about food!
My 58 Culinary Destinations (to date)
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Bahamas, Belgium, Canada – 7 Provinces, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, Egypt, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Laos, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Spain/el Camino, St Kitts, WI, St. Lucia, WI, St. Maarten, NA, St. Thomas, USVI, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turks & Caicos, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – Dubai, United States – 18 States, Venezuela, Vietnam, Wales.
My Travel Philosophy
I admit it, I have wanderlust. I love to get out there and explore the world…it’s a big one, with 196 countries to explore. After I turned a BIG milestone birthday, I decided then that I’d explore the same number of countries that matched my years…OK, no secret, I’m 58 (years young). I have many future travel aspirations on my ‘bucket list’ in the big world – especially the world of food – Chile, Lebanon, the entire Spice Trade Route, North Africa, Indonesia, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal, Himalayas…the list is endless…only 138 countries left to explore!
My love of meeting people
Meeting people is something that I love to do. I would have to say that my love of people started way back when I worked at customer service check-in for a small northern airline called Bearskin Airlines (yep, Bearskin Airlines…I’ve heard every single joke in the book about the name). My career in customer service and meeting people spanned from this little northern operation to working for an international airline, British Airways in their exclusive ‘Concierge Special Services’. My role was to ‘touch’ people, the wealthy, affluent, influential travellers of the world (I could write a book of all of my experiences). I loved my job and I so loved meeting people from all walks of life from around the globe. I will talk to anyone (just ask anyone who knows me). When I travel I always talk to taxi drivers to find out about their lives, I talk to people on the streets, anyone and everyone just living their lives. At home I’ll talk to perfect strangers to learn of them. I just love learning about people, everyone has a story and I love hearing people’s stories! Launching Gourmet Safari allowed me to connect with people from around the world to assist in their culinary pursuits.
My love of giving back
My love of meeting people leads me to my love of giving back – from large to small, in any way, shape or size, I LOVE to give back. I suppose this all started with my move to the big city of Toronto. I had never, ever seen people on the street before (in the north its too cold for that, ain’t nobody got time for that). I couldn’t believe that people were homeless and hungry. Was saddened, touched and this inspired my wanting to give back somehow. When I was out on the streets, I would share my food or some money if I didn’t have food to give. I could only give back to one person at a time and I was always touched by their response of my giving and caring – small gestures of kindness and smiles go a long way. After travelling to many poor impoverished countries and seeing hungry children first hand, the sadness and hunger touched my heart in a profound way. And whenever I travelled with ‘the world’s favourite airline’ – British Airways – I was always touched by their on-board initiative to collect coins for children – ‘UNICEF’s Change for Good.’ It always brought tears to my eyes as passengers would open their pockets pour their spare change into on-board envelopes, I loved the sound of coins. And when I worked for British Airways in marketing, we collaborated with UNICEF as well to raise funds for UNICEF Canada, proceeds from the sale of British Airways Holidays vacations were donated to this children’s charity. I was well schooled by an airline that cared about children. And then once I became a mother myself (to my perfect little son Colton), I was reminded of what I had witnessed in my travels and in life, I couldn’t imagine a child going hungry, the thought broke my heart. As I launched Gourmet Safari Culinary Vacations “Take 1,” I decided that a portion of the proceeds from every food-lover travelling on a Gourmet Safari culinary vacation would be contributed to Breakfast For Learning. Breakfast For Learning is a non-profit organization, dedicated to ensuring that every child in Canada attends school well nourished & ready to learn, it is the charity that is close to my heart and I strongly supported. My next ‘giving back’ endeavor was a big one (go big or go home I say) – I was the Chair of the Breakfast For Learning Gourmet Safari to Morocco charity event in September 2006. I had no idea how much goes into making a charity event a success. Fortunately, a good time was had by all on this Moroccan food adventure and $50,000 was raised thanks to the generosity of the ‘travellers.’ It was an absolutely amazing day for me to savour the fruits of my labour knowing that the funds raised would allow the charity’s vision to be further realized. It was definitely a feel-good moment for me…and today I’m always looking for how I can do more…
Gourmet Safari, 1.0:
Gourmet Safari evolved naturally from the collaboration of ALL of my loves!! After many years of travel experiences and months and months of burning the midnight oil conducting in-depth online culinary research, Gourmet Safari was finally ‘baked’ and ready to serve in 2005. As I created the Gourmet Safari tour business, I sourced the best foodie destinations and established partnerships with culinary tour partners who I knew and I could trust. I could finally share my passions – food, travel and sharing cultural experiences with food-lovers. Gourmet Safari ‘Take 1’ offered hand-picked authentic culinary vacations in key culinary regions in Italy, France, Spain and Morocco. Designed for the independent traveller to take in cooking lessons with local chefs, visit local villages, restaurants, open-air markets & wine estates. I personally LOVED the concept of sharing authentic culinary experiences that you could trust, one of the best parts of this venture was searching out the best locations, meeting local chefs and creating exclusive, authentic culinary experiences. I was in my ‘zone’ – I loved what I was creating. To launch Gourmet Safari to the food and travel media, I hosted a Spanish ‘Mi Casa es Su Casa’ (my house is your house) launch event at mi casa (my house). It was an exclusive engagement to meet Spanish Chef Alex Múgica from the Gourmet Safari Basque Food Adventure culinary vacation. It was quite an evening; not only did I open my home to the media (that was brave), I also created pinchos (tapas from northern Spain) that were paired with Spanish wines. The tapas recipes were the Chef’s own exclusive recipes, so I had to make sure I replicated them exactly as he would. I knew I could do that…the only challenge was that the recipes arrived in my inbox in Spanish (with two days to go before the event)! Fortunately I speak some Spanish, so I was able to translate pronto and make them…just in time! A little stress in the kitchen is always a good thing…right? Wrong! I managed to pull it off though (with no sleep) and with the launch event a success, the business was ready to serve!
The R&D Experience
During my Gourmet Safari research trips, I cooked with local chefs nestled in beautiful tucked-away culinary gems in Tuscany, the Loire, Provence, Seville, Barcelona, Marrakech, Rabat and Fes (I love the experience of going ‘off the beaten track so that I can experience the ‘real’ authentic thing). It was an amazing culinary experience, one that I will never, ever forget. I was in heaven. As I visited each culinary location, I wrote a journal of my impressions of each culinary spot so that I could share. ‘My Safari Notes,’ posted on my web site, shared first-hand experiences, my insight into the food and the culture to give gastro travellers a taste of the essence of each food adventure!
The Gourmet Safari Travel Philosophy
Travel is one of life’s most important investments. With that in mind, I felt that first hand experience was very important and therefore I experienced all of the cooking schools that foodies would be travelling to. My travel promise was: a top notch, flexible, authentic, intimate cooking experience, with lots of great food and wine. Travellers trusted my expertise and advice and invested wisely.
Gourmet Safari, 2.0:
Hands-on Culinary Studio
After 5 years of operating Gourmet Safari Culinary dream Vacations, I had another dream in mind. I loved teaching cooking so much and sharing my food and recipes that I decided that what I wanted to find a way to build a small cooking school somehow, somewhere. I wanted to bring my culinary and cultural experiences to life and to share them, it was almost as though it was my ‘calling’. After much planning and thought and finding ‘the’ perfect century farmhouse location, I further expanded the business in 2010, to include the Mount Pleasant Farmhouse B&B and culinary studio. I finally had my ‘dream’ kitchen and I couldn’t wait to start hosting globally-inspired cooking classes to share my passion for travel, cuisine & culture! I loved the job that I created; I followed my dream and delivered a world of experiences through food! Food-lovers came to my culinary studio for hands-on 5-course gourmet cooking classes, they then savoured the flavour of their culinary artistry and took recipes home to recreate the dishes! The hands-on classes were very intimate with a maximum of 8 per class.
My Cooking Class Menu
I started off with teaching children’s classes, then graduated to teaching men’s classes, ladies, special groups and children’s cooking day camps. I further expanded my repertoire to offer healthy seasonal retreats incorporating healthy food, yoga and meditation. With my interest in health and nutrition I also taught a series of health-related cooking classes. Two large local corporate clients asked me to do several corporate team building hands-on cooking class events. I loved all of it, I was in my ‘zone’ when I was able to share my passion for food.
Farmers Market Menu
In my spare time (not) around teaching cooking, running a B&B, as well as a household, I made ‘gourmet treats’ that I sold at various Farmers’ Markets. My product line was a taste of the world (of course, what else would you expect) from the exotic to the healthy, to the decadent! I had a line of 15 exotic globally-inspired spice blends (from Indian Garam Masala to Moroccan Ras Al Hanoutto and Provence’s Herbes de Provence and my ultimate favourite spice blend, my Cottage Country Wing and Rib Blend). The spice blends are perfect for cooking, grilling, BBQing (I would say ‘pick your poison,’ but I’d better not). I also carried a line of healthy granola and healthy bars. Saving the best for last, the taste of decadence (we can’t always be perfect all of the time can we) I also created a line of 7 sweet gourmet treats from Turkish Chocolate ‘Bark’ to Florence Renaissance Chocolate-Dipped Biscotti to name a few. I plan to re-create all of my gourmet treats again and offer them in my online gourmet shoppe.
Gourmet Safari, 3.0:
Virtual Cooking Studio
Soulful Foodie Destination!
I then decided that it was time to follow my next culinary pursuit to bring people back to the kitchen and the dinner table on a larger scale, to speak to more people. As I have painstakingly curated 1000’s of delectable recipes and it’s almost 2016 what better way to create soulful food adventures than online. This is like my art gallery of food, food for your soul and food to fit your mood. Now’s the time to embark on a soulful culinary adventure and get back cooking in YOUR kitchen. Love the food that you eat, love the flavour, the ‘wow’ factor, no matter what you are in the mood for or what you are up to or how much time you have! If you’re busy and ‘on the run’, we’ve got healthy gourmet food on the go (coming soon). If you’re looking to nurture your soul, nourish your body with food, we’ve got you covered with our healthy soul food (coming soon too). Want nostalgia, OK, got it (coming)! How about quirky (like ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ menu that will cheer you up), got it. Gourmet Safari ‘Take 3’ will be a destination to educate food-lovers and people who care about what they eat, gourmet cooking & eating from the heart – healthfully or deliciously or even sinfully and always passionately. It will inspire travel and adventure for your taste buds around the globe or in your own backyard! Simple, healthy, gourmet and decadent food, you can have one, you can the other or you can have all of the above…whatever you are in the mood for…it’s simply a foodie playlist that encourages you to get back to the kitchen and back to the dinner table!
Gourmet 101 Foodie Lounge Warning
Come on in, don’t be shy, everyone’s invited! Gourmet dishes can be a ‘piece of cake’, not all recipes are difficult to follow. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to create them, you just have to have a love of good food and know how to read. Simple! Come on, give it a try!
Why a Soulful Food Experience?
Good question? Deep down inside, I really wanted to find a way to share all of my passions in one place online to reach even more people. A project that would allow me to to share my culinary experiences in a positive and perhaps uplifting way to encourage people to ‘love their food,’ to have fun with it and ultimately come back to the kitchen and dinner table (especially in this day & age when modern technology and busy lifestyles take us away from the dinner table). A place where you can come to find recipes and menus for whatever mood suits you, mood food, food with a Soulful Spirit! I also plan to share my remarkable, heart-warming, and sometimes eye-opening foodie stories. I hope that this project will deliver an experience that connects with the hearts, minds, and stomachs of hungry site visitors. If there was a song that would play right now, it would be “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” to pair perfectly with soulful cooking from the heart! Put heart and soul back into your food, create, be present when you cook and when you eat, love your food. Food always tastes better when you slow down and pay attention, eat and taste your food, your body will thank you for it. Food appeals to all of our senses – taste, touch, see, smell and hear. Your senses will come alive!
My Cooking Philosophy:
I cook to create my art, to express myself, I cook for meditation, for relaxation, to be present…cooking is from the heart, my heart. I pour my heart and soul into what I do, each and every dish. I’m not rushed (other than by having to be ready by a certain time), I just take my time and be present with what I’m doing. It’s zen-like cooking, creating and developing amazing flavours one flavor profile at a time. When I cook, I’m ALWAYS looking for that ‘wow’ factor – the taste explosion in your mouth when you take your first bite…soulful cooking.
Come on in…carpe diem!