Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly Campaign


Over the past 3 years, I’ve visited 11 countries, over 150 cities, been on the road 326 days (give or take), and covered more than a quarter of a million miles. And in all those days of travel I’ve encountered dozens of hotels, experiencing all sorts of highs and lows along the way.  I’ve even created a mental checklist of things I’d love to see, fix, change or incorporate.

When Marriott Hotels asked if I’d be interested in joining them in participating on their Travel Brilliantly campaign, it took me all of 2 seconds to answer. Anyone who dares to re-imagine the future of travel only needs to ask me once!

So what’s all this about, anyway? Simply stated, Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly is a transformative way for the next generation traveler to inspire, create, and connect, no matter if they’re traveling for work, pleasure, or both (as I often find myself doing). It’s a campaign that reaches their customer where we exist — online and through social media — and introduces us to a brand spanking new website, an updated logo (I love it), and the opportunity to affect change by weighing in and sharing ideas on how we travel and use space.

What excites me most about the Travel Brilliantly campaign is that food has not been forgotten. It’s one of the key aspects of transformation, and Marriott has been taking guests’ insight into dining and incorporating that into their hotels. Personally, I’m super thrilled to experience the Travel Brilliantly campaign through the lens of food.

Of course, they do a much better job explaining their new ideas and campaign and you should head over to Travel Brilliantly to experience it all. On the website you’ll also learn that Marriott is listening; you’ll be able to submit your travel ideas for a chance to travel and work with them.

This week I’ll be heading to San Francisco with Shira Lazar of What’s Trending, Cassandra LaValle of Coco+Kelley, and Stefanie Michaels of Adventure Girl to collaborate with Marriott and one another to re-imagine the future of travel. We’ll all be hosting an activity (mine is food, of course!) that will take us beyond the four walls of a hotel, experiencing brilliant travel in the areas of design, adventure travel, culinary, technology and more. And there’s a party, but more on that soon :)

Of course I’d love it if you came along, you can follow me through Twitter and instagram @MattArmendariz and Facebook and make sure to follow the fun and join the conversation with my other hosts via @Marriott, #TravelBrilliantly.


Flying the Qantas A380: An Interview with Chef Neil Perry

Image courtesy of Qantas Airways

Rosemary Lavosh Canapés with Eggplant Dip. Thai style Larb with Squid, Shallots, Galangal and Lime Dressing. Confit Duck Cassoulet with White Beans and Sausage. Rack of Lamb with Pearl Barley, Cauliflower Puree and Harissa. These are not the offerings of your latest local fine dining establishment but menu items for Neil Perry’s Qantas International Inflight Dining. And while the discussion of airplane food usually leaves so much to be desired, there’s no sense of irony in this program: it’s robust, delicious, and extremely ambitious. I was lucky enough to spent a few minutes asking Australia’s beloved chef how he brings quality ingredients and Australia’s best to diners at 36,000 feet in the air.

Matt: In-flight diners are treated to a Rockpool-designed meal on Qantas flights in first and business class. Have you ever included items that might veer away from this and come from your travels around the globe or say Spice Temple directly?

Chef Perry: Absolutely – I travel a lot and am constantly inspired by the food everywhere I go. That said, nothing would get a slot on a Qantas menu if it was not Rockpool style in terms of quality.  Some of our Rockpool dishes have been translated to work in the sky. Travel is the greatest gift – it is my single greatest source of inspiration for my menus for Qantas and in all my restaurants.

Matt: I’ve read that our palates are affected by altitude and flying conditions. Has this had any affect on how you prepare a menu for in-flight dining?

Chef Perry: Yes, we are constantly doing checks from the ground to mid air and beyond to ensure that the levels of taste are consistent.  If it tastes good on the ground it will taste good in sky.

Matt: What have travelers really responded to? Is there a single menu item that works well?

Chef Perry: The classic steak sandwich has become something of a signature dish in the sky – I’m not sure we can ever take it off the refreshment menu. For the most part though, our customers enjoy quality, unfussy food – the best produce cooked simply and beautifully, as is the Rockpool way.

Matt: Because menus are created on two different continents, how does one ensure quality control?

Chef Perry: The Rockpool Consulting group was created to help us control just this. I have a committed team of food professionals who create the menus, test the menus and spend a huge amount of their year travelling to the catering centres both domestically and internationally to ensure the quality of our product is both excellent and consistent across the board.This also carries through to service inflight where we consult in both business and first class.

Thank you Chef!

Tasting Australia: Flying the Qantas A380…My Top 10!

My trip to the Northern Territory and Southern Australia wouldn’t have been as phenomenal had I not arrived pampered, rested, refreshed and happy. And I have Qantas to thank for all of this. Even though I’ve logged many miles over the past two years I must say that when air travel is done right it can enhance the journey, and I’ve never looked so forward to a long haul as I was with Qantas. While my flight to Australia was on a 747, my flight back home allowed me to check out first hand the plane I had been drooling over since it was first announced: the big giant A380. But enough plane geekness, let’s do this! I give you my Top 10 Qantas Moments!

10. The Qantas First Lounge In Sydney
All flights should begin this way. Shake whatever airplane travel juju you have built up by walking along the vertical wall garden before ascending into the Marc Newson-designed lounge. Depending on when you arrive, you may be enjoying a fantastic breakfast (I absolutely loved my sweetcorn fritters with bacon, avocado, creme fraiche and tomato jam) in the Neil Perry restaurant or an afternoon cocktail at the sparkling white marble bar. In my case you might even just have a glass of Veuve with your breakfast. If work duties refuse to wait you’ll find plenty of space to conduct business, read in the library, or visit the spa.  Almost a shame to call this an airport lounge, really.

9. The Realization That The A380 Is One Big Mama.
Boarding a  plane this large is like embarking a ride at Disneyland: A lane for regular riders, another for Fastpass (business and that elusive first, in this case). Once on board, your sense of scale shifts to automatically accept the larger accommodations. Next, you being to curse American economy travel, realizing that this is the only way to fly. Wide passageways, high ceilings, it’s indeed spacious.

8. The Lounge
I’m not sure if I’d ever have any need to get up from my seat (see #7), but just in case I needed to take a small meeting I could do it in the Qantas Onboard Business Lounge. Or I could just watch TV. Or I could just act like I was and ask a flight attendant to snap my picture. Because that’s what I did.

7. My seat
I’d put this higher in my list but I don’t want my pajamas to get jealous (see #4).  I’ll say this: I could live in this seat. I can find no faults with it. It’s comfy, automatic, cocoon-like enough and it reclines, offering me a full night’s sleep. Which I did on both parts of this trip, resulting in a very happy and rested Matt Upon Arrival.

6. The small amenity kit
Florence Broadhurst-patterned bag with everything you’d need for the flight? Why, thank you. And like many Qantas passengers the world over I’ve hung onto it since my travels. I love this thing.

5. Cheese Tray
When I was young I always thought cheese at the end of the meal was strange YET the only way you could be sophisticated. Shows you how classy I was. Now as an adult I relish this observance (thanks, France!) and was happy to see that a selection of cheeses and accompaniments was available post-meal. And on a plane, no less! These savory bites along with a glass of sticky wine made me feel oh-so-special.

4. Pajamas
Everyone talks about Qantas’ tradition of offering travelers complimentary pajamas, but I wasn’t so sure about this. I usually try to find a happy medium between looking presentable during travel and full-on comfort, but when I was handed my own PJs I immediately took a look at them, observed fellow passengers as they headed off the the restrooms and did the exact same thing! And you know what? I’m so glad I did. Dinner and a movie while relaxing in stretchy comfort is the only way to go and were wholly appropriate. Plus your travel clothes don’t wrinkle so much upon arrival. But I’m still going to chide you if you ever wear pajamas to the supermarket. Oh yes I will.

3. In-flight Entertainment
Making a 13-hour or longer flight enjoyable relies on the confluence of factors, and battling mind-knumbing boredom is at the top of the no-fun list. However, the airline makes sure this can’t possibly happen with a pretty extensive list of movies, tv shows (both American and Australian), a live camera cam and a robust list of music. As a symbol of national recognition I only listened to Kylie Minogue and Empire Of The Sun and watched Hugh Jackman movies. I swear.

2. Food & Wine Selection
I took an informal poll with fellow travelers about memorable airline food experiences. Sadly, not one American carrier was mentioned. Ouch. And naturally, the top of the list included various Asian airlines and Qantas — of course. I’ll go so far as to say it was the best food and beverage program I’ve encounted on a flight, and glancing through the  menu was enough to get me hungry. Mushroom Ragout with Verjuice and Baked Polenta, Pan Fried Salmon and Crushed Peas and Preserved Lemon Dressing, Roasted Chinese Duck with Pickled Cucumber and Shiitake and Bok Choy…hardly the names of dishes you’d expect to find 36,000 feet in the air. Yet Qantas, in conjunction with Chef Neil Perry, has created such an amazing dining experience that most airlines pale in comparison. And the award-winning wine program offers an extensive selection, but I’m fine with a glass or two before reclining and falling fast asleep. And my lamb chops above were delicious, pardon the blurry iphone shot.

1. The Service
None of these on-board amenities would mean a thing if the service and guidance of friendly Quantas folks was missing. It’s not. In fact, each flight employs a Customer Service Manager to make sure things run smoothly. I’m just surprised that an effort as specialized as flying the A380 can also be done with an ease and friendly graciousness, but then again they don’t ask you to “enjoy the Qantas hospitality” for nothing.

Many thanks to Qantas Airways for the service and care to and from Australia. Per FTC regulations, this flight was provided by Qantas.  Check in tomorrow for my last Australian interview with Chef Neil Perry!

Tasting Australia! Part 4!

Part 4 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

If it seems that I’ve been short on wine (yea right!) then my last day visiting South Australia sure made up for that. It was off to the Adelaide Hills and then the Barossa Valley for wine tasting and touring, a day I was really looking forward to.

The day began with an interesting chocolate and wine tasting at Hahndorf Hill Winery. I’m not a big chocolate with wine person whatsoever, but I enjoyed the tasting and loved the views of this gorgeous estate. And yet again, let me mention the light in Australia. It’s beautiful.

After our tasting we headed to The Lane Vineyard and Bistro for a lunch prepared by chef Glen Carr. Oh, my heart be still. Exquisite food, beautiful wine, gorgeous views. The deconstructed caesar left me yearning for a way to recreate it here at home.

We explored more of the Adelaide Hills before settling in to the Kingsford Homestead. My Australian friends might recognize this estate as the setting for the TV series McLeod’s Daughters, and after an extensive remodel this 1856 two-story Georgian mansion is now a beautiful property available for booking.

Well rested with a morning full of flat whites, it was time to meet up with John Baldwin of Barossa Daimler Tours. John is an expert on all things Barossa and the perfect host for a day of sightseeing and tasting. He’s every bit as jovial as his smile might lead you to believe, and for the car fans, there’s this:

We visited the famous Penfolds Winery where we tried our hand at blending before heading to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. She needs no introduction, but to my American friends who might not now of Maggie, she’s an Australian icon who has dedicated her career to food, drink, and Aussie hospitality. I was thrilled to visit her shop and enjoy some pate, a few savory meat pies, salad, and of course some wine.

After lunch there were quick visits to the Torbreck and Rockford Wineries where we sampled various wines at their cellar doors. We also stopped by The Barossa Valley Cheese Company for a few cheese treats and a chat with the cheesemakers.

It was a fantastic day with fantastic company, and as my trip ended and John took us back to Adelaide, there was this:

I believe this is nature’s way of telling me that my second trip (two rainbows!) to Australia was nothing short of magical. And while I do understand it’s quite a trek to visit for many of us in the states, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting.  It’s also a land filled with magic, smiles, contrasts and extremes, with delicious food and wine and amazing people. When I think back to my 7-year old self who dreamt of seeing Australia one day, I can say that a lifetime of anticipation has only been met with a greatness I was never expecting.

Tasting Australia! Part 3

Part 3 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

One of the components of Tasting Australia involves getting out and seeing what makes the region so special. An overnight visit to Kangaroo Island exceeded any standard for a food festival I’ve ever experienced, and probably set the bench mark for what culinary tourism is all about.

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island (after Tazmania and Melville) and is only 70 miles southwest of Adeliade. However, it’s not the easiest place to get to and requires a short plane or ferry ride which might as well be a million miles by the time you finally touch down in this nirvana. With a population of about 4,500 people, it’s mostly agriculture that sustains Kangaroo Island with the production of honey, wool, canola and wine. One thing to note is just how pure this place is, from the fresh water to the clean air.  And it’s this purity you can taste in everything from Kangaroo Island. Speaking of pure, Kangaroo Island is also home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bees in the world, and great effort is made to preserve this as well as the island’s wildlife.

No visit would be complete without a visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park, or as I like to call it So Freaking Amazing And Cute You’ll Explode National Park. And why? Well, look for yourself.

If by chance you’re not quite ready to give up your creature comforts, remember that this is Australia and you could always check into Southern Ocean Lodge. But be prepared to have your standards of island accommodations forever raised.

If I had a dime for every time I heard “Southern Ocean Lodge? Oh you lucky devil” as well as “You will love it, just wait” I’d probably be a rich man. I must admit that I kept my expectations small; I get to see some pretty stellar places to rest one’s head during my travels and most are generally nice but I try to not go into anything with expectations.

I’m glad I didn’t.

The grandeur of Southern Ocean Lodge can’t be explained without setting foot inside. There’s a sense of scale that spreads out across acres, and entering the lobby after walking through the entry corridor feels like a silent production — you swear you can hear a drumroll and orchestra swell inside your head. It’s magnificence in every sense of the word, and actually left me a bit dumbfounded.

The curved great room allows views of the coast, with a serpentlike-row of guestrooms immediately to the left. A suspended fireplace in the middle of the room and an open-access bar makes you wonder if you’ll ever even make it to your room, and with champagne being poured in the lobby I’m surprised I actually did.

But I am oh so glad I did.

Clear, sparse, comfortable, with just the right amount of thoughtful amenities make for beautiful rooms. Two happy Lamingtons waiting also make you smile, even if they do spoil your dinner just a little bit.

Speaking of dinner, the food program is equally as stellar as the architecture, featuring Kangaroo Island produce, cheese, honey, meat and seafood. We spent a few moments with SOL’s chef Tim Bourke learning to make a shellfish stock that is incorporated into vinaigrettes, sauces, and a variety of other dishes. This spectacular reduced stock is like nothing I have ever tasted before, with a pure distinct mellow ocean flavor. My friend Kay from Bon Appetit and I wanted to sneak off with the stuff, it’s that good.

The mornings are particularly serene at Southern Ocean Lodge, and a quick walk down a long wooden bridge is a perfect way to catch the sunrise.

After grabbing our bags and saying goodbye to Southern Ocean Lodge, we embarked on a tour of the island, ending up in the sand and rolling hills of Snellings Beach.

It was magical.

Our lunch began with a quick blessing from members of the island’s Ramindjeri clan. To be in the presence of these men who possess such history and knowledge of the island left me speechless as each one of us received a personal blessing delivered in song.

After our blessing we were greeted with glasses of bubbles (I sense a trend here) accompanied by tree branch skewers of possum and kangaroo that were grilled over an open fire. Cooked only so slightly, a sprinkle of salt finished the small rare bits of meat that were remarkably delicious.

I would like to share a story with you of getting separated from my group and being stranded on this beach but I don’t want to get any hosts in trouble. So I won’t.  But IF I was sharing it I’d tell you it was a) my fault and b) the most peaceful 9 minutes of my life spent here.

After being reunited with my group, we walked into what I can only called an Australian explosion of perfect rustic aesthetic and gobsmackingly phenomenal local food. In a shed. With a chandelier. And mixmatched place settings. And leaves and candles. You can see where I’m going with this, right? It was heaven.

There were roasts, prawns, bread, salad, wine, fantastic conversations with locals and visitors, and I didn’t want this afternoon to end. I really didn’t.

Luckily for us, our day wasn’t over as we headed to Island Pure Sheep Dairy to meet with general manager Justin Harman. We spent time talking about sheep, food production, working with ewe’s milk and tasting his cheeses and yogurts. And the flavor? Clean, distinct, delicious. I’ve always been a fan of anything sheep and Island Pure’s Kefalotiri, Haloumi and Manchego were perfect. How can I get some in Los Angeles? Sigh.

Our last stop was to Kangaroo Island Spirits, South Australia’s first boutique distillery. If you need any evidence to prove just how unique Australians can be then you’ll need to stop here. Sip liqueurs and spirits that have been infused with local ingredients like ligurian honey, native juniper berries and wild fennel while chatting with owner Jon Lark. And make sure to say hello to the friendly pooches out front.

Back to Kingscote for a flight back to Adelaide. Tomorrow? More wine!

Tasting Australia! Part 2

Part 2 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

My days in Australia start the same, no matter what is on the agenda: with a Flat White. For the rest of the world yet to embrace this coffee drink, let me tell you how perfect it is. Similar to a latte but using the microfoam that isn’t scalded, this velvety, smaller drink reminds me of a basic cafe con leche you’d find in Spain or Argentina but with a much naturally sweeter flavor from the heated milk. IT IS PERFECT. And I miss it, although I have heard from friends that they are slowly trickling into American coffee culture. Please hurry. Please.

Who doesn’t love a Farmers Market? Such an excellent opportunity to see the local produce, meet growers, and get a sense of what the community is all about. My visit to the Willunga Farmers Market was an excellent way to experience the local flavor and experience all that was fresh and seasonal. Now in its 10th year, the Willunga Farmers Market was the very first farmers market in South Australia and from the looks of it it will be going on for decades and decades. I couldn’t help but stock up on some Blue Gum and Mangrove Honey, which tastes like nothing else you will ever taste. Blue Gum, a eucalyptus, imparts that distinct medicinal note into the honey, creating a very herbally taste that blew my socks off. Talk about local!

The baker above could clearly sense the fact that I hadn’t eaten in at least 8 hours and insisted I take a baguette with me. Between the amazing loaf and a few slices of venison chorizo (yes, venison chorizo!) my breakfast was all set.

After a few hours at the farmers market and chatting with Billy Doecke, the assistant market manager, it was time to head to McLaren Vale’s Coriole Vineyards for a quick lesson from Mark Lloyd about olive oils.

After learning about this family owned and operated vineyard that produces wine, oil, vinegars and verjuice, we headed to Producers for a quick lesson in cheesemaking.

Producers is a glistening airy building designed by architect Max Pritchard that’s surrounded by vineyards and expansive views.  At Producers you can take a class, sample local wines, enjoy lunch and marvel at the best the area as to offer. In addition to making fresh mozzarella we also made fresh pasta which became our lunch. You can’t get any more local than that.

You might think all this wine talk would leave the beerheads feelng no love,  but you’d be wrong about that thanks to Jeff Goodieson, owner of Goodieson’s Brewery. Oh, I could sigh a million times about this place, I really could. Just a big open air microbrewery that begs you to hang out, enjoy his deliciously crafted beer, and possibly order another. In what might only make sense to my fellow Texans, there is quite a strong South Austin vibe about this place that made it hard to leave.

Plus they have Jennifer the goat. I love her.

Happy from a gorgeous day and delicious beer, I made my way back to Adelaide for a night of rest before heading to Feast for the Senses, Tasting Australia’s Public Event. Trust me when I tell you I’ve been to a million food festivals and this? At the top.

Well organized with a convivial spirit, I spent the afternoon taking in food demos, talking to food and winemakers, and eating the best of South Australia, all while strolling along the river. And I had more wine, can you believe it?

Tasting Australia! Part 1!

Part 1 of a series about this world class event held in Adelaide, South Australia.

The event was almost forkloric to me: a bi-annual gathering of food luminaries, producers, celebrities and chefs that convened in Southern Australia, touring and tasting for a weeklong festival of fine foods on one of my favorite continents. Add to this a disbelief that I would be attending the 2012 Tasting Australia Festival and you might get an idea of how thrilled I was to experience it first hand.

Getting a solid grasp on Australia’s culinary scene and history was a bit daunting for me. First, it’s far away from my home. Second, it’s full of creative people doing creative things. Third, it’s such a deep blend of distinct cultures, both new and old world. And lastly, to paint Australia’s food scene with one broad brush would be like trying to do that with American food. It’d be not only impossible but short-sighted.

But I did know that the foods I’d be tasting during the event in this part of Australia would have a singularity that I could easily put my finger on: quality. It was there in adundance as I sipped wine, ate seafood, sampled honey and cheeses, and ate my way through South Australia. I do have a sneaking suspicion that everything actually tasted better because it was enjoyed in the company of Australians, and I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about them.

I arrived in Adelaide via Alice Springs, taken aback by the instant change of scenery: rocks and fields were replaced by parks and sparkling buildings, gone was the outback and in was a modern, beautiful city.

I had only a few hours to explore Adelaide before jumping into all things delicious that South Australia has to offer.

First Stop: Fleurieu Peninsula

Located south of Adelaide, the sprawling spaces and clear skies of Fleurieu Peninsula make it a must-visit. The peninsula is home to McLaren Vale, one of South Australia’s wine making regions. While the area grows many types of grapes, it’s noted for shiraz and yes, I helped myself to quite a few glasses.

There’s this thing that Australia does so well, perhaps like no other place on earth, and it’s where rustic and modern intersect with fluidity, creating a perfect aesthetic that’s rugged, worn, beautiful and unique. This blend could be seen in action at No 58 Cellar Door & Gallery where we stopped for lunch. Platters of fresh cheeses, tapenades, chutney, salumi and bread were washed down with wine from the region. After lunch we did a little bit of shopping among the gallery’s selection of ceramics, painting and textiles.

After lunch we made our way to the coast to join Renee and Ashley Newman of Kangaroo Island Sailing for a few hours of sightseeing from the luxurious Lady Eugenie, a 21-meter long, 5-meter wide ketch rigged yacht.  More glasses of chilled wine were enjoyed, along with nibbles from the yacht’s own chef. The Lady Eugenie is available for private trips, and has everything on board you could need. Quite a spectacular way to enjoy the Fleurieu Peninsula, if you ask me.

About the only way to close out this amazing first day on the peninsula would be by having an amazing meal with a gorgeous sunset. Enter Port Willunga’s Star Of Greece restaurant, which incidentally is named after a shipwreck and not because of Greek cuisine. First, let’s talk about this sunset.


You must allow Australia to spoil you when it comes to sunsets. And if by chance you can admire these sunsets with a sparkling glass of bubbles then well, you’ve died and gone to heaven. Or Australia, rather.

The cliffside Star Of Greece overlooks Port Willunga Beach, allowing magnificent views while enjoying the food — definitely Australian with touches of Asian and Mediterranean influences. I would have been happy snacking on the salt and pepper squid, caught locally, and nothing more. But of course the entire meal and company was nothing short of magnificent.

Full and happy, I boarded a bus back to Adelaide for the evening before heading out to The Willunga Farmers’ Market. More about that tomorrow!

Riding The Ghan in Australia

This is the first in a series of posts about a visit to Australia. I began my journey in the Northern Territory before ending up in Southern Australia. You can read more about my travels all this week.

Individual cabins. The dining car. Pre-dinner aperatifs in the lounge. While some people may believe that these amenities are relics of a bygone era of travel, their features and comforts exist on The Ghan, part of Australia’s Great Southern Rail Line that connects the Northern Territory to South Australia.

All vintage idealistic notions aside, this Thoroughly Modern Matthew wanted to see if it was possible to go from point A to point B in a velocity I don’t travel in that often: S-L-O-W. Would the lack of crowds and technology compliment or confuse me along my journey? Would I tire of a trainride that is the antithesis of fast, modern travel? And could I even survive without wifi?

Well, I did. And I loved every minute of it.

After spending a few days in a very muggy Darwin, I boarded The Ghan as a band played on the platform. It added a vintage send off as I imagined Australian travelers might have experienced decades ago. Had I not been lugging audio and video equipment I might have forgotten I was standing in 2012.

Train travel was once a major method of getting around, and The Ghan, formerly the Afghan Express, has been doing so since 1929. As it cuts through the outback, you realize that this massive area is where camels and trains excel; not much else would be able to make it across this inhospitable trek. The trainline itself was expanded in 2004, allowing travelers to make it completely across Australia, from The Northern Territory all the way to Adelaide in South Australia. I had stops in Katherine and Alice Springs and met such lovely people.

Establishing your bearings on a train requires a slight recalibration of your self. Door frames are small, passageways are long, and traveling from car to car is a balancing act that must be performed at least four times before mastering. It’s not unlike an airplane, expect for one small thing. Well, actually it’s a large thing that is missing in almost all other modes of travel.

Time and freedom.

Journeys of this nature, the kinds that are measured in days and not hours, afford the hurried traveler moments to actually enjoy the journey. In airplane speak this could mean enjoying the seat in front of you for 9 hours, but on a cross country train ride? You get the ever-changing view of the outback. You get a bar. You get a cabin (if you so choose) to read in, stretch, relax. You also get the interaction of fellow passengers at breakfast, cocktails in the afternoon, and at dinner. You’ll never have to dine alone.

The Ghan itself can be up to 2,329 feet long, depending on the number of travelers. Travel classes vary from Red Service, Gold Service and Platimum, complete with individual cabins and restrooms. My cabin happened to be in a remodeled car, offering me a comfortable room outfitted with classic touches of the past but a bathroom that sparkled with modernity. Cramped yes, but private and the best part? All mine.
My trip on The Ghan coincided with a special ANZAC DAY trip, with the train making special steps throughout the outback for ANZAC ceremonies and events I felt doubly lucky; one part was experiencing a part of Australia not many see, the other half paying witness & tribute to Australian citizens who fought and died in the war.

Believe it or not, you don’t really get bored as you travel throughout the outback. At least not on The Ghan. It’s easy to get lost in discussions, in a book, or with the changing landscape that passes you outside your window. Native trees, red earth, bushes and tall termite towers fill the view, and before you know it you’ve spent 30 minutes starting at earth that seems as endless as the milky way. You’re only brought back to eart by the train’s announcements.

“Ladies and gentleman, dinner with be served shortly. Please make your way to the dining car or lounge soon.”

You don’t need to ask me twice.

Speaking of dinner, I must admit that this was part of my trip that I was most interested in. Full meals, three times a day, served in a moving restaurant from a galley kitchen no wider than the train car itself.

How? With lots and lots of planning.

I spent a few minutes in the galley chatting with Russell Seymour, the chef who was responsible for keeping so many travelers well fed. Having worked in a traditional (i.e. stationary) kitchen for most that 20 years, his last three on the Ghan aren’t terribly different, save for the space constraints and the fact that the kitchen is powered by electricity and not gas. This affects cooking times, but I was also interested in hearing about the constant movement of the train. He assured me that things like massive pots of boiling water do indeed move around, but guards on the stovetop prevent it from crashing down. And after a while one learns how to do things just as you did before, just as soon as you get used to working in a moving kitchen. One insight? You’re always aware of your fingers and pay continual attention to where your hands are while prepping food.  I would hope so!

Because of space constraints and that fact that the Ghan runs through the outback, menus are planned with precision, with provisions well laid out before the journey begins. You can’t exactly stop by the market to pick up a few missing things, and Chef Russell once told us that an 18-hour train delay in the middle of nowhere forced him to be rather creative. But not to worry, all the passengers remained well-fed three times a day while they waited. That’s a professional, folks!

And how was the food? Quite delicious. Getting used to beans and toast for breakfast took no time to adjust to (in fact I miss it!), and a lunch of roast with vegetables and potatoes seemed like the proper thing to do. Kangaroo Steak was also served, which for an American definitely goes down as a first.

While I left my travel companions a bit early and departed The Ghan in Alice Springs, I would have easily continued for the rest of my journey without a moment’s hesitation. In fact, it was a unique experience that had me traveling in style and relaxation that allowed me to see a huge part of Australia I might not have otherwise. I do think I’ll visit again and take my time traveling throughthe outback this way, and if you’re looking for me I’ll be the one holding a glass of champagne in the club car.

Thanks to Australia’s Great Southern Rail for a lifelong memorable experience! As per FTC disclosure, travel and accommodations were provided by Great Southern Rail.

Set those DVRs! Me-N-Paula = Oh My God

Dear friends, if you’re not doing anything this Saturday morning you can turn on your television and watch me a) cooking b) actin’ a fool c) trying to keep it together in the presence of Paula Deen. Ok, actually maybe they edited  c) out of the show, I don’t know. You never know what happens until you see the show.

Here’s the official show description:

There’s a party in the kitchen today, y’all! Paula Deen and her new friend Matt Armendariz are whipping up the perfect party bites to make any party an absolute blast. This shindig heats up with Paula’s delightfully flakey Hot Dog and Bacon Bundles and continues with Matt’s playfully delicious Chicken and Waffles. And, of course, no party would be complete without gooey finger-licking S’mores With Homemade Marshmallows. Now that’s a party, y’all!

As much of a ham as I am, I always feel like I’m going to pull a Cindy Brady moment whenever I’m in front of a camera. You know what I’m talking about? That little brat walked around telling EVERYONE how she was gonna be on tv, how hot she thought she was, that diva in polyester and pigtails, but when that little red light came on she was a TOTAL CHICKEN! So I can never tell how I’ll come across. If I do appear quiet, please be nice to me and realize that standing next to Miss Paula is a pure joy and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. But I ain’t gonna lie, I was nervous.

So yea, if you have nothing better to do watch me and Paula make some really fun recipes from my book On A Stick! Here are the air dates on Food Network:

  • Jun 30, 201210:00 AM ET/PT
  • Jul 02, 20125:00 PM ET/PT
  • Jul 09, 201212:00 PM ET/PT

And never let it be said that I’m not a party, y’all!

P.S. Meet me in person and I can tell you about all the backstage shenanigans. But only in person. Long story short: I freaking LOVE Paula Deen. And Brandon. And her entire crew.


My favorite places in Nova Scotia

Well folks, I wanted to share with you the two places in Nova Scotia that really left a big impression on me. Truth be told, all of them did, every single place. But these two places were so fantastic that I just had to write about them all by their little happy selves.  And they really couldn’t be more on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I’ll explain it in just a few.

John’s Lunch

They say they’ve been serving the best seafood since 1969 and something tells me they ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. This is the place of my dreams, the type of restaurant that serves no frills and is packed with local flavor. It’s a landmark and as I type this I am a) crying and b) starving because I am obsessed with their Fried Haddock Tips and Fried Clams. It’s old school of the highest order, and when you travel the world eating course after course of precious food you need moments like this to bring you back to earth. It’s soul food, pure and simple. Not to mention it’s a pretty salty and crunchy (WHICH MEANS HEAVENLY) way to sample the local seafood.

Hey, did I mention I am obsessed with the Fried Haddock Tips and Fried Clams? Did I?

As luck would have it, I guess I was a little too vocal in my love and admiration of the fried seafood that was in front of me as we were offered another heaping mound of fried clams. Just cuz. “Here, you get to eat the mistakes”.  Mistakes? Hardly.

I’d hop on a plane tomorrow just to eat here.



Tangled Garden

I’d also hop on a plane to visit Tangled Gardent, located about an hour outside of Halifax. This store featured handcrafted condiments like jams, jellies, chutneys, vinegars, mustards and liqueurs all made with fruits and herbs that they grow in the back of the shop. But it’s not your regular “out back” kind of garden: this is a labyrinth of paths and passageways that fill your senses. It’s simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, with playful touches that make you feel as if there’s some magic happening here. It’s hard to explain but I was definitely enchanted here in a way I haven’t been in quite some time. It’s just magical.

I also know where my holidays gifts will be coming from this year :)