Four decades ago, as a college student studying art in Salzburg, I used my Eurail pass to zip many places around the Continent, including France’s Mediterranean coast. Hopping on and off of that coastal train made an outsized impression on me, and helped turn me into a lifelong Francophile. I was awed by the sea, the scenery, the architecture, and the food. Oh, that food. Even on a college student’s budget, I was able to enjoy so many area specialties—pissaladiere, socca, salads niçoise, bouillabaisse and, brand-new-to-me-at-the-time, stuffed squid. I had grown up in a home where food was important, but these travels substantially broadened my sense of culinary adventure and my palate.
I reveled in this world of travel and food, but I never had the slightest inkling then that those passions could become a career. Instead, I worked initially in arts management, for 15 years. The job helped pay for subsequent trips back to France, for schussing down alpine ski runs, discovering scores of Les Plus Beaux Villages, laying on the warm sands of St. Tropez, sampling wine and Armagnac, and eating, always eating.
Back in the mid-1980s, my husband Bill announced that he wanted to retire from his real job and write about our travels, to help underwrite them. I became his travel assistant. Because we believed that enjoying the food in different destinations was an important reason to see the world, that topic was key to our travel guides and articles. That led to an invitation to write a cookbook, and it led to others. A lot of others! Four of them won prestigious James Beard Foundation awards, and all of them were praised for their depth of research, big bold flavors, and accessibility for home cooks.
Through that writing about food, our ongoing travels to France, and a good bit of serendipity, we met a Dordogne-based couple who hosted culinary weeks organized by chefs and cookbook authors. That led to an invitation to bring groups to that magical part of southwest France, which I did for a decade, with Bill as my cooking assistant. Eventually, the local hosts decided to sell their estate and get out of the tour business. Around that same time, Bill— my great love, my co-author, my business partner—died of cancer. I was forced to regroup, deciding through my sorrow, to move forward with food writing and a weekly radio show. In the back of my mind was the idea of finding a new collaborator for French food adventures. Again, serendipity intervened.
In Fall 2019, after some solo time in Nice, I joined a tour of Provence and Occitanie, put together by Nancy McGee’s Absolutely Southern France. It was beautifully organized and loads of fun. One day, Nancy met us in her home base of Séte, a charming Mediterranean town I hadn’t visited before. Enjoying the market overflowing with the area’s seafood and other bounty, then wandering the Venetian-style canals, it struck me that I had found the area I wanted to share with other culinary travelers. To my delight, Nancy agreed to be my partner in this venture. If you too love food, I hope you’ll join an upcoming trip.
Are you excited about food? Check out the 2021 South of France Culinary Adventure tour details with Cheryl here