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Sunday, October 21, 2012

International Culinary Experience (a series)


 I recently (a few months ago) embarked on a trip of a lifetime as a culinary student.  I was selected to be part of a small group to travel to France as an enhancement to my culinary studies.  I'm going to print selections of my trip log over the next few weeks to let you all know what it was like.  I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I had writing it and experiencing it.

FRANCE - At the Beginning
Weeks before this trip I am contemplating what to pack and what to leave behind;  I know that I have to pack light and be able to navigate the narrow streets of France with nimble efficiency.  We were told by Chef Michel Bouit (the trip leader) that some of our traversing will involve walking with our luggage to certain meeting points and that we should plan accordingly.

Just landed in Frankfurt, Germany

I have now packed and re-packed 3 times and am satisfied that I have the proper amount of luggage proportionate to this wonderful trip that I’m embarking on very soon.

I want to take some electronics i.e., computer, digital cameras (yes, plural) and my phone and this will require a certain amount of re-charging equipment that takes up room in luggage and I’m not too excited about this but will endure the expected discomfort associated with being “plugged-in”.

My follow-up (after I’ve returned from this trip) to these paragraphs is in this color red and bold as I want to convey just how stupid I was to want to be “plugged-in”.  What the hell was I thinking?  This wanting to chronicle everything with multiple cameras (I only used one), phone (used very sparingly), voice recorder (I never used this), power cell (I never used this either) and laptop was absolutely absurd. 

I made sure to pack the accompanying power cords, surge protectors, charging apparatus and associated equipment for this trip only to come to the realization that I didn’t need 90% of this crap.  What an idiot I am as I have circumnavigated the globe as an engineer for DuPont approximately 9 times and am an expert packer.  Well apparently NOT.  I was saddled with stuff that I didn’t use and then some stuff became faulty (I just threw this stuff out – a blessing in disguise that it broke).

I should have listened to Chef Michel Bouit and Chef Bricker but I wanted to prove that it could be done….and it can be done except that it was a major pain in the you-know-what.  I threw stuff out and I gave stuff away to other students and stowed other stuff to never take out again until I returned home.  From now on when I travel, I’m only going to pack the absolute necessities!  Okay, my rant is now over…..

Having a beer waiting for my next flight

THE TRIP – Tuesday (May 15th)
Driving to the bus station with my brother-in-law; I’m realizing that the time is upon me and my excitement level is barely contained and I’m nearly jumping out of my skin!  I can only imagine what lies ahead….will I have fantastic memories? Of course I will!  While waiting in downtown Indianapolis my fellow students and I are talking nervously among one another anticipating the arrival of our bus taking us to Chicago to catch our flight to Frankfurt.

Our palpable anticipation is evident as we all are moving our feet anxiously awaiting the Megabus which will be our chariot to travels of rich experiences and stories told and re-told to our children and grandchildren over the years.  Finally the Megabus approaches and we all cheer with glee.  As we settle in for the trip my mind races to the expectations of what might become the trip of a lifetime….what WILL be the trip of a life time.

Turns out our first little adventure comes in Chicago as we are wandering the streets looking for the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) depot that will take us to O’Hare airport.  We eventually stopped a passer-by on the street and asked directions and we were on our way.  We nestled in at the back of the train and laid witness to the menagerie of characters that would become our temporary neighbors on this short leg of our trip.

Chicago is a zoo!

I had the pleasure of sitting directly behind a mother and her precocious child who demonstrated a curiosity akin to that of utter fascination.  She was constantly touching the zippers on my luggage and her mother would teach her what they were as well as talk to her about traveling and what-not.  This mother was very caring and loving in the way she spoke and touched her daughter and this warmed my heart.

The Flight
Our flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany will take approx. seven and a half hours so it’s time to settle in and try and enjoy this leg of our journey.  My plan is to engage in conversation for as long as possible and then watch a few movies on my laptop and then soon after try to get some shut-eye for the rest of the trip.  I was able to follow this plan quite well except for the sleeping part as most folks are unable to sleep on most any flight. 

Just before we boarded the plane; I engaged in some people-watching and realized that I was in the company of an enormous amount of native Germans looking to go home.  There was a young soccer team milling around bouncing a soccer ball to and fro.  Then my eye spotted a mother breast feeding a baby and understood that inhibitions in Europe are much different than that of America.  I would spot out of the corner of my eye that this mother broke the baby away from her bosom and made no attempt to cover up.  I strained to keep from looking to see if my suspicions were correct and finally I succumbed to the temptation and looked to discover that I was right and then suddenly I had to look away again.  It was a fair amount of time before my gaze turned back in her direction feeling comfortable that she would have covered up by now…she had not and this time I began to notice her traveling companions having no compunction to her nudity.  I figured if they don’t have a problem then neither do I.  This is my first European experience and we haven’t even left American soil!

When we touched down in Frankfurt I was already weary with the effects of being awake for 20 hours and it would only get worse.  Our layover wasn’t very long (an hour) and quite uneventful which was fine with me as I was approaching zombie-like status seemingly struggling to stay awake all the while trying to suppress a deep-rooted energy that is fueling a combative war inside my body.

I’ve felt this many times before during my travels as an engineer all over the world and I was somehow comforted by this discomfort.  I knew there would have to be some bad mixed in with the enormity of good that would soon follow.  We are now boarding the transport that will take us out on the tarmac to board our much smaller aircraft and this also warmed my heart as it too reminded me of many a trip abroad.  The flight to Toulouse, France was an uneventful one (thank god) and my weariness was displaced with new-found anticipation because I was now in France!

Chef Michel Bouit and I at the Institute de Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France

We would first meet Michel Bouit at the airport and he would be an elixir for our collective fatigue.  His first words were “ARE YOU EXCITED?!!!”  This man’s energy level is through the roof which is most appropriate for his position as our travel planner/guide.  This man is meticulous in his approach to travel planning and treatment of his minions (us).  His speeches are filled with excitement, animations, voice inflection and kinetic movement as that of the Energizer® bunny.  He makes sure to let us know exactly what his expectations are in no uncertain terms and does so in a way that is engaging, enjoyable and fun.  I really enjoy being in his company and feel a kinship towards this man similar to a family member and yet, I barely know him.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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