ROBERT ST JOHN: Tour hits the fast track with plans to return home in February

By Robert St. John

List the correct reason why the Eating Europe Tour has been changed from 30 countries in 12 months, to 23 countries in six months:
a.) The European Union only allows visiting non-residents to stay up to six months without establishing temporary residency.
b.) The Volvo company will only allow us to drive the newly purchased car for six months before we have to ship it over to America (or pay an extra 25 percent value added tax).
c.) An unstable economy in the European Union.
d.) The original 12-month figure was an arbitrary number pulled from thin air.
e.) We quickly figured out that we could cover European ground quicker than we anticipated.
f.) The kids think their mother is a harsher taskmaster and homeschool teacher than their actual teachers back home, for whom they have a newfound appreciation.
g.) Their mother has a newfound appreciation for those same teachers back home.
h.) Robert is worksick. Before this journey, the most time he had ever taken off work (in 24 years) was 10 days, over 13 years ago.
i.) Robert is without a kitchen and chomping at the bit to start the recipe-testing phase for the new book “An Italian Palate.”
j.) Robert is ready to bring the food he has researched and eaten back home.
k.) Everyone is a little tired of living out of a suitcase through three seasons on three continents.
l.) Comfortable beds and comfortable pillows await our return.
m.) All of the above.
The correct answer is “all of the above,” with heavy emphasis on a, b and h.
I am ready to go back to work.
The paintings for the new book “An Italian Palate” are completed, and all of the food research for that book (and the Italian restaurant back home) is complete. I am ready to get started.
One thing I misjudged when planning this trip was recipe testing. Even though we have rented apartments and villas in many of the cities and towns along the way, there is no way to effectively test a recipe over here. Most of the kitchens are small and ill equipped.
In the meantime, I have stepped up the schedule, and we are setting a mad pace with Portugal, France, Switzerland, England, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden ahead of us.
I write this column while sitting at a desk overlooking the Christmas lights of Barcelona. I love this town and its energy. It is sure to make my top-five list. The food I have eaten here has reawakened a fire of creativity and inspiration, and I’m ready to bring it back home.
I haven’t been this energized about food since I ate my first fine-dining meal in New Orleans after opening my first restaurant. Back then, I was looking at cuisine through the fresh eyes of someone who wanted to cook and replicate dishes in a commercial kitchen. That burning desire has been rekindled on this trip.
The meals we ate in Italy inspired me to learn and create, and I dove in, stomach first. The food in France confirmed my longtime admiration. Spanish food inspires me to eat. I love it.
Ultimately, we have made life-changing discoveries. We have made lifelong friendships. My family has bonded like never before and our relationships with each other have grown stronger. We have learned so much, not only about the food and culture of other countries, but also about each other. We have seen beautiful art, landscapes and architecture, and we have eaten amazing food. Now we will step up the pace and return home in February with rekindled hearts, satisfied souls and energized aspirations.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.