Why I Created Culinary Adventures with Abby!

Culinary Adventures with Abby

A Little Division of Cooking with Abby

The reason I lead culinary adventures to Italy and France is simple - the journey to making them a reality, is longer. I want to share my love of Cooking, Eating, Breaking Bread, and truly, “Living” with all that come with me! Sharing fresh ingredients, cooking, wine tasting, art, and the gift of time with my clients, friends, and travellers, is the motivation behind the trips. I think one of the most important realizations I came to when Richard and I went with our girls and friends for 22 days to Italy in 2012, was that time together, savoring each meal, visiting ancient churches, searching for the perfect lemon (as an example), and then cooking and eating together, was life changing.  I call it a “soulful shift in my life’s direction”.   However, it still took some time to make these trips a reality.

Why was Italy 2012 life changing?  Life gets busy for all of us. For many of us, we have careers, may have children, organizations we work with, animals that need us to care for them, parents, siblings, and friends who need us too. Schedules… money...the list can go on and on as to why one cannot take the time to savor a trip to another country. When I stepped onto the plane at Logan Airport on July 4, 2012, I mentally said “OK” to leaving my store, my responsibilities to others (except my nuclear family), and my “schedule” on the tarmac in Boston. Once we took off, I decided I would immerse myself in the Italian Culture. I still had to check in with my staff as I was the boss, but I put someone in control and trusted that person to execute the duties that she had accepted. Letting go of my everyday universe was hard, but it allowed me some time to rethink my goals. Specifically, at the end of the trip, I knew deep down that I was going to shift my career to Food & Wine, and change the pace of my life. After 22 days in Italy, I realized I needed more time with those that I love and less time with people and groups and things that did not fill my soul with joy.   I also wanted to build something that would last; and create experiences that bring happiness, joy, and new things to other’s lives.

Not to gloss over the next 4-5 years, but in that time, I closed my retail store, went to culinary school, moved from the city to Norwell, MA, cultivated a huge garden with my husband, and settled our younger daughter into a new school.   Some of those decisions were painful and difficult. Closing our retail business, in a community that we adored and lived in, was seriously heartbreaking.  Deciding to sell our house and move from our beloved Charlestown, heartbreaking and very exciting at the same time. We needed and wanted more space for a garden – and we needed a change after closing the store.  Culinary School was a total “win” and an exciting and magical time for me. It was there that I decided I wanted to have my own cooking school, and to create adventures to places that are meaningful for food, wine, olive oil, artists and history.

One of the defining moments of my life came while I cooked alongside the famous Master Chef, Jacques Pépin. He talked of family, and food memories, and the joy of just picking up a spoon. I felt connected to everything he was saying. The long dinners around my family table growing up, the side food businesses, the intricate dinner parties, the happiness I felt and feel when I step into the kitchen, and the memories of so many times with my family and my friends. Roast Beef with Oven Roasted Potatoes, Haricots-Vert, and the perfect Claret; can bring me back to my childhood table with my family? Or maybe back to the perfect Christmas Dinner with my husband and our girls.  Other moments during the 22 days that changed my life include the day I met my dear friend, Lorena Autuori. She is a wonderful chef who taught us how to make pasta in her 16th century home. She is an even more wonderful friend.

In the small medieval village of San Gemini, Terni, Umbria, I met Lorena. Our group went there to take a cooking lesson with Lorena, and 8 or 9 hours later, we left to return to our Villa. The next day, she came to us for dinner. The rest is history!  Our families became dear friends. Both of us were destined to cook – and we were both stuck in different places. Lorena is a special education teacher by day –and an amazing Chef, cooking teacher, and restaurateur the rest of the time. We made things happen together– including collaborations with well-known chefs, her children working in the US, and my Culinary Adventures to Umbria. Her dedication to the ingredients, her honesty with her recipes, and her willingness to take hours to make one dish perfect, forever changed me as a chef, and inspired me to create trips that will hopefully inspire many to slow down and savor each and every moment.

During the summer of 2015, my family went out west to San Francisco, LA, and San Diego for six weeks. We were there for my husband’s business. I started to build out the culinary adventures mentally – wanting to include Northern California as a destination. During our adventure out west, we received a life changing phone call from my younger sisters, who were in Italy on a family trip. My stepmom had suffered an aneurysm, and the prognosis was not encouraging. We call JoAnn, Mimi. Mimi survived a very long surgery, and fell into a coma, that she would stay in for weeks. Upon my arrival home from the West Coast, I hopped on a plane to Florence, Italy, to meet my little sister in Siena, where Mimi was in the hospital.  For 7 or 8 days, it was just the two of us. We went to the hospital morning and night to talk to Mimi, hold her hand, put lotion on her face, and tell her stories in the hope she could hear us talking to her.  After our night visits, we made our way down to the Piazza del Campo where restaurants congregate, one after the other. There was much comfort in doing something “normal”. The warmth of the people, the beauty of each plate and the care put into every meal we ate, were very cathartic and helpful to us both.  We drank the delicious wine and faced the Duomo di Siena while we ate and talked – and the ancient building brought us a measure of comfort. It was there that I knew I would keep coming back to Italy – and that I wanted to add these adventures to my business. But what happened over the next 6 months is what prompted me to bring them to life and make them happen.

Mimi did eventually wake up, and she seemed to know us and love us and understand what we were saying. However, the aneurysm severely affected her mobility, her ability to eat by herself, and her ability to walk.  It became apparent over many months, and 24/7 caregiving at home, that our family could not physically take care of her day to day needs. Mimi transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, and then last May, to a nursing home in her beloved Washington, D.C. The facility is beautiful, and the staff is professional and kind. Yet every time I go to see her, I cannot help but think that her life was cut short. At 65, a vibrant, smart, dedicated mom, wife, and CEO of a company, will live out her life in a place she did not choose.  Every time I leave Mimi, I vow to do something more with my days. I vow to conquer fears, do things that scare me, and seek out moments of joy, love, collaboration, and growth.   During the same time period of Mimi’s transition to the rehab hospital and nursing home, one of my sisters gave birth to our niece. I think we all felt she was a gift to our family.  In the midst of devastating sadness and adjusting to a “new normal”, along comes our sweet baby girl, full of life and joy and excitement.  Baby Alex became our reason to move ahead with happiness. She also lights Mimi’s life up – as they clearly have a connection that cannot be dissolved by immobility or impossible circumstances.  “Show her how to live” is what always enters my mind when I am with sweet baby Alex (and our girls).

My Culinary Adventure trips are for this reason:  Life can change in an instant. We never do know what will happen. So…I seek out other chefs who love to teach, and can teach us something about their local cuisine. I seek out sommeliers and olive growers and farmers who know their crafts well – and speak to us in terms we understand, and can guide us in further appreciating the efforts of wine making and farming. I seek out farmers who can show us how cheese it made, and how they raise their animals. Their care speaks volume about their desires and efforts to be true to what they do.   The places we visit will change you – because the people are often from a long line of caretakers, farmers, growers and cheese makers. One sheep farm we visit to taste fresh ricotta cheese has been in the family for 500 years. The copper bowl they use in production is the original bowl from 500 years ago. When we visit Luca, the porchetta maker, we step into a shop that he restored. He uses an oven from 1699 that he also lovingly restored. When we cook with Lorena, we are cooking authentic recipes from Umbria. Every ingredient is hand picked and hand made.   This is the same with Daniela in Rome, and Letizia in Assisi, and Lorenzo in Orvieto. In Provence, France, we walk the local street markets, cook with local chefs, make chocolate with infamous chocolatiers, tour and taste some of the best wine (and beer!) the world has to offer us all. Lavender, honey, olives, linens, and soaps are just some of the market items. Eating at one of the world’s best restaurants, also located in Provence, occurs on our France Adventure.   Artists such as van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Matisse, and so many more influence our days as well.  Food and Art go hand in hand.

Whether you pick the Culinary Adventure to Italy or France, I personally guarantee that you will experience people, places and things that you never have imagined, even if you have been to these destinations before. My adventures are limited to 4-8 people, as I like the groups to enjoy the activities, savor the classes, taste the wine longer -- if one so desires J, and connect with others in our group. A smaller group also gives me the flexibility to add or change things on “on the fly” to make the most of the moments!

I hope to welcome you on A Culinary Adventure with Abby! Italy and France are only the beginning. However, I can imagine making the journey to my beloved Italy and Provence, France, every single year. I always tell my girls and clients, “with a little planning, and a lot of hustle, one can make anything happen”.  I work very diligently and find the right people to partner with on our adventures – and many become dear friends. I have worked hard to keep costs reasonable. There are less expensive tours out there –but they are not as inclusive or flexible. I am proud of my Adventures, and hope to travel with you, very soon.

About Chef Abby Gray:

Abby Gray is a Private Chef, Mother, Wife, Sister, Daughter, and Entrepreneur.  After many years in advertising and publishing, she opened a high-end gift boutique & events business in Charlestown, MA. This is where she further developed her “Cooking with Abby” business plan and “Culinary Adventures Ideas”. Always passionate about food, & feeding her family, friends, clients and strangers, Abby, at almost 50 years old, has settled into her perfect career.

Abby runs her cooking school out of her home in Norwell, MA. Contact Abby directly @: (617) 997-5822, or email Abby @: cookingwithabbygray@gmail.com

Abby is passionate about giving you a culinary adventure you will never forget. You can learn more about Abby via her website: cookingwithabby.com.

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