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By Bonnie Carroll

1Every once in a while something happens that comes as a complete unexpected surprise, and in April I had the pleasure to experience one of those unforeseen joys – a personal invitation from Riccardo Strano, the North American Director of the Italian Government Tourist Board, to travel to Italy as a member of the Italy Symposium 2007. This trip was made possible through the generosity and cooperation of the Italian Government Tourist Board, the Italian Travel Promotion Council, the Region of Abruzzo and Eurofly Airlines.

The warm welcome we received from Ottaviano Del Turco, President of Regione Abruzzo and Enrico Paolini, Vice President of ENIT-National Tourist Board, the Chairman of National Conference of the Regional Ministers of Tourism, and Vice President of Regione Abruzzo was an amazing entrée to explore and visit the treasures of an area filled with charming and unique provences. Resting gracefully near the Adriatic Sea, and extending into untouched landscapes and mountain areas, where few visitors have explored, Abruzzo is a treasure trove of visual beauty.

Our arrival at Pescara from JFK on the Eurofly maiden flight was like something out of a Fellini film. Government officials were waiting on a red carpet as we exited the plane, and once inside the terminal we were greeted by a marching band and so many welcoming smiles from the people of this Italian region who had volunteered to assist us on our special journey. The eagerness of the residents to share their history, culture, holy churches, ancient fortresses, and rare archeological sites with us was impressive and quite touching.

Following the formal press conference, we were hosted to a magnificent and seemingly unending buffet that gave new definition to the term ‘mangia bene’. We then boarded busses that would become our second home for many days of touring through the selected provinces, and places of interest on our schedule. The hotels hosting the group included Hotel Berti, Hotel Prominade, Hotel Sea Lion, and the Hotel Villa Maria.

During our week we attended the Italian Symposium 2007, spoke with tour directors and travel agents attending the event, and visited lovely destinations like Teramo, Aquila and Chieti. In Lanciano we visited the Piazzale D’Amico; the Sanctuary of the Eucharistic miracle, and watched the ‘Mastrogiurato’ flag-waving performers. In Chieti we visited the Communal Villa and the National Archaeological Museum “Villa Frigerj” where we viewed the famous Capistrano Warrior sculpture, and were pleasantly entertained by the orchestra of the Amarrucino Theatre. In Montesilvano we visited Civitella del Tronto and climbed to the top of the Fortress. We were hosted to a spectacular lunch at the Hotel Zunica, where the chefs paraded in a beautiful pig on a spit that was excellent. The hand-rolled pasta and artistic desserts at Hotel Zunica delighted everyone and are not to be missed.

In Castelli we reveled in the beautiful ceramics this area is known for. At Capestrano we climbed through the castle and in Cocullo we saw an enactment of the San Domenico celebration with the snake-catchers. In Salmona we enjoyed dinner at the cloister of Santa Chiara, following a flag-waiving performance. We arrived in Loreto Aprutino, Piazza Garibaldi to enjoy a tour of the historic centre, experience an ‘oleoteca regionale’ and Extra Virgin Olive Oil tasting, followed by an elegant dinner at ‘Castello Chiola’.

We were hosted and greeted in each of these destinations by local officials, and area residents who were so hospitable. Our lunches and dinners were held in extraordinary venues, where the chefs and servers worked extremely hard to insure a memorable experience for our groups. At the Museo Musicale d’Abruzzo we were entertained by Istituto Nazionale Tostiano members Valentina Paolini, soprano, Fabio Pollegioni, tenor and Alberto Ortolano, pianist, who treated us to three beautiful Italian selections. The performance was followed by a spectacular seafood luncheon at Ristorante Albergo Villa Amaiella. The local wines of Abruzzo are delicious, and vary from Provence to Provence. Our last night was an award dinner at “Villa Chiara”. It was a magical and memorable night of fine food and fireworks under the stars, where the sponsors and staff were all honored for their contributions to the success of the 2007 event.

The finale of our trip was touring Rome, and a rooftop dinner, which included watching the sun setting behind the Vatican. The epicurean dinner menu selections were ‘eternal city’ perfection and exemplified the gentle touch of a fine Roman chef. For me, the best part of this amazing adventure was saved for last. On the morning of our departure, which happened to be the day of the Italian liberation celebration in Rome, I walked from Republic Square to the Spanish Steps, and no one was on the streets. It was a delight to take photos and be one with the spirit of this great Italian city. I stopped to say hello to my favorite concierge at the Hassler hotel, and felt sad to leave as I headed back to the Exedra Hotel to board my bus for the airport.

The Eurofly Airlines travel to and from Italy was perfect, and the VIP lounges in JFK provided a wonderful place to talk with fellow travelers from the Symposium 2007. I will be forever grateful for this invitation and for the opportunity to know the dear people in Abruzzo, to be introduced to their history, culture, music, spiritual integrity and especially their food. Many thanks to everyone from the organizing committee, and to all the unforgettable Italian people who touched my life during this awe inspiring journey to the heart of Italy.

My own personal love affair with Italy over the years is filled with special moments, and I have been very fortunate to visit many of the popular destination cities. I adore Rome, Florence, Milan, Como, Pisa, and Tuscany, but my journey through the region of Abruzzo opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more to Italy to be seen and savored. There are ‘secret garden’ destinations just hours from these world-class cities that hold unexpected treasures to be discovered, and the provicences of Abruzzo are among the best of them.

For information visit: www.euroflyusa.com,
, www.rigione.abruzzo.it/tourismo/


“Two Hot Tamales” Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger
Honored at 2007 Cooking for Solutions

By Bonnie Carroll

Ken Petersen, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and all who support the Cooking for Solutions events, were all on hand to see and celebrate the “Two Hot Tamales” Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, who were honored for their ongoing support to protect and preserve endangered ocean species, and for their dedication to finding proactive solutions to our world’s problems. The Awards Ceremony was the kick-off for the 7th annual fun filled schedule of meeting chefs, tasting fabulous food & wine, viewing cooking demonstrations, taking destination tours, and just totally enjoying the company of food lovers who care about the sea and our planet. The Monterey Plaza Hotel on the Bay graciously hosted guests and produced several outstanding segments of the weekend activities..

Feniger and Milliken began their chef adventures in a tiny restaurant on Melrose in Los Angeles, and have accomplished enormous success due not only to their hard work and determination, but also to their generosity of spirit in giving back to society. Today they are renowned restaurateurs, cookbook authors, radio and TV personalities. Their kindness, and charitable nature is known to many who are involved with Share Our Strength, and they strive to assist other upcoming women chefs throughout the nation achieve their dreams.

The closing event of 2007 was the Seafood Challenge on the outside patio of the Monterey Plaza, where celebrity chefs from the US and Canada competed for awards by cooking up amazing dishes in minutes. The “Two Hot Tamales” were joined by writer/actor John Cleese, as well as Hawaiian chef Sam Choy and Jim Dodge of Bon Appetit Management Company (a major event sponsor), who had fun interviewing the chefs, and selecting the winners.

This finale was so much fun, and such a culinary inspiration to all the foodies attending, and there were many who came from places as far away as Dallas to savor the rewards of this chef event. Keith Frogett, Chris Douglas, Douglas Katz and Tim Woods of Bernardin Lodge raced to beat the clock in creating their divine seafood dishes, and an unforgettable time was had by all.

Many thanks to the entire staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Plaza for another unforgettable seafood extravaganza by the Bay.

CLICK HERE for a Father’s Day Recipe
Classic Steak Tartare with Habanero Aioli

© 2008 Bonnie Carroll, All Rights Reserved