Featured Story

Meeting the Kitchen Gypsy

By Kay Stellpflug

There are people who love to travel. They can’t wait to experience the next adventure and the thrill of the unknown. There are people who love to cook. They appreciate the smells and flavors of the sweet and the savory. The endless combinations of fresh foods, herbs and spices make their hearts sing.

And then there is Joanne Weir. She loves to travel AND she loves to cook and she does both with flair and joy. Catching up with her is no easy feat, but on a recent boat trip on AMAWATERWAYS I was able to not only meet her, but interview her as well.

If you are wondering who she is, you are not alone. I had to admit (and I admitted it to her) I had never heard of her.

Enthusiastic members of her group of friends were quick to fill me in. “She is a famous chef.” “She has written over a dozen books.” “She’s been on the Today Show and on public television and Create TV.” “She is filming on this trip for her new show starting in January on Public television.”

Well, that got my attention. But I thought I would verify. I had to ask someone who would know. I emailed Tina Swain in Beaver Dam, who knows all-things- cooking, to ask her if she ever heard of Joanne Weir. “Yes, of course. I absolutely love her. I love her method of instruction. Her enthusiasm is evident on her face and the faces of her students. To have people leave with a solid arsenal of techniques and recipes is the goal of any good teacher or coach and she’s it. Joanne has a way of drawing people out of their comfort zone.” Tina clearly had heard of her!

Well, if she made cooking look fun and easy, I decided to sit in and watch the filming of her show. From the back of the room I noticed several things at once. She was absolutely charming and she knew what she was doing. She laughed when she made a mistake and carried on, taking herself lightly. I like that in a professional.

She sidetracked herself with stories about her mother, about falling in love with wine and about being totally enchanted by a winemaker. This all endeared her to her audience. She told a wonderful story about a tomato sandwich. It made your mouth water for a simple tomato sandwich all while she continued doing what she was about.

What she was about was making cooking look like so much fun anyone would want to do it. I was hooked. I not only wanted to meet her; I wanted others to get to know her. She was that good.

As gracious as she is prolific (seventeen cookbooks and a memoir) when I approached her to chat at her convenience, she invited me to sit down, and we began. Unprepared as I was, (since just two days earlier I had never heard of her) I simply asked her what set her apart from other authors of cook books and television chefs. Her answer was to the point. “I am not trying to be the best chef in the world. I am trying to keep people in the kitchen.”

She is a fourth generation cook whose whole family is in to food. Her great grandmother opened Pilgrims Pantry in Boston at the turn of the century.  She told a story of her grandfather making a chicken salad sandwich with a chicken they raised and butchered, mayonnaise that was homemade on homemade bread. The family made hand churned maple walnut ice cream together. The maple and walnuts from grandpa’s trees! That was her childhood.

Her sister, Nancy, who was along on this trip, concurred. “Our family has always thought good local food is important. When we are gathering eating one family meal together, we are discussing the next. We always had large vegetable gardens and even when we were very young, about 8 or 9 years old, we had a children’s cookbook. That gives you a great feeling of accomplishment.”

Asking Nancy if the family knew Joanne would end up writing cookbooks and being on her own show she replied, “You may have noticed Joanne is driven, has a passion for food and has more energy than most people. When she is determined to do something, it gets done. She is very organized and focused. She loves to travel.  Actually, our father called her the Wondering Gypsy. She is doing everything she loves doing, being creative, cooking and traveling.”

She is also part owner of a restaurant and writes for national cooking magazines like Bon Appetit, Better Home and Gardens, Cooking Light, Food and Wine and others. And she has appeared on numerous television shows like the Today Show and Good Morning America.

She studied a year with Madeleine Kamman in France and spent five years cooking with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Those experiences may have opened doors, but her enthusiasm and determination along with her love of people got her where she is today. That and her talent. She was awarded the very first IACP Julia Child Cooking Teacher Award of Excellence and is James Beard Award-winning cookbook author.

If this isn’t enough, I only had to ask some of the fans on board about their experiences on her trips and in her classes. There were about twenty-five travelers who choose to come with her. They were with her at restaurants, watching all her filming and on her special side trips. To a person they couldn’t say enough about what they have learned and how they have grown in their culinary skills.

Two caterers from California said they were learning about presentation and unique ingredients that were local. One man said he was reluctant on the first trip, and now he and his wife have done four more tours with her and he loves it. He has totally enjoyed meeting all the people and loves being with Joanne. He said, and I quote, “She’s a hoot.”

A recent widow was traveling alone for the first time and this was the perfect group of people to embrace her. An eighty-year-old has been with her on many adventures and dances with the best of them. No one is intimidated, everyone is welcome.

She has hosted several television series and her newest show is a 26-episode series called Plates and Places and will be aired nationwide on PBS in February, 2018. (check local listings)

She also will be doing a lot more travel and inviting her friends to join her on any of them. To find out more about how to travel with Joanne go to http://www.amawaterways.com/sponsorships/2018/joanne-weir-friends. To follow her culinary journeys or learn about her books go to www.joanneweir.com/international-culinary-journeys .

Winning awards and having successful books and cooking shows is amazing, but I believe her real talent is connecting with people and sharing her passion. Out of nowhere in the middle of a discussion with her comes, “The bacon here is so delicious. I love it, it’s so great.” And get’s back to topic. The topic is food and life and the journey. And she is enjoying it all!

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