Chef, author and broadcaster, Peta Mathias refers to herself as a “Gastronomad”. Peta now builds on her culinary travel experiences hosting tours in the south of France, Morocco, Spain, Italy and India. www.petamathias.com
How old were you when you got your first passport, and where did you travel to in order to “break it in”?
It must have been when I emigrated to Canada in 1974 so I would have been about 24. In retrospect, I don’t know why I did something so drastic as emigrating when I could have just applied for a work permit, but that’s what I did. I really wanted to get out of New Zealand and had no intention of coming back. I entered Canada on a one-way ticket, stayed there for 6 years and even got a Canadian passport.
How many countries have you travelled to?
No idea… a lot. I’ve been travelling since I was ten. My first trip was to Sydney to visit my mother’s Australian relatives. I vomited all the way and had such swollen legs that I was taken off the plane in a wheelchair. In spite of that, I was not put off travelling which, until only ten years ago, has always been uncomfortable for me.
My favourite offshore destination is …
Paris, because my ten years there in the 80’s transformed my life. I became a chef at the age of 30 and there was no looking back. The French still have it in terms of gastronomy - they just understand how to live. Paris is a very beautiful, romantic city, full of good food and exciting things to do.
My favourite local destination is …
Right where I live - Auckland. The weather is warm, even if it rains too much; the restaurant scene continues to explode; it’s a positive, pretty port city that is not only good looking but buzzing with energy and innovative ideas. If you want to get something done well, get it done in Auckland, whether it be fashion, design or food.
My favourite dining experience is …
Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastian in the Basque Country, Spain. I host culinary tours all over the world and would say my tour to the Basque Country has the best cuisine of all my destinations. Juan-Marie Arzak was one of the principle initiators of molecular cuisine in the world and his daughter Elena Arzak now carries it on, working beside him. The food is stupendous and the restaurant almost like a bistro with its lack of pretension. Think fish served on an iPad showing a video of waves crashing and a dessert with smoke pouring out of it.
My favourite kind of holiday is …
I don’t take holidays because I travel so much with my culinary tours - when you go to Morocco, France, Spain, Italy and India every year you are already very lucky. In general my favourite visits would include fashion, food, music and shopping.
What’s the one thing you can’t/won’t travel without?
Comfortable shoes - Ziera are the best. They are now making very stylish shoes that are good for travelling, walking and standing in all day.
Best packing tip …
Pack your suitcase, take half the things out, close and lock it, go to the airport. You don’t need half the stuff you think you need and you always buy more things when you get to your destination.
Best travel tip …
Be prepared. Remember there are no porters - no-one will help you when travelling. Have one light suitcase and one carry on bag - all on wheels. The second essential is to leave all your preconceptions behind and start eating the food of your new country the minute you get there - it is the best and fastest way to access a culture.
Do you dress comfortably or stylishly for long-haul trips?
Both - you don’t need to let your standards go just because you are squashed into a big box for 12 hours. I usually wear pants and a kurta (Indian tunic), a shawl and open shoes in case the feet swell.
If WE were paying, tell us about your perfect holiday:
I would like you to send me, first class, to a luxury resort somewhere, anywhere where there is no possibility of electronic communication. Everyone else at the resort would be really interesting, the food would be stupendous and I could have breakfast at 6 in the evening if I felt like it.
Best travel memory …
Being invited to write a story on Puglia in the heel of Italy. I knew nothing about it and found myself in an olive grove with 3,000-year-old trees, all gnarled and twisted and still producing olives and oil. I thought I might cry. I knew they were that old because they had satellite tags on them.
Anything “hilarious” ever happened to you while traveling?
So many things have happened, it would be hard to choose. One that comes to mind is the time I gave a village woman in Rajasthan a lavender heart my sister had made. The next day I saw her walking along the road showing it to anyone who would look. I also gave her a shocking pink apron from my culinary tour and found her grandson wearing it and giving a cooking lesson in Hindi to his little friends.
Where to next?
My next trip is to Marrakech for my culinary tour at the end of May - a land where time passes on slippered feet, pomegranates fall into your hands and spices follow you around the souk. This year I have added a desert trip to the tour.