Determined to clock up more air miles than Richard Branson, I recently embarked on yet another whistle stop journey. This time it was Toronto for the Canadian launch of the AGA PRO+. I also had to do some promotional work for AGA MARVEL; the North American side of AGA, Marvel being refrigeration and AGA being cooking. All I could hear in my head was Katy Perry singing, “You’re hot and you’re cold…”. I’m proud to say that I have been chosen to be the AGA Brand Ambassador for North America, so it falls upon me to fly all over the world speaking about their products. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
Flying into Toronto, two things immediately struck me. One, that the snow did not seem to have melted since my previous visit to the city last December. It looked clean and white and deep against the glass and steel of the buildings. Back in London the snow would have turned the colour of exhaust fumes. Two, how horrendous the meal I had eaten truly was. I was still choking on its plastic aftertaste. I won’t mention the airline by name, but suffice to say that cabin crew strikes are the least of their worries at the moment.
Toronto was a blur, so brief and busy that I can barely remember what happened there. I know that I ate dinner in the highest restaurant in the world, the world famous revolving restaurant at the tip of the CN Tower. I’m sorry to say that the food there was equally disappointing, but maybe that had something to do with the glass floor. Your stomach isn’t at ease when your brain is thinking that you might soon plummet to your death.
I sometimes do this: find myself making a mental list of the best places I have eaten in the past couple of years. Contrary to what my friends might think, who tease me that I dine out in five star establishments on a nightly basis, where I am pampered and spoiled and have the waitress feeding me grapes and fanning my face with peacock feathers. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remember the smell of Naan bread from a stone oven, freshly baked, warm and delicious. Or the taste of grapes plucked at just the right moment from a French (or Chinese!) vineyard. It doesn’t matter if food comes wrapped in cellophane and set on a fold-down tray on an airplane, or served on Villeroy and Boch crockery in the kind of place where people wait three months to book a table. It’s the simple things which appeal to me: natural ingredients treated well with the correct application of heat.
I landed in Heathrow, where I had the time of a kitten’s sneeze to scoot across London, unpack my bags, pack them again, and leave for another long haul flight to Abu Dhabi. Both my brain and my body struggled to come to terms with the various time differences they had just moved through. Five hours back in time, then ten hours forward – I felt like the Doctor in his Tardis, except that airplanes are smaller on the inside than they appear on the outside.
A quick word about Ethihead Airways… And that word is “wow”. On this occasion the quality of the food and the drink was excellent, which no doubt had to do with the presence of Simone, an onboard “food and beverage manager”. By golly, does she know her stuff. Whereas other airlines are alienating droves of passengers – even those that pay top dollar for a little extra comfort – on a daily basis, here was an example of a business which understood the simple principle of how to safeguard customer loyalty and return business.
I was in Abu Dhabi for yet another book fair, and it couldn’t have been more different than Toronto. Instead of being surrounded by deep, crisp snowfall, I was sandblasted by the intense desert heat (there was that Katy Perry song again). My body felt as if it was a new car prototype being tested for how it survives contrasting weather conditions. It’s just as well that I moisturise, I’m a Clinique and La Parie kinda guy.
Abu Dhabi provided another opportunity to spend some quality time with my good friends Chef Wan and Chakall, though by the end of a two hour taxi journey they might have thought differently.
As I post this, I’m back in London, but not for long. I’m at Heathrow again, ready to make my way to New York. I feel as if I’m making my way through the atlas, but not in alphabetical order. At least that would be a sensible way to see the world. If Lonely Planet are looking for someone to write more of their travel guides, I’m their man.
As soon as I’m over the next set of (continual) jet-lag we will chat again…