Home-cooking At La Via Di Mezzo

By Karen Snider Leiva

If you call famed Italian gourmand Giorgio Barchiesi a ‘chef’, he is likely to answer “mmmm… chef? I’m not a chef. I’m an innkeeper!” It’s a role that Giorgione, as he is affectionately known for his grand size, passionately embraces in his restaurant, La Via di Mezzo.

The restaurant located in the central Italian region of Umbria, is simple and rustic but full of charm, perfectly mirroring his cuisine. Stepping inside, you’ll feel as though you are home among friends – and nothing beats a home-cooked meal by Giorgione. You can see right away that Giorgione takes his role of innkeeper seriously.

giorgioAccording to Giorgione, a chef is someone who invents new recipes, new cooking methods and even new plating styles. But, an innkeeper sticks to traditional meals with local ingredients that his customers may already know.

Regardless of what he calls himself, there’s no debating that he is indeed a master of traditional Italian food. With his larger-than-life presence, there’s no surprise he has his own cooking program on TV, ‘Orto e Cucina’ (Vegetable Garden and Kitchen). He has also penned a cookbook that seems to sell out just as quickly as it is stocked.

Much like Chef Salvatore Denaro, the foundation for Giorgione’s cooking is a commitment to long-standing Italian family traditions. His savory dishes will transport you to days gone by with ‘nonna’ in the kitchen.

via di mezzoThe menu at La Via di Mezzo varies day-to-day, but always includes a selection of meats, homemade pastas and desserts. His menus incorporate local Umbrian specialties, such as truffles, cheeses or locally produced wines into his food.

But, the true inspiration for his menu is often his own garden – as he will incorporate whatever is growing at the time. That means if he sees an eggplant or a nice zucchini in the garden, that’s what will be on the menu of the day!

Taste the menu at La Via di Mezzo

A Taste of Umbria is being offered to those aboard the upcoming Oceania Cruise with Chef Christine Cushing. Guests will enjoy a specially prepared menu at La Via di Mezzo.


Day One In Santiago De Chile

By Karen Leiva

Arriving midday in Santiago, travelling with my husband, our first plan was to find good food and relax on a patio to enjoy the good weather before joining a culinary tour the following day. We found the perfect spot located in the popular Bellavista neighborhood, a trendy spot for restaurants, patios, cafes and bars.

Wanting to eat light, but try lots of new things, we ordered a platter of typical Chilean appetizers. The dish included three small clay pots of seafood stew, chupe; the first was a creamy mixture of shrimp; the second a thick orange-colored stew made with sea urchin; the final a white fish stew. On the side was half a dozen machas, razor clams deliciously baked with melted cheese on top.

 MachasNext, chicken pil pil, a bowl of bite-sized chicken parcels cooked in deliciously light chili and garlic oil, served in a traditional dark clay pot. Alongside the chicken, were three different kinds of empanada served with a fig compote and pebre, a salsa of tomato, onion and coriander.

For this meal, we enjoyed perfectly wrapped pino empanadas, cheese empanadas, so warm and fresh the cheese practically oozes from the pastry; and a third which I had never tasted before, stuffed with a mixture of sweet corn widely popular in most Chilean homes, known as pastel de choclo.

Pastel De ChocloFor dessert, we ordered pear tart, artistically plated with a scoop of white late harvest ice cream. That ice cream is, by far, the best I have ever tasted. Late harvest refers to grapes left to grow on the vine until the end of the harvest – the longer they are left there, the sweeter they become. These grapes are typically used dessert wines. In the ice cream, every small spoonful was a burst of wine flavor.

It was the perfect start to a real Bon Vivant holiday!

Comfort Food In Chile

By Karen Snider Leiva

Across Chile in cities such as Valparaiso or Santiago, the culinary scene is exploding and Chileans are exploring different cultures and foods including Thai, Peruvian, American and Japanese. Chilean comfort food, however, remains the main fare.
Newly married into a Chilean family and visiting this South American country for the first time, I was thrilled to explore the traditional food, much like the dishes my in-laws serve when I visit for dinner, which remain vital to the country’s cuisine. It’s not difficult to understand why tradition prevails: Chilean food is simple, but full of flavours and local ingredients, particularly seafood and wines. Chileans are immensely proud of their cuisine, and recipes have been passed on through generations.

What I love most about Chilean comfort food is that it is impossible to find the same dish made the same way from one restaurant to another. Subtle changes in otherwise common recipes result in a completely different experience every time. A perfect example of this is the beloved Chilean empanada.

Pino Empanada

Chile EmpanadaThe most common is the pino empanada with beef, egg, raisins and black olives (it’s most commonly one olive per empanada). However, even this simple dish is never made the same way twice. Some cooks marinate the meat overnight changing the flavor considerably, while others grind the beef rather than serving it cubed. The real magic, however, is said to be in the dough. While some cooks hold their recipes close to their aprons, I discovered the secret ingredient in the dough is often white wine, as opposed to milk or water.

Machas A La Parmesan

seafood_machasAnother example of subtle changes in flavor on common Chilean dishes, is with machas, small pink razor clams native to this country. Most popularly, machas are served in their individual shells with a layer of parmesan cheese, white wine, or cream. However, every cook has their own twist, changing the wine, the type of cheese or the amount of cream being used. I confess to trying to eat machas almost every day that I spent in Chile and can personally attest to the differences in the restaurants!

The best part is that regardless of the changes, you just can’t go wrong when it comes to comfort food in Chile.

Australia’s Tucker, An Extraordinary Experience

By Karen Snider Leiva

A world away from North America, Australia is one of those places most of us dream to visit. It has everything imaginable for a savvy traveler: rain-forests; surfing on famed beaches; the red sand Outback; and a rugged coast on the west. Not to mention the incredible experiences to be had – diving on the Great Barrier Reef, seeing koalas and kangaroos up close or learning to surf.

GreatBarrierReef_BonVivantTravelGreat Barrier Reef, Queensland. Tourism Australia. Photo by Adrian Brown.

While the sites are extraordinary, Australia’s culinary experiences are also not to be underestimated. It could be said that chef Curtis Stone first helped put Australia’s culinary expertise on the world wide map – the Australian native was picked up by American networks following the success of his domestic program, Surfing the Menu. But, these days, Tourism Australia is leading the charge to let culinary explorers know just how good Australia’s ‘tucker’ is.

One of the obvious and most enjoyable gastro experiences in Australia is the seafood. There are many options in seafood, everything from fresh lobster, crayfish, oysters and cockles (a saltwater clam).


Cockles, Coorong National Park. Tourism Australia. Photo by: Greg Snell)

Although ‘shrimp on the barbi’ has become somewhat of a cliché to Australia, consider this could mean picnics on the beach or a look-out point, or dining on a sail boat.


Margaret River Gourmet Escape. Photo by: Mark Boskell

When I visited Australia, one of my favourite experiences a fishing trip with a tour guide for the day. We took home our catch, and the guide helped us prepare it so it was BBQ ready. It truly does not get any fresher than that!

fish on BBQ_BonVivantTravel

BBQ Fish, Esperance, Western Australia. Tourism Australia. Photo by: Rich Kearn.

Often the biggest roadblock for North Americans visiting Australia is just how far it is. My advice is to not let the distance dissuade you from going – it is well worth the journey. Your travel agent can help you narrow down your itinerary so that you get the most out of your time.

Lisbon: A Seaside City, Delicious Seafood

I had the good fortune of visiting Lisbon, Portugal while recently traveling in Europe. It’s an historical city known for cultural charms such as its majestic monasteries, picturesque communities built on hills and beach-front villages. During my stay, I uncovered another gem: Portuguese cooking.


My visit to Lisbon was my first real introduction to Portuguese foods, which turned out to be, by far, one of the most memorable culinary experiences I’ve ever had while traveling. Piri-piri chicken and churrasco, grilled meat dishes, are common, but it was the vast selection of fresh seafood dishes that I indulged in (er… maybe, I over indulged).

I can’t think of a single restaurant that I ate in where seafood wasn’t on the menu – everything from swordfish and snails, to crab, lobster and prawns. And, of course, salted cod, the national dish, which the Portuguese are said to have 365 recipes for; one for every day of the year!
Among the best dishes I enjoyed was ‘arroz de marisco’, or seafood rice. Not quite like paella, and more like a stew, the one I ordered was loaded with prawns, crabs, clams and lobster. The sauce is a broth with tomatoes and spices, such as garlic and paprika, topped off with cilantro or parsley garnish. It was a messy affair, breaking through the shelled fish in the sauce. I loved every minute of it.

lisbon_shrimp stew_blog

Another one of my favorite dishes arrived in a gorgeous display, a simple dish of grilled prawn and squid topped with fresh lemon.

lisbon_shrimp skewer_blog

With so much incredible food, Portugal has a lot of options for those of us who are interested in gastro experiences. If you want to learn to cook like the Portuguese, your travel agent can help you book a tour where you can learn to cook and enjoy the beautiful sites.

Indulging In Tapas: Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities to visit. It’s a city with just about everything – activities by the sea, incredible art history, fun shopping quarters to get lost in, and of course, the food is exceptional.

Some of my favourite sites in Barcelona include the Picasso museum and the beautifully dark Gothic cathedral. I’m a big fan of Flamenco and have tried several of the dinner shows, and was blown away by the expert level of the dancers and great food served during the show.

In some ways, the entire city is much like the Sagrada Familia cathedral– a wonderful mix of modern and historical elements. The same can be said for its food. Barcelona’s food also pays homage to tradition, as well as modern fusion.


In almost every bar or restaurant, tapas — small dishes meant for sharing — are the main fare.

For the Spanish, it’s custom to meet friends or colleagues in local bars on work breaks or when the work day is done, where every drink ordered includes a serving of tapas. Typically fried sardines, bread with tomato paste on top, or olives are served with drinks.


Other popular tapas widely available and not to be missed in Barcelona include Spanish ham croquettes, Catalan style bean dishes, patatas bravas (home fries topped with aoli), or chorizo. Pimentos de pardon are fried green peppers coated with rock salt. Most often these peppers are sweet, but the odd one can be very hot, so it can be quite the surprise!

Frijoles Blancos

Being by the sea, you can also find incredible seafood tapas, such lobster ravioli, tuna, scallops, garlic shrimp and calamari.


 Beware, however, that you need to look beyond the tourist areas for great tapas. The good news is that great food can still be found in these neighbourhoods – you just need to know where to go. When you plan ahead and ask locals for tips on where to eat, you’ll find that the best restaurants are most often tucked away on streets that look more like alleys off the main tourist areas.

Want to read more about Spain?

Experience Morocco: 5 tips for a gastronomical experience in Morocco

1. Enjoy fresh dates

Throughout the markets, you will see street vendors selling boxes of various kinds of dates, including the plump Medjool or Halawi dates. Symbols of good luck, dates are very much a part of Moroccan culture. Not only are they a source of agriculture, but they are celebrated and enjoyed during religious occasions. Every year in October, after the harvest, there is an annual Festival of the Date in the desert town, Erfoud, in the eastern part of the country. The festival, which occurs over three days, includes camel races and traditional music.


2. Try a cooking class

Across the country in popular tourist cities, Morocco offers a range of cooking classes in traditional Moroccan fare. In these classes, you can learn more about the wide selection of spices used in Moroccan cooking, how to cook with a tagine or even how to prepare a traditional feast. Your travel consultant can help you find a riad – a traditional Moroccan house often used as a hotel – which also offers cooking classes.

3. Explore the markets

Many cooking classes will include a trip to the market to choose fresh ingredients for your class. Touring with a guide will really help you to learn more about unfamiliar foods and spices. Shopping in souks can be overwhelming for North Americans where haggling is the name of the game. Shopping with a guide can ease the experience.


4. Drink tea

There is a precise method to preparing Moroccan mint tea that involves adding the perfect blend of spearmint, green tea and sugar at different times in the process of boiling and steeping. Quite unlike North American tea, Moroccan mint tea is almost always served in beautifully engraved silver tea pots, ceremoniously poured into equally beautiful decorated clear glasses. Look for these tea pots in the markets to take one home with you!


5. Try new things

While some of us are a little more adventurous than others when it comes to new cuisine, exploring international cuisine doesn’t mean having to step too far out of your comfort zone. In Morocco, it can be simply the blend of spices, ingredients or the cooking style that makes the food a gastro experience. One of the best things about Moroccan cooking is that it is as rich as its cultural influences; many dishes are a combination of Arab, French, Spanish and indigenous Berber cuisines.

Want more?

Sampling tagine cooking in Morocco

In Morocco, it would be impossible – and foolish –not to try tagine cooking which is served, in one variation or another, in nearly every restaurant. It’s a slow-cooked stew served in a piping hot clay cone-shaped dish with an exceptionally delicious combinations of meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts.


When visiting Morocco, I sampled as many variations of tagine cooking as I could: chicken with apricots or lemon preserves and olives, or lamb served with dates. But, it was the slow-cooked beef with prunes that I most enjoyed – the beef so tender that it melted in my mouth, and the prunes were downright delicious. All of the dishes also included nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or pistachios, and are typically served with potatoes, couscous or a side of fresh bread.

The spices complete these dishes. Tagines are traditionally cooked with a variety of flavours commonly found in Morocco’s home-cooking, including saffron, ginger, cumin and turmeric. Inspired by histories of Arab, Spanish, French and African culture, this blend of seasoning with meat, preserved fruits and nuts is the perfect combination of sweet and sour flavours.

Tagine cooking was first introduced to Morocco by the Berbers, an indigenous community to North Africa, who slow cooked meat in tagines over charcoals — a method you can still see many homes or street vendors using, although in modern days, tagines have been made to withstand an oven or stove. The tagine lid is cone shaped, allowing for the juices and condensation to flow back down into the meat, a technique that was especially helpful for the traditional Berber communities who did not always have access to an abundance of water.


Since returning home, I’ve tried many Moroccan restaurants, but nothing quite compared to the authentic and fresh flavors and foods I tasted, or the experience of having a smoking hot tagine served to your patio table watching the hustle and bustle of a Moroccan market go by.

Want to know more about Moroccan tagines?

  • Djej mquailli is a chicken tagine served with delicious preserved lemons, olives and couscous

  • Another popular tagine is kefta (spiced meatballs) served with eggs and tomato sauce

  • In the markets, you will see many ceramic tagines for sale. However, many are decorative serving dishes only! If you plan to cook with tagine, ensure you have one that was made for cooking and can withstand the heat

  • Click here for tagine recipes from our blog.

  • Click here to read about street food in Marrakesh.

Morocco: Street food and markets

Just a short flight from southern Spain, Morocco is a popular tourist destination for many Europeans looking for a new experience close to home; it’s also a perfect side trip to add on while travelling in Spain. If you’re planning to fully explore Morocco, Marrakesh is not to be missed.

The Medina of Marrakesh includes Jemaa el-Fnaa, North Africa’s largest square, marketplace and a UNESCO heritage site. It’s famed for its storytellers and the utter chaos surrounding it. Comprised of snake charmers, men with pet monkeys posing for photos, and women eager to give you henna tattoos; it’s a hodge-podge of spectacles. The square is also one of the main access points to the main souk – a labyrinth of market stalls hawking everything from argan oil gifts, leather goods, antique Berber jewelry, and fresh produce such as oranges or dates.

Snake charmer the market in Marrakesh


At nighttime, the snake charmers and fortune tellers make room for what may be considered the real charm of Jemaa el-Fnaa: the night market food stalls and story tellers.

Horse in market in Marrakesh

When dusk arrives, food vendors quickly erect over 100 food stalls where cooks, almost all of them wearing white coats, work over open flames, chopping vegetables and grilling kebabs or sausages. Market stalls are set up with beautiful displays of local produce, nuts, spices and pastries.

At the food stalls, you can get a real taste of Moroccan street food. For the really adventurous foodies, you can try local delicacies such as snail soup or sheep heads. Most of the food is cooked in front of diners sitting at makeshift tables, allowing you to see food safety precautions. While the food vendors hustle tourists to their tables, the night markets are equally enjoyed by local families coming out to watch the nightly performance of storytellers.

Street food vendor in Marrakesh

Helpful tips for eating at Jema El Fnaa

  • When you can’t read a menu, the best advice is to look around to see what others are eating and point!
  • Looking for dessert or a late night snack to bring back to your hotel? Stop by one of many carts selling an assortment of sweet pastries — deep fried filo pastries with almonds, cookies or dates
  • Overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the square? Ask your travel agent to help you organize a food tour through the market
  • Want to experience the night stalls from a different perspective? Try one of the many cafes with rooftop patios overlooking the square, or sit at a restaurant patio around the square
  • Enjoy a cup of Morocco’s beloved mint tea – usually extra sweet, or try a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at one of the many stalls selling fresh produce in the square

Savour an Epicurean Adventure At the Festival Gourmet International Vallarta


In November every year, a stellar cast of local and international chefs come together in the Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta to strut their stuff. If food and wine are your passion then this festival is a must on your bucket list. The event starts with the grand opening of the Gourmet Village at the Patio Los Arcos – featuring local and international celebrity chefs, then a spectacular Sunday brunch will get the taste buds ready for the 20th edition of the Festival Gourmet International Vallarta.

The best part about this festival is that many of the local restaurants work with the International chefs to create their veryown culinary festivals. Throughout the 10 day event selected
restaurants along with their celebrity chefs host workshops, wine& food pairing events as well as lunch and learn. For those seeking something more dramatic, there are destination specific theme night such as New York New York and Noche de Tango.

The Festival is also a great place to learn about Mexican cuisine, local and international wines and of course tequila. But the best part of this event is the opportunity to hobnob with celebrity chefs, savour some amazing cuisine, enjoy the fiesta atmosphere and of course the great weather. So do your palate a favor and don’t miss the 20th Festival Gourmet International Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit and as they say in Mexico: Salud!

Our EXPERTS Suggest


Wednesday November 18, 8:00 pm

  • Soirée Moët & Chandon au Cafe des Artistes
  • Experience the Parisian glamor.
  • Cocktail – Party – Show – Champagne – Tapas.
  • $950 pesos


Thursday November 20th 8:00 pm

  • Tango Nights
  • Experience Argentina, its music and dance and 5-course
  • pairing – dinner & live tango show.
  • $1,250 pesos


Friday November 21st from 10:00am to 12:00pm

  • Meet Great Master Chefs, Live Chat
  • The Universidad Tecnológica de Bahía de Banderas
  • presents an open forum with renowned Chef Thierry
  • Blouet and his guests
  • Free