Last weekend, I managed to swing myself a little rendezvouz that got my heart racing. On Friday, my dear friend Amy rang and asked me if I’d like to attend the Ginger Fest at Yandina with her. She mentioned cooking demonstrations, and said something about Erich Van Alphen. A light went on at the back of my head. I think he owns the French restaurant at Woombye, I said. Yes, she confirms. He’s on at 11am. I decide to put my cooking demonstration prejudice aside  and told her I’d meet her there. (my cooking demonstration prejudice stems from listening to too many cooks mangle the names of  Asian ingredients. Worst culprit: Iain Hewitson… but don’t get me started…) I’d met Erich once, and we had had an amazing discussion about food. Maybe I could try and talk to him again, and steer the conversation towards some collaborative work. Or something. Or anything, really. 

I almost gave it a miss because Ames had to pull out.  But inspiration came from a rather unexpected source (Joel!), who suggested that I could intervew Erich and write about my encounter with him. I decided that that suggestion had plenty of merit, so hopped out of bed with just enough time to make to Yandina by 11.

The Ginger Fest featured a whole lot of things I don’t enjoy about the Coast: lots of heat, lots of humidity, lots of tourists, lots of souveniers and not enough parking. But all this was forgotten from the moment Erich started cooking. I was mesmerised. I could have sat all day in that stuffy room with surrounded by all these snap happy tourists. They were drooling at his cooking. Me, I was spellbound by his words.

I don’t need a recipe, he tells us, expertly pouring out quantities of flour, butter and milk for crepes. I cook from the heart, he adds simply, with no bluster. He stirred, he poured, he sizzled, he chopped, all the while feeding the audience little morsels of cooking tips, a la Francaise. When time comes to flambe the dessert, more than just the crepes suzette get set aflame. We were all eating out of his hand.

Somewhere in the middle of his demonstration, he tells us that he used to own The French Room at Woombye. My heart plummets. What on earth am I going to interview him about, if he doesn’t have the restaurant anymore? But then he talks about other exciting things, like a cooking school for chefs. A new, million-dollar restaurant. Teaching at TAFE, and at the Ginger Factory Cooking School. Will I find something here I can speak coherently about? Or will I melt into a puddle of gush? ( “I love your food! Squeal! Can you autograph my spatula?”)

At the end of the class, there is a stampede. Men, women, children, all wanting a taste of his crepes. I hold back, my stomach in knots. After that, the agonizing wait. I am a bundle of nerves, my heart racing. I watched him clean up, smile and field questions. I pull faces inwardly, grimacing at myself. This is freelance writing? Oh joy!

After perhaps the longest 10 minutes of my life, he emerges. I feel my face creasing into a stupid, stupid smile and I begin. He is kind; he stops and watches me rave. And then he smiles, and he nods, and then – we talk. About food, about eating, about food, about writing, restaurants, cooking schools, the economic downturn, about ingredients, about a cookbook (I die!), and, finally, about me, working with him. He pats his pockets and says, I have no business cards. I gush reassuringly and tell him that oh, I haven’t got any, either! He forgives my apparent stupidity and lack of preparation and gives me his email address. Write to me, he says. Tell me your story, and we’ll work something out.

And. My. Heart. Stops.

It hasn’t quite started up enough yet to get me writing that e-mail to him. But I will, and soon, and you’ll just have to come back for another bite of French twist to find out what happens.

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