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Calling Food 911

There we were at last, just outside Carcassonne, in the ancient French chateau that my brother, Alan, a food-and-wine freak to the max, had chosen to kick off our family's whirlwind culinary tour of Europe. With its huge stone fireplace and massive ceiling beams, the dining room couldn't have been more romantic, nor the waiter more charming, full of that passionate French conviction that the selection of even a single course is a weighty, world-shaking decision. He murmured with approval when we told him that Madam, my 83-year-old mother, would indeed have wine with the rest of us, perhaps one of those delightful vintages produced in the nearby vineyards; and when she polished off her escargots and wiggled her glass for a refill, he looked at my brother and me and breathed, "C'est magnifique!"

My daughter, Kate, dug into her rabbit, exclaiming over the perfect frites that accompanied it; and my boyfriend, George, beamed as the sommelier refilled his glass. There was just one little problem: I couldn't eat a bite. Something utterly unprecedented was happening in my body. Not only had the concept of hunger lost its meaning, but it was impossible to imagine that I would ever consume anything again. I gazed at the tasty tableau before me as if upon a distant, disturbing planet.

"What is it, sweetheart?" George asked. "Are you feeling jet-lagged?"

He should have known better. Like that Oscar Wilde character, at even the worst crises of my life, I've refused everything but food and drink; and like the proverbial army, I travel on my stomach, speeding through the cathedral so we'll have time to linger later in the sidewalk café.

But my case of "traveler's tummy," as my brother delicately called the intestinal virus that struck me last spring, obliterated my appetite in one cruel blow. The illness accompanied me all through the south of France and on to Paris and London, where, gaunt and grumpy, I tried to choke down some tea as a raucous crowd of friends and relatives toasted Kate's 24th birthday and devoured Thai delicacies in Notting Hill's trendiest new spot. I still couldn't eat at Gatwick airport, even though George discovered a kiosk that served smoked Scottish salmon and champagne at 10 o'clock in the morning. Halfway back across the Atlantic, I began to feel a little better. The flight attendant brought my tray of microwaved chicken and noodles. Suddenly, I felt a lot better. I fell upon it like a savage, mopping up the last still-unthawed bit of sauce with a stale white roll. "Delicious!" I sighed. The one memorable meal of my entire European vacation: airline food.

I may have missed out on a world of culinary delights, but fortunately, we don't have to leave Southwest Florida to enjoy some of the most spectacular food and wine on earth. Not only does the region produce a wealth of flavors and host, in the Naples Winter Wine Festival, one of the world's top charity events; but, fed by population growth and affluence, our ever-expanding restaurant scene is attracting talented young chefs from all over. (More dish about them and local dining In "Kitchen Gods," page 108.)

There's no chef hotter than 33-year-old Tyler Florence, the Food Network star People magazine named one of its sexiest men last year. On his Food 911, Florence rescues home cooks from culinary emergencies; so when we heard he'll be cooking at one of the festival's vintner dinners next month, we concocted an emergency-Naples-style-of our own. His mission: to help Bob and Barbara Crown host a dinner aboard their yacht for fellow festival trustees. You'll see the tropical-themed celebration the accommodating chef created for us in "Tyler to the Rescue"; but you won't read the whole story, which is that Florence, along with thousands of other travelers, couldn't fly into Florida on the scheduled dinner date because of Hurricane Ivan. After waiting all day in the Charlotte, N.C., airport, he was routed back to New York. Now we had a real emergency, since groceries, stylists, assistants, and our camera crew were assembled and waiting. But Brian and Denise Cobb came to the rescue. Flying home from Canada for the Crowns' party, they also had been diverted by the storm-to New York. With Florence aboard their private jet, they took off the next morning for Naples, where the sun was shining, the refrigerators stuffed with perishables still had power, and an inspired dinner party ensued. Bon voyage as you embark on that and other culinary journeys in this issue.

-Pam Daniel, Editorial Director 

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