The gourmet traveller shares the tales of her delicious liaisons in Eat Your Heart Out: Love Stories from Around the World.
Peta Mathias is snacking on masala peanuts and sipping a Kolkata gin and tonic as she writes to me from her friend’s luxury boutique hotel, India’s Glenburn Penthouse. There’s jazz music in the air, sweeping views out to the River Hoogly, and the maps on the wall trace myriad historic journeys to this same City of Joy.
“My birthday is in October and I have so far been celebrating for three weeks and have eaten nine birthday cakes,” she types. “I plan to keep celebrating for another three weeks because when you turn 70, how can partying be wrong?”
The insatiable New Zealand chef, author, singer and broadcaster, who takes gastronomic tours through France, Morocco, Vietnam, Spain, Italy and, at the moment, India, sure knows how to celebrate. “I lead a very intense life and am always looking for excitement, knowledge and stimulation,” she says.
In her quest for an enriched existence and spurred on by her publisher, Harriet Allan, who thinks we could all do with a little more love in today’s world, Peta has written an irreverent new book, Eat Your Heart Out: Love Stories from Around the World. It shares tales told throughout history and her travels in one devourable tome.
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Alongside 10 sentimental and at times aphrodisiac recipes, the anecdotes that make the cut explore the psychosis of love, both bitter and sweet. “Because of my subversive nature, I was attracted to the most dramatic, unusual ones; I wanted to expose the heart’s most profound secrets,” Peta writes in the introduction.
Her favourite is the gruesome story of Seremonda and Guillem de Cabestany, which inspires the book’s title. It’s followed by the Kāpiti Coast tale of Thomas the goose and Henry the swan, “together for nearly 30 gay years”, and the Māori love-in-the-mist myth of Uenuku and Hinepūkohurangi. But between it all, the epiphany, she tells Simply You, is: “Love is a healing force for good.”
Awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of her work as an author and TV presenter, Peta sees the power in love and food to transcend differences. “The best way to access another culture is to eat their food. You may not speak their language, you may not look or dress like them, but if you start eating their food from the minute you arrive, you will understand a lot about them.”
Gourmet traveller Peta has made a career out of sampling the best cuisine the world has to offer, but she always comes back to her special places. New Zealand restaurants are exceptionally sophisticated and progressive, she says, while southern French cooking is bursting with sunshine, and Vietnamese food is zingy, clean-tasting and refined.
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In true Peta style, she wrote Eat Your Heart Out between hosting cooking classes at her home in a romantically medieval French town, taking culinary adventure tours, exploring yoga poses and attending speaking engagements in New Zealand. All up, it took a year and a half. The author, whose other works include Never Put All Your Eggs in One Bastard and Can We Help It If We’re Fabulous?, typed in hotel rooms and airports, on the cool terrace of her Uzès home and in bed in Auckland, surrounded by books and chocolates.
Stories were stirring all around her. The Grecian plot of Baucis and Philemon took place in what is now known as Cappadocia, just across the Tyrrhenian Sea from Uzès, where our expert entertainer waits out winter in her converted historic apartment, Maison de la Diligence.
Returning home for New Zealand’s more charming season, Peta’s working on a new book (this time on fashion) while catching up over very Kiwi shared meals on the beach, in the backyard and out on the sea with her friends and family, who are “all very good cooks, so we spend all summer trying to outdo each other”.
Healthy competition aside, serving a heartfelt meal entices you to step outside your ego and give a part of yourself to someone else, says Peta. “When you cook for someone, you are offering them love.”
Bake the Chocolate and Almond Torte that almost convinced Peta Mathias to marry with this recipe.