That FIRST-TIME Feeling

Explore new territory, tongue first.


Travel is one of the joys of modern life. Even if only for a couple of days, few things beat a little change of scenery. It can be even more rewarding if you’ve never been there before. New sights, sounds and smells entice the senses and make one feel alive.

One of my favorite scenes is from the flick Room with a View. Cousin Charlotte, a very prim, stuffy Englishwoman, is exploring a back street of Florence (Italy, not South Carolina, rube) with an adventurist friend when they encounter a foul odor. Charlotte covers her nose and winces while her companion breathes in deeply and pronounces, “ah, a true Florentine smell!” Brilliant, new and different are exciting.

For me, new sights are terrific, but the best part of travel is the food. The first meal in a good restaurant is always the best; nothing replaces that first-time feeling, that alluring sense of mystery, the excitement of the unknown.

Because of this first-is-best phenomenon, I conduct tours at my culinary academy. Part of my credo as a tour guide is “never let facts ruin a good story.” The other is that the tour must involve food or it’s just plain boring. Every Saturday, I lead a group of tourists and locals on a Farmer’s Market Tour; we talk with the vendors, sample foods and enjoy the unique Fernandina Beach ambience. I include a wealth of facts on the town’s history, naturally concentrating on food. We then stroll back to my school, where I demonstrate and prepare a lunch utilizing the local ingredients.

I also lead several restaurant-tasting tours. I know a few cities now offer these, but mine are Culinary Tasting Tours led by a Professional Chef. You can get drunk anywhere, but can you sample local chefs’ interpretations of lowcountry cuisine while being guided by a snarky Chef? I think not!

Afterward, I’m usually tired and always hungry. After my last restaurant tour, I went home and prepared one of my favorite simple treats: biscuits with sausage gravy.

Give this recipe a go and you’ll never again be satisfied with the pedestrian version you get from uninspired cooks.

Chef Bill’s Sausage Gravy


  • 2 tbsp. fat–bacon grease is always best
  • 1 pound sage breakfast sausage
  • 1/2 medium onion, brunoise
  • 2 garlic cloves, paste
  • 1-1/2 Serrano chili, brunoise
  • 1 bouquet garni (8 sprigs thyme, 
  • 2 bay leaves, 2 parsley stems, 
  • 1 oregano sprig)
  • 1 oz. sherry
  • 3 oz. chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • Whole milk to cover, approx. 1 pint
  • Cornstarch slurry as needed
  • S&P to taste


  1. Heat the bacon fat in a large saucepan to near smoking. Crumble in the sausage and break up the large clumps with a wooden spoon. Allow the sausage to brown before turning.
  2. Once browned, transfer the sausageto a bowl and drain all but 1 tbsp. of fat from the pan. Lower heat and sweat the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and Serrano and sweat until soft.
  3. Deglaze with sherry, reduce a sec. Add bouquet garni, chicken broth and simmer until reduced by a third. Add the milk, bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry to a nappé consistency.
  4. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning and consistency.
  5. Stir in scallions and herbs.

Until we cook again,

Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!

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