Any active foodies hooked on travelling out there longing for a stroll through Aix-en-Provence and a great bowl of Daube Provençal? Montreal-born Carolyne Kauser-Abbott has got something for you. The former project and operations management specialist has launched her own food and travel blog that dips into cultural traditions and the history of cuisine around the world. And in case you get lost while on location or are just looking for some local hidden gems, she’s also created an App to guide your way.
An economics graduate of Queens University, in Kingston, Ontario, Kauser-Abbott took her first job as a runner on the floor of the Toronto stock exchange. She moved “upstairs” to become an equity trader for Wood Gundy (now CIBC Wood Gundy) and worked in the stock market for about five years, trading through the 1987 crash and pocketing what she refers to as “some great learning moments”.
In 1989, she was asked to work out of the Paris office to cover for some brokers who had been scooped by a competitor overnight. After a five-month stint, she quickly realized she didn’t want to be a trader for the rest of her life. “As much fun and as exciting as it was, it wasn’t for me long term. I returned to Toronto not exactly of my own volition. I was mid-20s, single, and living in Paris for the first time, but I had no choice but to go home when the assignment ended.”
Not knowing what her next step would be, she was ready to hand in her resignation letter to HR. The manager who had originally recruited her told her to wait while he pulled her file. “I stood there as he shuffled through some papers including the results of personality tests I had taken several years earlier, and nodded his head. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘It would appear you’ve got this real creative side. So maybe you are in the wrong job!’ He then proceeded to convince me I would be perfect for a new position that had recently become vacant to manage the physical relocation of the head office staff and furnishings. ‘Of course I can do the job,’ I assured. But clearly I was clueless. There were 2000 people to move, including our trading floor. My learning curve was so steep, I should have fallen over backwards.”
But she didn’t fall over. In fact, one thing led to another and Kauser-Abbott found herself in project, operations, and transition management for the next 20 years for CIBC Wood Gundy and CB Richard Ellis, which manages real estate on behalf of large corporations. She worked in both Toronto and later Calgary, where she moved with her new husband in 1994.
In 2009, due to corporate restructuring, her role at CB Richard Ellis began to change significantly. The scope of responsibilities went from enormous (almost unmanageable) to piecemeal project work. “It was still interesting and I had flexibility but I couldn’t quite see where my career was heading anymore. It was my time to leave, I was ready.”
The 46-year-old Kauser-Abbott took a severance package. The timing was fortuitous as her husband had been in the stock and equity business and sold his company a year earlier. He had just finished a Masters so they were both free at the same time. With no kids or other restrictions, they decide to take off and travel.
Arriving in the fall of 2010, they rented an apartment in Aix-en-Provence for six months but, after some inter-marital negotiations, ended up staying for 13 months, mostly in Eygalières, a small rural village outside Aix.
“We did a lot of exploring. We had bought a used car and took many, many road trips to Italy, the Alps, Normandy in a year we clocked over 35,000 km on the odometer. That was the first time as a couple that we had really spent 24-7 together. We had been married 16 years by then but we had always both worked and I had traveled a ton with my work. We had been on vacations of course, but nothing like being together constantly in a country where our language skills were at best a little lacking. There were definitely some moments where I thought, ‘Wow, this is a lot of togetherness!’” she laughs.
Taken under the wing of their landlords, Kauser-Abbott and her husband felt very welcome in the small Provencal village despite clearly being foreigners. But when the year was up, they returned to Canada with no plan and no jobs in place. “We had finished this wonderful year in France and now we were facing reality. I’ll be honest, it was tough to find ourselves back in Calgary where everyone had jobs and were successful. It was a bit of a struggle point as we searched for an equilibrium as I definitely have a deeper love for France than my husband. And after a year off, I was pretty sure I could not jump back into a corporate role so I immersed myself in writing.”
Motivated by some friends, Kauser-Abbott had started a culinary heritage and travel blog Ginger & Nutmeg a few years earlier and, while in France, of course found plenty to write about in terms of history, food and culture. She explains: “The real connection for me is when history and food come together. Something that might interest me would be the story of bouillabaisse. It wouldn’t be the restaurant we went to, and it wouldn’t be the meal that we had, but rather the history of bouillabaisse and why it exists. There may be a recipe but it’s more about the origin, the tradition.”
During her sabbatical in France and on her return to Calgary, Kauser-Abbott focused more intensely on the blog and significantly grew her readership and network from a social media standpoint. More importantly, Ginger & Nutmeg has given her the confidence to write and query magazines for travel articles. The blog is also a base from which she has launched another interesting venture.
In late 2010, the Canadian joined forces with the owner of a local custom-travel company in Provence to create an App-based audio-guided walking tour of Aix that was launched in summer 2012. “It was a serious learning process. We had a great developer who understood our goals but everything took much longer than any of us anticipated. Some of it was the technology with App platforms that were in their infancy. But I still love the concept. I’m the kind of person who goes to the museum and gets the audio guide, who goes to a new place and downloads every bit of info I can find. I just want to understand all I can about where I am.”
The App is selling well, mostly in seasonal months, but Kauser-Abbott admits she struggles in terms of gaining visibility on iTunes and other platforms. Undeterred, she took the concept and did the same thing for Banff, Canada. “Monetarily, the Apps are not a complete success yet as I invested a lot into their development. But I went from concept to completion to ‘Wow I have an App that I’m actually selling.’ And I’m proud of that.”
Because she did so much of her own experimentation in building the social media for Ginger & Nutmeg, Kauser-Abbott is also doing some consulting work for start-ups looking to grow their online presence.
And then there’s the book … a non-fiction work based loosely on her one-year sabbatical in Europe.
“It’s all fun and definitely keeping me busy… maybe too busy. But I haven’t quite nailed what’s the right thing for me yet. The blog? More Apps? Social media consulting? They are all leading me somewhere but the path is not yet clear. But that’s okay, sometimes you just need to follow it anyway and see where you end up!”
- Attempt to simplify – everything from online banking to the clothes in your closets, if you can see through the clutter it all becomes clearer.
- Look through the “Open Doors” – allow random encounters to lead you to a new experience or wider vision of the world.
- Give back – whether it is a formal not-for-profit commitment or simply offering to help your neighbor with a chore, you never know when you might need a helping hand.
- Take a walk, it clears the mind.
- Savor good dark chocolate and a decent glass of wine.