Debbie Allison

“Reflecting on my trip to South Africa in July 2004 with the Darden Restaurants Team. It’s been 13 years ago and it seems like it was just yesterday.

We tapped on Andres shoulder to help host the trip because of our experience with Indaba Chardonnay at Seasons 52 and the relationship between Cape Classics and George Miliotes. All Andre had to hear was that Darden was interested in coming to South Africa and he became the coordinator of the entire trip and devoted his week to guiding us through the experience.

To this day that trip remains the highlight of all emersion trips I have had in my career. The South African Seafood and Wine Emersion Trip of 2004 ignited a blaze of appreciation for the SA food and wine in me and my team mates. We brought home that appreciation and rekindled the blaze by using the influences we experienced in small ways in our restaurants. (e.g. – Excelsior at Red lobster and later Jam Jar)

The passion for his country that Andre Shearer has is infectious. He was devoted to us learning simply about seafood and wine but also about the spirit of the country of South Africa. We learned of the pride of the people only 13 years post-apartheid, we became aware of the companies that were hanging on to the old ways and why to steer clear, we witnessed first-hand the culture of the townships, we absorbed the history and the burden of shame of Robben Island, we were immersed in the exquisite culture of the wine businesses of Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl & Franschhoek, and even had a visitation with some government officials.

I’ll close with just one memory of so many I have. We spent the day with Andre on Robben Island and learned about how Nelson Mandela survived the brutality and harsh conditions and even rose above it to form the “Robben Island University” to educate them all and where he and others furthered the anti-apartheid movement from behind bars. Towards the end of the trip we visited the limestone quarry where they were forced to work long hours every day. We heard about their triumphant return to the quarry as free men years later. I took a small stone from the quarry that day and it sits on my desk still. The stone has come to represent to me the spirit of tolerance and overcoming obstacles.

The week changed me and I left with a deep love for SA people and culture. I can’t wait to return!!”

– Debbie Allison, Earl Enterprises (previously Darden)

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