I'm originally from Fier, Albania. I grew up in Roskovec until I finished the 8th grade and then immigrated to Italy on my own to look for work opportunities. I ended up being taken in by a school for boys without families, "Fondazione il Faro", in Rome. There, they tried to integrate us into the community by teaching us the Italian language as well as giving us technical skills like making pizza, cutting hair, carpentry and computer programming. After a year at the school, I found my first job as a waiter in a vegetarian restaurant. The work was challenging and I loved it. I waited tables for the next six years, working at renowned Roman restaurants learning a great deal about Italian food and wine in the process.
In 2004, I met my wife, Kaleigh, a Montana native, who was a student traveling and studying in Rome. We were married and later had a beautiful baby girl, Fiona. In 2006, we moved back to the U.S. to Montana, where I continued looking for positions as a waiter, but instead was offered a job in the kitchen at "La Provence" Restaurant, owned by Chef Marc Guizol. At La Provence, a new fire started inside me to become a Chef. I had worked as a waiter for 6 years without realizing that my true calling was in the kitchen. I decided to attend the New England Culinary Institute (www.neci.edu) in Vermont, where I earned a degree in Culinary Arts. The school was 2 years straight, hands on with small classes only 7 students per teacher. In 2008, I did my first internship with Chef David Kinch at Manresa, a 2 star Michelin-rated restaurant, (www.manresarestaurant.com) in Los Gatos, California. I spent the majority of my internship working as the assistant pastry chef and learned an incredible amount about the finer aspects of baking and pastries.
After Culinary School we moved to Chicago for 1 year. In Chicago, I worked for the Capital Grille, Intercontinental Hotel, and Cafe Bernard. My wife Kaleigh took wine classes to become a sommelier. We never were able to call Chicago our home and decided to move back to Montana and open up our own restaurant, and with lots of hard work we did it. 6 years later we have two Mediterranean restaurants, work 70 plus hours a week and have found great success, having been featured in Food Network Magazine, PBS and the Wall Street Journal. We love what we do but are finding that we are missing all the important things... we work on holidays and at night, we miss concerts and school meetings and soccer games. Fiona just turned 9 and suddenly it hit us that we only have so much time with our kids...another 8 years and she's gone to live her own life.
So we've decided to leave it all behind. We are leaving the two restaurants and the life we know and embarking on a journey that will change our lives. We are doing this while we are young, while our kids are young and while we all have energy and curiosity to do it. There is never a better time than now to take a trip like this one.
During this trip we are planning on home-schooling are 2 older children and letting the world teach them. We believe it will change us and our kids for the better. We all will be able to appreciate what we have more when we are done with this trip. This and so much more... no doubt we will experience changes which we can't even foresee.
But this trip isn't just about travel. It's about food and wine, both of which are an integral part of our lives and our children's lives. We plan to travel to places where we can stage and work in restaurants and vineyards to learn more and to ultimately be able to take what we have learned and start fresh...inspired, changed... wherever we end up.
We are going to try and document this trip to the best of our ability and share it with you and maybe someday, you will do the same.
I hope you enjoy it and please comment and share our story.
Thank you for your time!
Engjell, Kaleigh, Fiona, Hugo and Remy
Where are we now
and places in between