Farmville woman discovers ‘Big Country’

Published 1:52 pm Thursday, August 6, 2015

Billed as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” appearing on US Cellular’s “Big Country” digital series starring food writer/chef Andrew Zimmern was that and more for Farmville’s Debbie Forester. US Cellular selected Forester for “a dream vacation” to San Francisco to be featured in a “Big Country” episode set to air Monday, Aug. 17.

“You dream of winning the lottery,” Forester said. “That’s what I felt like — I’d won the lottery.”

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Forester had not heard about the “Big Country” series until she received a call from US Cellular.

“They said I had been nominated by my best friend, Tammy Bavely, for a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” she said. “They said, ‘You’re in the running; can we call you back?’”

A few days later Forester received another call. This time she was told a camera crew was coming to her house.

“They sent a text message, but I couldn’t open it until they were there,” she said. “It was Andrew Zimmern telling me I’d won the trip.”

US Cellular Public Relations Counsel Melissa Watkins explained the reason for the series.

“Two out of five Virginians have never traveled across the country,” she said. “US Cellular developed this series for customers who have lacked opportunity to travel far from home.”

“I never had a chance to travel. I did child care for 12 years — and then my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” Forester said. “My friend Tammy told US Cellular that I gave back all my life and never took time for myself.”

An underlying theme of the series, making connections, naturally includes cell phones. Forester’s story reads almost like an unrehearsed commercial.

“Tammy and I have been best friends for 30-plus years,” Forester, originally from Keysville, said. “We saw each other every day. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, her mom was diagnosed a week later. Our moms went through the same treatments. My mom passed away, and three days later Tammy’s mom passed away.”

“Our cell phones kept us together,” Forester said. “While our moms were ill, we could talk and text each other. We sent photos of our moms back and forth. That’s what kept us connected.”

Forester was touched that her friend had nominated her for the US Cellular trip.

“You say things change your life, and this really did,” she said. “To know that she cared enough to enter me in that contest — it put a big smile on my face the whole trip.”

Forester’s dream trip to San Francisco became reality July 2 when she boarded a plane for the West Coast.

“Someone from the show picked me up at the airport,” she said. “And I talked to the crew members at the hotel. I immediately felt at home.”

The next morning Forester met television personality Andrew Zimmern, who also hosts the popular “Bizarre Foods” show.

“We did eat some things,” Forester said.

Their first stop was Two X Sea fleet, where Kenny, a friend of Andrew’s, explained that he knew something about every fish that came in — the fisherman and where the boat came from.

“They had these big halibut there,” Forester said. “Andrew and I had to fillet the halibut, and, of course, we had to taste the raw fish, sushi, which I had never tasted before.”

Next it was on to the famous Cockscomb seafood restaurant.

“One thing I did have to eat was cow udder,” Forester said. “I didn’t like that taste very well, but I ate it.”

Another dish, clams and tripe, was a pleasant surprise. Forester ate two pieces of that as well as a “wonderful pork chop” that was half bacon/half pork, topped with dandelions and peaches.

A sightseeing tour of the city followed the meal.

“We rode around in these wonderful open-air Go Cars,” Forester said. “But I wasn’t prepared for the weather. In the afternoon a cool breeze started to come in. They were very nice and bought me a jacket — I brought it back as a special souvenir.”

What was Forester’s lasting impression of her trip?

“Andrew Zimmern was amazing,” she said. “I will always remember that smile and that laugh. He was so kind when he talked to me and my friend Tammy.”

The city of San Francisco was equally impressive.

“It was beautiful — the hills, the houses, all the boats. It’s an amazing place,” she said.

“On the Go Car ride we went to the very edge of the city,” Forester said. “You could see the Golden Gate Bridge with the fog coming in. When I turned around I saw the silhouette of the city and the bay. That was breathtaking.”

For Debbie Forester it was indeed a trip of a lifetime.

“I have so many memories of the trip,” she said. “I can’t stop smiling.”

Debbie Forester’s trip to San Francisco can be viewed Aug. 17 on, and and edited vignettes will air on Food Network and Travel Channel. Nominations for the final episode of “Big Country” can be made on by Monday.