The aspiring chef, food blogger and self-taught gardener extraordinaire said her experiences have since helped redefine her relationship with food.
“I started to see the connections that gardening has on food and cooking. Good soil makes good produce; good produce makes good products, so on and so on.
“There are nuances in food just as there are in art and taking your time to taste and appreciate food is an art form,” she says.
In keeping with her culinary philosophy, Casey uses mostly fresh, locally grown ingredients and many of the foods she would ordinarily have bought from the shop at home, she now makes from scratch.
The mum-of-two moved to the former Communist country with her Bulgarian husband in 2006 in search of an alternative lifestyle away from America.
The family settled in her husband’s hometown Kyustendil in Bulgaria’s far west.
A native of New York, Casey was accustomed to having a wide range of cuisine and ingredients at her finger tips and found the choices in Bulgaria – although tasty – lacking in variety.
Life in Bulgaria also presented its own set of challenges, from pessimistic attitudes to torturously slow bureaucracy.
However, there have also many rewards, notably the country’s gorgeous landscapes and natural environment.
“Not everyone sees the same beauty I see, but looking past the poverty and Communist influences you can get swept away,” says Casey.
“Every day is an adventure – good or bad – living in Bulgaria keeps you on your toes.”
And although cooking has been a lifelong passion, Casey credits her adopted home for helping her discover her green thumb.
A fragmented discussion with her Bulgarian father-in-law around the dinner table was to prove a catalyst.
“I was frustrated that I couldn’t have lettuce when I wanted it and at the time there was only one variety of lettuce available…but he refused to except that Bulgaria would need more than one type of lettuce,” she said.
This prompted Casey to start her own home garden, which now supplies much of her family’s needs. It has also expanded to include a cherry orchard and plans are underway for a commercial asparagus crop.
Her exploits in and out of the kitchen are documented on her blog Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria, which she started as a way of connecting with others who share her passion for food, plants and life.
Casey, who has since quit her job in the Bulgarian film industry, remains focused on realising her dream of becoming a professional chef.
But the path hasn’t been an easy one.
Casey, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, was accepted at the Culinary Institute of America, and completed a six-month internship at The Hilton in Sofia, as well as work experience at several 3-star Michelin restaurants in New York.
However, she has had to defer her final year of studies while the family tries to nut out the logistics of a temporary move to the States.
“I’m not a housewife. I need to do something fulfilling,” she said.
“It got to the point where I was either going to be a really awesome house cook or I could so something real with this.”
Cover image curtesy of Klacenklai
the Experience Network