Culinary tourism involves exploring a region through its food. It’s all the rage these days. And little wonder. It combines two of our greatest passions, food and travel.
“Food is very important to us,” says Gail Hall, owner of Seasoned Solutions, a company that offers food tours and education.”People want to eat well at home, and they want to eat well when they travel.” And now, with the recent surge of interest in “real” food – the embracing of whole foods over processed goods and edible imitations – our appetite for gourmet tourism has never been greater. Just walk into any travel agency or tune in to the Food Network to see the explosion of culinary travel offerings out there. Now even some Edmonton companies are satiating the wanderlust.
There are almost 30 wineries in Penticton. So, tour operator Ben Johnson thinks it’s the perfect place to discover a variety of unique wines – and their histories – that aren’t available on most store shelves. Johnson and his Mercedes Sprinter ferry groups of six to nine to this prime wine region for four-day stints. His role is that of a 24-hour limo driver/tour guide and since this is, as Johnson calls it, the “anti-tour tour,” he will plan the whole trip, or some of the trip, or leave everything to the clients – whatever they want. A stop at the Silver Sage Winery is highly recommended to experience the Flame, a dessert wine that’s bottled with a chili pepper floating in it. The longer the wine is left opened and exposed to air, the hotter it gets.
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Cost: Starting at $250 per person, not including accommodations and meals,780-885-9813
Valerie Lugonja and Maria Iacabelli lead this jam-packed, four-day jaunt to the charming Niagara-on-the-Lake region. Not only is it a national historic site but, according to Lugonja, it also houses award-winning wineries within one of the most lush and beautiful regions of our country. “The incredible produce, due to the microclimate and fertile soils, has also attracted famous and international chefs,” she says. The trip will be filled with everything food- and wine-related, from wine tours to a cooking class. But Food Network fans might be most interested in dinner at Ruby Watchco, the new eatery of chef extraordinaire Lynn Crawford and star of Pitchin’ In. Dinner will be held in a private room, with a special menu, and Crawford herself will even make an appearance to explain the food and answer any questions.
Transcend has always been about educating its customers, and owner Poul Mark feels a trip to Costa Rica is just a natural extension of that. The trip will let people experience first-hand where their morning cups of java really come from. “We’ll visit small coffee farms where people will get to see the tremendous amount of work that goes into the production of this thing they take so much for granted,” he says. This excursion showcases those farms and the tremendous amount of work that takes place on them, from the beans being hand-picked to the farmers carrying their harvest down those mountains on their backs. According to Mark, Costa Rica is the perfect destination for such an excursion because it’s safe, it’s stunning and Transcend has relationships with a number of farmers there.
Cost: Approx. $2,800, not including airfare, 780-430-9198
Gail Hall, leading her 16th culinary extravaganza, is thrilled to be embarking on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. With its rich and fascinating history of food – including and especially the French influence – this is a region she has always wanted to explore. There will be visits to food and fish markets and a lesson on Vietnamese coffee, but Hall is particularly excited about stopping in on small family-owned spice farms to learn more about spices like lemongrass and the rare talauma. “Spices are such a key component of Vietnamese cuisine,” she says. “Other Asian cuisines use the same ingredients as the Vietnamese, but it’s the spices and the way they’re used that differentiates them.” This excursion departs in March 2012, but Hall is also offering an Okanagan Wine Tour from September 16 to 18, 2011, as well as an Eastern Townships tour in Quebec from October 13 to 18.