By Patricia Bates
America is a moveable feast for those who hunger for the best to eat and drink. Whatever your “group gourmands” are craving, they can satisfy it on tours to regions throughout the U.S. — olives from Santa Barbara, knockwurst from Columbus, a lager from Portland or étouffée from Baton Rouge
“Culinary tourism” was given a name in 1998 by researcher Lucy Long from Bowling Green University not far from Toledo, Ohio, one of many academics around the world who had been researching the relatively new industry. In 2003, President Erik Wolf founded the International Culinary Tourism Association (ITCA). The association has its own travel Web site foodtrekker.com
More urban and encompassing than “agritourism,” which is rural and farm-based, culinary tourism includes cooking schools, restaurants, wineries, food factories, spas, breweries and media in its definition, as listed on the ICTA Web site
Whether on business trips or vacations, many people now have an appetite for everything local. In keeping with the “green” movement, they want organic, fresh and natural. Today, the average distance that food travels to the supermarket from the livestock ranch, grove, vegetable patch or wharf is about 1,300 miles. On these edible excursions, the distance from the source to you may be one bite.
THE LOCAVORE LIFE: CALIFORNIA’S SANTA BARBARA
The roots of sustainable agriculture have gone deep into the fields around Santa Barbara County just north of Los Angeles
. Residents enjoy the “locavore life,” mostly consuming what is grown about 100 miles from their homes. The economy reaps $1 billion a year from produce including oranges, walnuts and berries that thrives on land between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Plan to begin at least one day on a farm in Santa Barbara County. The 100-year-old organic Fairview Gardens in Goleta was among the first in California to start a cooperative program when, in 1988, investors bought shares in future harvests. Today, Fairview Gardens offers workshops during the year on tending the land. Through its Center for Urban Agriculture, it feeds 500 families on just 12.5 acres while operating two regular markets and one stand. Fairview Gardens also has a cooking series inside its 1895 farmhouse, which is affiliated with Santa Barbara Community College.
Horticulture is everywhere around Santa Barbara, which has a Mediterranean-like climate with more than 300 days of sunshine. At Calimoya Tropics, you can walk through the orchards to taste the exotic cherimoyas and the experimental lichees. There are also U-pick-it patches of raspberries and blackberries at Morrell Nut & Berry Farm in Solvang. Clairmont Farms in Los Olivos has distiller demonstrations, where your group can learn how it makes its 100 percent pure oil from the lavender on its five acres. The herbs are also made into sea salt, tea and cookie mix. At the Santa Barbara Olive Company, they make stuffed and spiced olives from their 5,000 trees. La Nogalera Walnut Oil from three local ranches is also pressed around Santa Barbara.
In this “American Rivera,” Santa Barbara hauls in more than seven million pounds of fish and shellfish annually near the Channel Islands. Many delicacies like rock crab, spiny lobster, halibut and spot prawns are weighed in at the Santa Barbara Fish Market, or plated at restaurants such as Chuck’s Waterfront Grill
, Seagrass and The Hungry Cat
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association has fresh fare six days a week in Montecito, Santa Barbara, Carpentaria, Solvang and Goleta. There are also specialty Santa Barbara shops like C’est Cheese
, which arranges for custom tastings with four vintages, and Artiste Winery & Tasting Studio
, which offers blendings or food and wine pairings.
At Central Coast Culinary, you can learn how to make appetizers to desserts in a Tuscany-like kitchen. Or make Italian, California or French recipes at the Roblar Winery & Cooking School in Santa Inez. If you want to be served instead, Bouchon, Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch or Ballard Inn & Restaurant can do it elegantly.
Santa Barbara County has had its own “Little Denmark” since 1911 with the village of Solvang. If you ever want a Danish to go with your coffee, there are bakeries all over town from Olsen’s to Mortensen’s. You can also have a “kringle,” which is filled with almond paste, or an aebleskiver, doughy balls with raspberry jam. For a look at the gastronomy of the original settlers, take a walk through the Elverhoj Museum.
The motion picture Sideways made fans want to drink in the wine country of Santa Barbara. Groups can now take tours on horseback through Vino Vaqueros with lunch afterward, on bikes with the Adventure Company of Santa Barbara and enjoy a picnic, and in four-wheel drives with Cloud Climbers Jeep & Wine Tours, which offers sandwiches. Among the more than 80 wineries in Santa Barbara County are Fess Parker Vineyards, Epiphany Cellars and Presidio, which is certified organic and Biodynamic ® For tasting rooms and fees, go to santabarbara.winecountry.com
HEARTY FARE: COLUMBUS AND CENTRAL OHIO
The heartland just may be the way to both a man’s — and a woman’s — stomach during tours. Whether it’s beer, cheese, sausages or pastries, Columbus
and Central Ohio are known for their German gastronomy.
Ohio’s number one industry is agriculture, so a visit to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus is where any group should begin. With a $93 billion yield to its economy and 1,000-plus food processing firms, the Buckeye State has more than 200 crops for sale, leading the nation in 35 of those harvests.
In the capital city, take a seat at Miss Emma’s Table in the statehouse for a boarding house-style meal of Warren County Turkey or the General’s Fried Chicken. It’s all you can eat with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables in season with herbs from nearby Gahanna, Ohio, and cranberry bog gelee. As you linger over the Capitol bread pudding or the Ohio forest cobbler, you’ll get to know the socialite Miss Emma Jones from her impersonator, who will explain that Miss Emma hosted representatives and senators for suppers in the mid-1800s, along with the Union Army during the Civil War. Prominent figures in Ohio history will join you on a walk through the Greek Revival Statehouse, where cows once grazed on the lawn and were kept in quarters below. When the Ohio Legislature began meeting there in 1878, livestock were outlawed.
Taste the Buckeyes candy later at Anthony-Thomas Candy Company
, where the chocolate and peanut butter candies are packaged with the official red-and-white logo of Ohio State University. Anthony-Thomas began as a dairy in 1932 and later began making ice cream and confections. Sample the nut butters next at the Krema Nut Company
, which have been made since 1898 without added salt or sugar.
Evenings can be reserved for fine dining with some of Columbus’ most acclaimed chefs. At Rosendale’s, the captain of the U.S. team at the 2008 World Culinary Olympics
can prepare anything from beef short ribs to foie gras. Or, make supper in the indoor or outdoor kitchens at Woodhaven Farm with Tami Cecil, who took lessons at the Culinary Institute of America.
Take the “girls only” to the Short North Arts District
, where they can participate in a Japanese tea ceremony at ZenCha Tea Salon
. Hand-paint a foodie t-shirt at Substance, and then blend, cork and label your own wine at Camelot Cellars. Next, have a “Surly Girl” or “Green Goddess” salad at Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits
near the pin-ups of the voluptuous 1950s vixen Bettie Page. Indulge in a scoop of the Goat Cheese and Cherry or Salty Caramel at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, or the Belgian Hazelnut Ice Cream Macaroon Sandwich. Take a baking class at The Dispatch Kitchen
in the North Market.
“Just guys” can stroll through the 233-acre German Village with a customized food tour beginning at the Meeting Haus. Immigrants arrived in the 1830s from the Old World to start businesses there in Columbus. Have a sugar pretzel at Juergen’s Bakery & Restaurant, or sweets made from 1913 German recipes at Bierberg Bakery. Find a German cookbook in one of 32 rooms at The Book Loft. Grab a bratwurst at Schimidt’s Restaurant & Sausage Haus
along with a cream puff. And, go microbrewery hopping in the nearby Brewery District at Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus, Columbus Brewing Company and Barley’s Brewing Company.
Men and women can rejoin for breakfast the next day at the Columbus Zoo, where they’ll also make the menagerie’s morning meal. At Ohio Village, they can look at the Midwestern glass displays along with ceramics before making their 1800s dinner over the hearth.
That afternoon, they can drive to the “Herb Capital of Ohio” to make pesto and vinegars at the Ohio Herb Education Center in Gahanna. In the world’s largest Amish community in Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne Counties, they can sample that night’s buffet at the Farmstead Restaurant. Or, they can nibble on baby Swiss to bleu cheese everywhere from Heini’s Cheese Chalet to Broad Run Cheese or Guggisberg Cheese to Steiner Cheese.
TOP CHEFS: PORTLAND AND THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY
In the late James Beard’s hometown, too many cooks in the kitchens of Portland
and Willamette Valley in Oregon have never spoiled the broth. They have instead made this region in the Pacific Northwest one of the most flavorsome in the U.S. for tours.
As an epicurean author and teacher, Beard referred often to the seafood, pears, wild game, berries and hazelnuts in Oregon. His mother owned a boarding house in Portland, and he foraged for ingredients for her besides fishing along the ocean in Gearhart. Before Julia Child ever made French omelets on PBS-TV, Beard hosted a network series in 1946 about American cuisine.
Portland has some of the top chefs anywhere now, along with microbrewers, farmers, vintners, orchard growers, distillers and ranchers around the Willamette Valley. They all come together at the Portland Farmers Market, which is one of the best in North America with suppliers from the Ancient Heritage Dairy for cheese to Raynblest Farm for organic eggs.
From food scavenger hunts to nutrition bingo, Portland Farmer’s Market has many activities for groups. During a lunchbox makeover lesson, you can write poetry about what you like to eat before designing a tote and you can make relish, sauces or jams during a canning course. After you get your produce, a “veggie valet” will even take your items to the car.
Whether you are a beginner or more advanced, In Good Taste cooking school will pair you with instructors who know expert techniques. Caprial and John Spence also give demonstrations on their set of the PBS-TV program “Caprial & John’s Kitchen.” By reservation only, they operate a supper club at The Kitchen with menus around themes like pork for “Swine and Dine.”
As one of the nation’s largest independents, Powell’s Books has nearly every major cookbook along with table linens and gifts at its store. Next, take a food cart tour in sub-groups around Portland where you can order everything from Bosnian meatballs to Vietnamese noodles. Portland Walking Tours
also has Epicurean Excursions.
There’s always something fermenting around Portland, especially at one of the oldest beer-meisters in the city. BridgePort makes English ales from hops inside a former factory for nautical ropes. Guides can also teach you about lights and lagers.
Three other Portland microbreweries are the Widmer Brothers Gasthaus, which features Hefeweizen in an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere; Full Sail Brewing Co., where you can have made-with-stout brownies and enjoy the view of the Willamette River and RiverPlace Marina; and Portland Brewing Company with copper tanks imported from 16th century Bavaria, which offers peppercorn ale.
Movie lovers should catch a film at a local “Brew & View,” the McMenamens-owned theaters that serve suds in the Portland Metro Area. Bagdad Theatre & Pub is a Hollywood Golden Age palace, which serves ale-battered fish and chips and a malt beer burger. The Mission Theater was once a Swedish Evangelical Mission, but now serves chili and pizza breads to go with your stout. St. John’s Theater & Pub
, located in a 1905 building, is very informal, serving hard lemonade and cider quench thirsts with wraps and French dips.
Portland also has several “boutique distilleries,” which make specialty alcohol. At Clear Creek Distillery, you can compare the raspberry, pear, cherry, blackberry and plum liqueurs. House Spirits Distillery makes vodka and gin with tastings by appointment along with the latest cocktails.
As for the traditions begun in Portland three decades ago, the late James Beard would be proud indeed — his namesake foundation has recognized several local chefs. Today, you can sup with at least three of them: Philippe Boulet at the French-inspired Heathman Restaurant
, Cory Schreiber at the farm-to-table restaurant Wildwood, and Vitaly Paley on the delicacies of Northern Italy and Southern France at Paley’s Place.
Oregon says “You’ll be back for seconds” in its ads for “Oregon Bounty.” In Willamette Valley, such heaping helpings begin with Plate & Pitchfork dinners in the farm fields. At the Joel Palmer House, wild mushrooms can be gathered around Dayton for chanterelles escargot or steak with porcini sauce. Adam’s Place has only hormone and antibiotic-free meats in Eugene, while FireWorks supports more than 50 cheese makers to shell fishermen at its restaurant in Corvallis.
The Allison Inn & Spa
in Newburg made its debut with its culinary program this year, the only full-service resort in Willamette Valley. Besides a chef’s table at its Jory bistro, it has an open kitchen where ingredients come from the wine country.
Willamette Valley, about 40 minutes southwest of Portland, also has more than 250 wineries, where the conditions are ideal for Pinot noir and other grapes. Three to explore are Ponzi Vineyards led by its second generation, Sokol Blosser for its sustainable methods and Archery Summit, where storage is in underground caves.
CAJUN TO CREOLE: BATON ROUGE TO LAFAYETTE
From jambalaya to gumbo, Baton Rouge and Lafayette
are where to stir the pot for Cajun and Creole cooking. And, the roux — the flour and butter -— started thickening for both with the early Acadians and African-Americans in Southwest Louisiana.
If you take the Capital Cuisine Trail
, your group can explore a 450-acre working research plantation at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Rural Life Museum
in Baton Rouge. You can look at the corncribs and potato shacks on the land, along with the kitchen, commissary, gristmill and sugarhouses among the 32 buildings.
Next, wander through the Main Street Market in Baton Rouge on weekdays for the locally grown produce or the Red Stick Farmers Market on weekends where more than 50 vendors offer eggs, dairy, baked goods, wines and herbs. In the Lamar Community Kitchen, area chefs demonstrate how to make recipes. Have veggie juice or the hummus platter at Our Daily Bread, or the Thai or spinach salad at Fresh Salads & Wraps. At the Plantation Pecan Company, treat everyone to the pralines, fudge or pecan pie.
Carve out time for shopping at The Panhandler, whether it is for knives or other utensils. Before the fall home football season of the LSU Tigers, learn how to tailgate with a gumbo workshop. Later at Boudin’s, dine on catfish or crawfish and dance to the Cajun music. Tony’s Seafood
, which claims to be the largest such market in the Gulf South, opens early every day. Spend a morning being introduced to alligator or turtle meat and gar or goo fish. Take an afternoon to observe the students making king cakes at the Louisiana Culinary Institute from its 70-seat amphitheater.
Baton Rouge has more than 900 restaurants for eating hearty, including Galatoire’s Bistro
for the crabmeat sardou, Mason’s Grill
for the crawfish and shrimp etouffee, or Bernadette’s Restaurant
for the tournedos with foie gras and black truffle sauce. At midday, “plate lunch specials” can be ordered at Bergeron’s Boudin & Cajun Meats
, Benoits Country Meat Block and other cafes.
Several plantations in Southwest Louisiana offer food tours. As the last of 86 sugar mills, Southdown Plantation displays artifacts from its operations through 1979 in Houma. As a “Chef Supreme,” Sen. Allen J. Ellender’s memorabilia includes his ingredients for “Ellender Gumbo,” which is still served today in the U.S. Senate cafeteria. Destrehan Plantation makes 200-year-old recipes such as bean soups and cornbread over the hearth.
The Andouille Capital of America just may be LaPlace, where Jacob’s World Famous Andouille & Sausage
is made by German descendants under a French-like name. Besides the pork, you can also bite into a tasso or a hot tamale. In the parish of East Feliciana, sip any of nine muscadine wines at Feliciana Cellars under labels such as Evangeline and Dry Carlos.
The Bayou Bounty Trail takes you west to Lafayette across the Mississippi River Bridge and the Atchafalaya Basin from Baton Rouge. Guides at Conrad Rice Mill will tell you about the oldest rice mill in the U.S., and you can take home wild pecan, yellow or brown rice along with spices. At the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, you can watch how the condiment is bottled after aging in white oak barrels.
At McGee’s Landing & Café
, ride the boats through the swamps before you pass around the fried alligator. Next, browse through European culinary masterpieces such as vintage pots and hand-blown wine glasses at Lucullus Antiques in Breaux Bridge.
Wake up in Lafayette to the aroma of fresh-baked croissants at Anjo’s, or fruit custard “tarte bouilli” at Poupart’s, or pastries at Southside Bakery and Keller’s. They make a boudin scramble with eggs at Hub City Diner, and eggs Benedict with a crab cake during Sunday brunch at the Blue Dog Café & Gallery while you listen to Zydeco or Swamp pop music.
In the Acadian Village, you can stroll through authentic homes built in the 1800s with cypress timbers and wooden pegs. You’ll discover how families made their own cottage cheese, raised corn for hominy and brewed then ground their coffee. Vermillionville also depicts Acadiana in Lafayette Parish, with Creole and Cajun cooking and craft demonstrations. Take in Mama’s Buffet for gumbo and sweet tea at Vermillionville’s LaCuisine Maman Restaurant.
Crawfish boils became popular by 1959 near Lafayette, where as many as 105 million pounds are harvested around the Atchafalaya Basin from December to June. These “mudbugs” are also made into crawfish pie at Prejean’s Restaurant, fettuccine at Joey’s and enchiladas at Randol’s Restaurant
In 2010, Group Travel Planner will feature a regular culinary tourism column focusing on popular foodie pilgrimages and off-the-beaten path discoveries.