Culinary Tours Are What’s Cooking

As culinary tourism heats up in demand, these tour operators serve up some serious eats. By: Deanna Ting
<p align="left" class="small_caption">Next year, Tour de Forks will offer tours to Turkey that include cooking classes taught by local villagers. // ©...

Next year, Tour de Forks will offer tours to Turkey that include cooking classes taught by local villagers. // © 2010 Tour De Forks

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Scroll down to read more information about Tour de Forks’ new Turkey itinerary and on Wak Japan’s cultural tours.

The Details

Tour de Forks

Wak Japan

Commission is available from both operators, although Wak Japan does not offer commission on tea ceremony or cooking classes held at its office location (private-home classes and guided tours are commissionable).

Ingredients for an Ideal Foodie and Cultural Vacation

Tour de Forks Heads to Turkey
While Tour de Forks is still in the process of finalizing the details of its newest tour and packages to Turkey, set to debut in 2011, vice president of business development Connie Walsh gave TravelAge West a sneak preview of what clients can expect on its newly planned escorted tour.

“We have really been developing Turkey since we participated in ASTA’s International Destination Expo [held in Turkey] in April, and while we were there, we participated in its educational program and did a seminar on culinary tourism with Engin Akin, who is known as the Julia Child of Turkey,” said Walsh.

“The tour that we are designing will include a culinary exploration of Istanbul and all of the must-see sights,” Walsh added. “It will also include a stay at Engin Aken’s ancestral home in a village called Ula. Here, she’s taken her home and converted it into a very elegant B&B with a kitchen that is specially designed for holding cooking lessons for a very small group of about six people. Together, the group will also dine at local restaurants, and local women will come in to cook local dishes.”

Wak Japan Gets Cultural
Clients who book private home classes in the art of the tea ceremony or in Japanese cooking with Wak Japan may also add on other cultural experiences as well, including instruction in calligraphy, origami, Japanese dance and fabric craftwork. Often times, clients can receive a combination discount for combining two or more activities together; agents should contact Wak Japan directly for exact pricing and commission information.

In addition to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony class that I took at an instructor’s private home, I also received a special lesson in Japanese ikebana, better known as the art of flower arrangement. While I’m not particularly gifted with a green thumb or an eye for floral design, my ikebana experience gave me the confidence to be more adventurous the next time I purchased a fresh bouquet from my local farmers’ market.

Our instructor, who purchased the flowers for their particularly Christmas–like color arrangements (it was just around the holidays), told us to first look closely at the flowers, examining each one before doing anything at all. Then, she described to us how to begin. In her particular school of ikebana training, she explained, the arrangements often mimic letters of the English alphabet. For us, that day, the designated letter of the day would be “L.” So, taking our crimson-red Gerber daisies, we placed them strategically placed them in our instructor’s own home vases, into positions where their alignments would work best and the flowers would look most natural and beautiful.

By the end of the one hour ikebana class, I felt a sense of pride over my newly created arrangement — and, thanks to my instructor’s glowing reviews, I discovered that my boyfriend possesses a secret talent for ikebana. She particularly loved his eye for adding dimension, she told our translator/attendant.

This kind of multifaceted cultural experience — combining culinary, traditional, religious and artistic influences — truly made my trip one of the most memorable I’ve ever had, and I’m sure your clients will also feel the same way.

When I travel, what I remember most isn’t where I stayed or what I saw — it’s what I ate. I’m not alone: As foodie interests become more mainstream, travelers yearn to not just eat well on their trips — they want to learn about a place and its culture through its food. The following tour operators serve up authentic experiences that satisfy our appetites for both.

Tour de Forks
Founded in 2001, this New York-based tour operator, ASTA member and Bon Appetit Travel Advisory Board Member specializes in unique epicurean tours in such destinations as Italy, France, Australia, South Africa, New Orleans and India; next year, it will expand to Turkey.

“We think that food and culture are intimately connected,” said co-founder Melissa Joachim. “We want to share our experiences with travelers who love food and want to learn more about it.”

Since its founding, the company has also seen interest in culinary tourism on the rise.

“We really see culinary tourism as one of today’s fastest growing travel trends,” said Connie Walsh, vice president of business development. “Travelers today are increasingly sophisticated and interested in seeking experiential travel … it’s a whole new way to experience a destination.”

Joachim and Walsh said that some of their most popular tours include those to Italy and France, as well as to India. This year’s South Africa tour involves a trip to Cape Town and its wine lands with celebrity chef and “Top Chef Masters” contestant, Anita Lo, as well as an exclusive three-day experience at the African Relish Cooking School in Prince Albert.

Wak Japan
One of the best ways to get a sense of time-honored Japanese culture is by booking a client on a private Tea Ceremony Home Visit & Culture Experience Program with Kyoto’s Wak Japan.

With an English-speaking guide by my side, I went to the personal home of a Wak Japan instructor who showed me, step by step, the workings of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, from the proper way to enter the room to preparing and sipping your steaming-hot cup of matcha green tea. Following the two-hour class, I’d never felt so elated to have had such a special culinary and cultural experience.

Private-home cooking classes (sushi, tempura, teriyaki chicken) are also available, and Wak Japan also has a guided tour of the Gion district (known for its geisha), which includes making nigiri sushi with an experienced sushi chef and tasting local Nishiki Market delicacies.

What I personally loved most about my tea ceremony experience was the understanding that I gained. It introduced me to Japanese culture in a more personal way than I could have ever imagined and that, much more than my newfound love of matcha and mochi (pounded rice cakes), is something I’ll always hold dear to my heart — and my stomach.

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