Taste Trekkers

Three weekends ago I put on my fancy academic pants, and attended the first ever Taste Trekkers conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Taste Trekkers is an organization and conference focused on the culinary tourism industry as well as enthusiasts. It pretty much rocks.

What is culinary tourism? There are several definitions and interpretations, but a willingness to learn and experience new things through food is the essential component of culinary tourism. Taste Trekkers provides these tourists with a unique opportunity to interact directly with vendors through hosted seminars.

The conference was divided into three one hour seminar blocks. Four topic options were given for each one hour block and attendees submitted their requests one week prior to the conference. I lucked out, and managed to get into my top three choices: Lamb Butchering, New England Rum, and Vermont Ice Cider! Other session options ranged from Peruvian Ceviche to Madagascar Chocolate. The seminars were very informative, discussing the challenges that vendors face while catering to the tourism industry, and highlighting the importance of supporting small, local operations. Fun demonstrations and delicious product samples were also included!

Following the sessions, participants hit up the Tasting Pavilion! Local culinary businesses and session leaders manned booths, distributing samples and answering consumer questions. The pavilion was a fantastic introduction to the Providence culinary scene, showcasing local restaurants, markets, and breweries. I’d never heard of companies like Foolproof Brewing, despite living only 50 miles away! Discoveries like this really highlight the versatility of culinary tourism. You don’t need to travel hundreds of miles to be a culinary tourist. You can find exciting new food experiences right in your own backyard!

Taste Trekkers was a great experience that provided tons of information on resources available to culinary tourists, while introducing them to an industry perspective. The conference was also an excellent opportunity for networking and highlighted interesting topics like tourism strategies, benefits, and emerging trends. Most importantly, Taste Trekkers was a fun weekend adventure and a great way to meet other people with the same interests!


Heartbreak Hotel

Ahhh… Montreal. The cobblestone streets, amazing food, fine fashion, nifty cultural opportunities, and the occasional infuriating hotel. This past weekend, I journeyed to one of my favorite vacation destinations: Montreal. Thankfully, there were no dwarves on this trip; however the weekend was slightly soured by our hotel. We stayed at the Centre Sheraton which was lovely. The lobby was spacious, the room was big and well appointed, and the staff was polite and attentive. The only problem was that we couldn’t sleep. Details, right? Take a look at the photo below and see if you can spot an issue (hint: there are two).

The curtain of doom.....

The curtain of doom…..

If you guessed that the lack of floor length curtains ensures that the room is SUPER BRIGHT at 6AM, Congratulations! You should consider a career in designing hotel rooms. You’re already light-years ahead of current designers! Shockingly, that tiny little half curtain not fully covering the window area let in TONS of light when the sun rose and shined directly into the room.

The other issue was more auditory than visual. You see that temperature control unit located beneath the window? Instead of attempting to maintain a temperature through incrementally adjusting the air flow, this unit had two settings: not cooling the room, and supercharged A/C. The result was that the A/C unit would turn on and blow extremely cold air for about 10 minutes, and then it would die. Actually, it would shut off. But in doing so, the unit made a noise similar to emphysemic camel in its death throes. Needless to say, it was difficult to sleep through.

We evaluated the situation after our (sleepless) first night and determined that this was not something the hotel could fix. The curtain issue was a permanent problem and the A/C unit functioned fine, it was just annoying. As a dedicated Starwood fan, it pains me when one of their hotels doesn’t measure up. Most of the time the hotels are fantastic. But every now and then, you stay somewhere and wonder “Why? Why would they ever think that was a good idea?”

Unfortunately, lack of sleep put a mild damper on some of the weekend’s activities. On the plus side, now I know not to deviate from The Westin, my typical hotel in Montreal. So unless you are a very heavy sleeper, or take copious amounts of sleeping medication, I would probably skip the Sheraton and stay elsewhere.

That time I was harrassed by a dwarf

Guess what, folks? I’m heading up to one of my favorite and frequent vacation destinations tomorrow – Montreal! My boyfriend, Jesse, used to go to school there and has introduced me to a passionate love for all things Montreal. The two of us usually make it up there at least once a year. If you haven’t been to Montreal, you should go immediately. Also, some things you should probably keep in mind:

1) Poutine is delicious, but it’s incredibly filling.
2) Old Montreal and downtown are where it’s at! There are tons of amazing restaurants all within walking distance.
3) Do not go during the winter. You will freeze to death.
4) During your visit, you may be sexually harassed by a dwarf. This not guaranteed, but it is a possibility.

Let me explain that last one. Back in the summer of 2012 I went up to Montreal with Jesse and his brothers. They hit up the F1 race while I explored the culture and food of Montreal. Now before we proceed, you should know that I’m pretty average sized with proportional body parts. In other words, I am not Dolly Parton.

So there I was on the metro, after visiting the Montreal botanical gardens, when a strange thing happened. I looked up and saw a dwarf standing about six feet away from me staring fixedly at my chest. She noticed that I noticed her, and proceeded to start chanting “Big Tits” in raspy, sing-song, serial killer voice (think Christopher Lambert).

My initial thought was that Montreal really needed to start providing better health care for their mentally ill citizens. My next thought was “Thanks?” Since the woman resembled a character from Don’t Look Now, I decided that non-acknowledgement might be the best policy. However, the chanting didn’t stop.

After a few minutes of this I wondered if some sarcastic quip might put an end to the chanting. Subsequent consideration determined that this was not my best laid plan. I was willing to bet my favorite finger that this woman was packing a shiv, and I really didn’t want to have to explain to my boyfriend that I couldn’t make it to dinner because I’d been shanked by a psychotic dwarf (Fun Fact: shiv and shank are not necessarily interchangeable!).

After about fifteen minutes I began to question my sanity. It wasn’t really the chanting that was a problem but the fact that nobody else in the train car was reacting to it. Initially, I thought it might be Canadian politeness. But fifteen minutes without a single reaction (not even a raised eyebrow) forced me to wonder if I’d accidentally inhaled, ingested, or rolled in some sort of hallucinogenic plant at the botanical gardens, and was imagining the entire thing.

After 20 minutes the guy sitting next to me kind of rolled his eyes and gave a little ¼ smile as if to say, “Fridays. Am I right?” The total nonchalance of the action did not make it clear whether he was responding to the (still) chanting dwarf or the fact that, at this point, I was wildly staring around the train car with a “Does anyone else see this dwarf?!” expression on my face.

After 25 minutes I was at my stop. After giving the (possibly imaginary) verbose dwarf-woman a wide berth, I scampered off the train. She did not follow. I hastened back to the apartment we were renting, met up with Jesse, and had the following exchange:

“I think I might have been sexually harassed by a sinister dwarf,” I said.
“Huh. That’s weird,” responded my unperturbed boyfriend.
“Did you see a lot of dwarves when you went to school here?”
“You know…. I wasn’t really keeping an eye out for them….”

The rest of the evening, and trip, passed without incident. In fact the likelihood of this happening again, or to anyone else, is pretty slim. I still like to warn people about the possibility though. So here’s hoping this current trip is free of harassment and sinister characters. I’m also hoping for decent weather, amazing food, and kickass art. I wouldn’t mind an adventure or two, but preferably nothing that makes me doubt my sanity.

Digging In

The Taste Trekkers conference I attended last weekend offered three different session times on mini-topics. I stuck with a New England theme, and focused on Lamb Butchering, Rum, and Vermont Ice Cider. While all the sessions were super interesting, Vermont Ice Cider was by far the most exciting. This is because the session included discussions and info on a tourist resource called Dig In Vermont. This is a non-profit organization affiliated with Vermont Fresh, connecting tourists with local producers and the restaurants supporting them. This amazing organization is GETTING IT DONE, people!

As a culinary tourist, I frequently want to do fun things like go to local breweries, wineries, or dairies when traveling. Basically, I want to find the funky, out-of-the-way places which make products I can’t get at home, and will educate me about how and why they make what they make. Then I want to eat or drink it. This is not as easy as it sounds, though. Frequently, the more publicized an outfit is, the larger it is, and the more likely it is that I can find their products at home. Also, it’s less likely that the local foodies frequent or patronize the larger outfits, which makes it harder to get follow-up recommendations.

Dig In has solved this problem. You log on to their site and can browse by region, product, or event. You can use premade trails or create your own. It is a comprehensive online resource connecting people to small, local producers and restaurants. It is fantastic! I’m already planning multiple trips based off the Dig In website. Every state or region should have this! To be a member, 75% of a vendor’s inventory must be from Vermont. This ensures that you are receiving local products that are representative of the region.

Definitely check out this awesome resource if you’re thinking of going to Vermont. Also, keep an eye out for Eden Ice Cider. This stuff is amazing. Especially the barrel aged Northern Spy. Pair it with an aged-cheddar and smoked ham panini slathered with bourbon molasses mustard. A heavenly fall meal.

Local is good

In my opinion, the primary theme of the recent Taste Trekkers conference was the importance of eating local. Why eat local? Well, don’t you want to know where you food comes from? Consider that hilarious Portlandia episode with Colin the Chicken. Although this sketch takes it to extremes, local establishments buying from local producers really can provide tons of information about the food that you are putting into your body. Transparency and the ability to actually know what you’re eating is a good thing, people!

Also, I’ve found that the better an animal is treated, the better it tastes. Local, small batch organizations let you see animals’ living conditions and typically focus on quality over quantity, which makes for a better consumer experience. Furthermore, by buying local you support local economies and get to know a region through the food they are producing. You literally get to taste the culture and values of the place you’re visiting. This one of the ultimate tourist experiences – a deeper, richer understanding of communities through food.

Do I always eat local at home or on travel? No. I’m not a saint. I love my 5 Guys and Chipotle as much as the next girl. I do endeavor to find restaurants serving local food and buy from farmer’s markets though. In the end, your efforts can provide a unique food experience and, most importantly, taste pretty freakin’ good.