This has been a food-centric week for the Rotary Club of Innisfil.
Not only is the club hosting its first-ever Harvest Dinner on Saturday, featuring local produce – vegetables grown in Innisfil, potatoes from Cookstown, natural meat from Creemore, all sourced within about 150 kilometres and transformed by an up-and-coming local chef – the club welcomed guest speaker Eleanor Dath on Wednesday night, to talk about the world of “food tourism.”
It was a rare evening meeting for the Rotarians, who usually meet early in the morning at the Lakeshore Library. But there was a good turnout to hear Dath talk about her work, combining a passion for travel with a passion for food.
It’s only in the last two years that Dath left a career in public relations to work with Vision Travel, and work as an independent travel advisor. In that time, she has seen culinary travel or 'food tourism' make up an increasing percentage of her travel bookings.
“It’s about discovering unique and really special culinary experiences,” both around the world and close to home, Dath said.
She then invited the Rotarians to close their eyes.
“I want you to imagine yourself on a patio, on a warm summer’s day, looking out on a beautiful countryside that slopes down to the Mediterranean…”
Food tourism is not only about the culinary experience, “it’s also the culture, the people and the heritage,” she said, and that can involve organizing travel around cooking classes, food events like “the oldest oyster festival in the world, in Ireland,” or California’s wine month.
Dath has booked trips that have centred around vinyard tours and whiskey tastings, olive oil tastings, afternoons shopping with a chef, who explains his purchases, then plates a gourmet meal for the visitors.
One of her own favourite experiences was in Croatia. A judge, who is also a chef, invited the tour group to sample a UNESCO-protected dish that only a handful of families are licensed to prepare.
Extraordinary foods can be the heart of extraordinary travels, Dath said.
There’s Bangkok, Thailand, where a street vendor of crab cakes has earned a Guide Michelin star, and the floating markets offer “amazing” fresh food and “a great place to really get to know Thailand.”
There’s San Sabastian in Spain, where tapas tours “represent the country itself.”
Lima, Peru, has become a culinary mecca for travellers, with a resurgence of Indigenous-inspired dishes that use unusual local ingredients.
Then there’s Italy.
“Pretty much every region you go into in Italy has its signature ingredients, its signature dishes,” said Dath, but Bologna “is really the food capital. The land is rich, the climate is perfect… It’s really an experience. There’s just so much good food!”
Dath suggested that anyone planning to take a culinary trip do some planning first.
“What kind of food do you like? Is there a culture you find interesting, based on foods you have eaten in the past?” she asked.
Travellers should think about whether they want to simply experience the food, or are looking for more hands-on interactions and llearning with local chefs. Other questions include time of year, which could be influenced by the timing of festivals and special events, and budget.
Asked about her own favourite destinations, Dath said, “I have a bit of a tie between Malta and Croatia.”
Malta offers a blend of European and Moroccan cuisines – “flavourful and spicy,” she said – while Croatia is “all about the fresh fish.”
At the end of her talk, she asked her audience, “Are we hungry yet?”
She noted, “I’ve always had a passion for food. For me, it’s about learning all that I can about the destination… I love to research these experiences. I love to learn all I can.” What makes it even better, Dath said, is when her clients “are excited about what I’ve put together for them.”
The presentation was a perfect fit for the club, said Al Gilchrist.
“Rotarians love to travel,” he said, “and we love to eat.”
Tickets for Saturday’s Harvest Dinner are $75 each, and include a chef-created roast beef dinner, prize table and silent auction – with proceeds going to the Rizzardo Health & Wellness Centre and other Rotary projects in the community.
Guests are also asked to bring canned goods for the Innisfil Food Bank, to serve as table decorations.
For tickets contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 705-716-0352.