Home may be where the heart is. But these days, for the best gourmet feasts, celebrity chefs and state-of-the-art kitchens, you have to go on vacation.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun recently opened a $500,000 recreational Culinary Center with panoramic views of the Caribbean and a brand-new Viking range. It’s got four complete cooking stations, each of which has an induction cook top, under-counter refrigerator, convection microwave, electrical oven, warming drawer and pot filler.
Here, guests can take twice-daily cooking classes with the resort's chef de cuisine and attend wine and tequila tastings; for the gourmet who likes to travel with friends and family, there's a $35,000 package for 10, which includes four nights' accommodation in oceanfront suites, daily private cooking classes and wine tastings, spa treatments and a group dinner on the beach. When they return home, they’ll find the complete line of Viking Range Countertop Culinary tools awaits.
And in August, Blackberry Farm, a Relais & Chateaux property in the foothills of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, plans to move its extensive schedule of cooking classes and Epicurean Events to a brand-new space on-property, called The FarmStead, which boasts a Viking culinary kitchen. Here guests will use fresh produce from the resort's organic gardens, gourmet cheese made in the resort dairy, eggs from the on-property chicken coop, meats from the salumeria and newly baked bread from Blackberry's artisanal bakery in their culinary concoctions.
What’s not to love about food-based escapes? Very little, apparently.
"Everybody eats," says Catherine Heald, chairman and CEO of the New York-based Remote Lands, which runs luxury bespoke tours of Asia. "Having that focus creates a broad appeal."
Tour Operators Catching On
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America, more Americans than ever are taking food-focused vacations. TIA recently performed its first-ever study on wine and culinary travelers, and while the full report won't be released until February, TIA says that two in five leisure travelers have participated in activities associated with culinary tourism.
“Food-based travel, including culinary and wine tours, is currently one of the biggest trends in the travel industry. Travelers have become more food-savvy over the years and they’re looking to expand their experience of a destination through its wine and food offerings,” says Cathy Keefe, manager of media relations at TIA.
To capture the growing trend, hotels across the world are polishing up their food and wine packages, cooking schools and high-profile chefs to lure travelers.
This Christmas, Lajitas, The Ultimate Hideout, a luxury resort in West Texas, introduced a new Culinary Arts Center to improve upon their previous battery of simple cooking classes. In addition to seminars at the center which take place in a 60-seat theatre, guests can take part in a variety of tastings, including a "Components Tasting,” in which guests learn to identify basic wine flavors, and tequila tastings, which feature a variety of private label tequilas guests are unlikely to encounter elsewhere.
"Returning guests found the new Center much more enjoyable, due to the comfort of the theatre, the flat-screen televisions and the overhead cameras, which give a first-hand glimpse of the chef's detailed work," says Daniel Hostettler, Lajitas CEO.
Remote Lands has just introduced what Heald says is the first-ever private jet culinary tour. This October, Heald's guests will spend two weeks in Thailand, Burma, Bhutan, India and China, traveling by plane and escorted by two "raconteurs," food critic Gael Greene and Asia expert Simon Winchester. The group will dine with members of the Thai royal family, experience private cooking demonstrations and visit local markets where everything from fried grasshoppers to barbecued goat head is for sale.
The cost: A mere $49,950 per person, with a $5,000 fee for single occupancy. Heald says the tour, which accommodates 36 and took half a year to plan, is already about half sold out.
"For luxury travelers these days, there's a lot of money out there, and they want the very best," she says. "It's about loving to eat the food, and learn about the food. It's a more authentic way of learning about the culture."
Health Nuts Welcome
There are even options for guests who want to dine healthily while on vacation.
"Our guests are much more health conscious these days," says Michael Luible, general manager at the One&Only Maldives at Reethi Rah, a luxury resort in the Indian Ocean which recently introduced three cooking classes, including a sensible sushi option. "Now, not only can guests have a fabulous dining experience, but they can really share in the culinary experience by going behind the scenes and learning firsthand from our chefs."
To help you sort out the fabulous from the fair, Forbes.com has compiled a list of ten great gourmet getaways. We spoke to tour operators and hotel owners to determine where foodies will get the most taste for their time and then included a brief write-up on each. Our picks span the globe, from the U.S. to Italy to Belgium.
Got a hankering for chocolate, sashimi or fajitas? We've got the spot for you.