Rhode Island foodies get legit at Taste Trekkers
In case you haven’t heard, Providence is home to the nation’s first food tourism conference. It starts Friday, September 20 with a kick-off cocktail reception at The Dorrance, and wraps up on Sunday, September 22 with a food truck brunch. Plus, there is a pantry full of events in between.
We had a few questions for Taste Trekkers host, Seth Resler.
Q: There seems to be quite a bit of enthusiasm surrounding Taste Trekkers and the Food Tourism Conference, so much so that people may be a bit confused thinking they are synonymous. Could you explain Taste Trekkers?
A: A taste trekker is a culinary tourist — somebody who plans his vacations around food. Culinary tourists come in many variations. It’s the person who travels to Napa Valley to try new wines, or to Italy for original pasta dishes, or down American highways in search of roadside diners. These people explore the world through food. They are genuinely interested in the source of the dishes they eat, and how those cuisines are shaped by the places that they come from.
As an organization, Taste Trekkers aims to help people discover new places through food. We want to be the starting point for vacationing foodies. Taste Trekkers really began three years ago, with a social dining group in Boston called Mystery Meet. Mystery Meet was a simple concept: flashmobs as dinner parties. What if a group of strangers got together for a meal, and then never saw each other again? It evolved into social dinners at restaurants, but nobody found out the locations until 24 hours in advance. The group attracted adventurous foodies, people who are open to trying new things and meeting new people. It took off in Boston, and I began launching Mystery Meet dinners in other cities around the country.
Then, a year ago, I launched the Find Dining Podcast, in which I interview food bloggers, chefs and food event organizers from around the country. The concept is, ”I’m a foodie and I’m coming to your city for the first time; what do I need to know?” Not just what restaurants, but what chefs? What neighborhoods? What ingredients? What dishes? What festivals?
In the course of hosting the podcast, I discovered that every city has a unique food scene. There are exciting things happening not just in New York and San Francisco and Las Vegas, but in Cleveland and St. Louis and Portland, Oregon. A lot of smaller cities have vibrant culinary cultures, and I wanted to put together an event to showcase these.
But beyond just the event, we’re launching a website that will be the starting point for food tourists looking for inspiration. When you want to go on a foodie vacation, you’ll start at TasteTrekkers.com, which will have a listing of food festivals, food tours and other unique culinary events. We want to take you beyond the obvious choices and help you discover new places to eat. This site will also be home to the Find Dining Podcast, Mystery Meet dinners, and the Taste Trekkers Conference. We’ve soft-launched the site already, and after the conference it will be our focus.
Q: Ok, now, what is the Food Tourism Conference?
A: This is the nation’s first food tourism conference. Our goal is simple: we want foodies to come and discover new dishes to eat and new places to go. My hope is that people will discover a place they don’t expect, which is why we chose a lot of these destinations for our sessions. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s great food in Paris or New Orleans, but there’s a lot of really cool things happening Memphis and Vermont and Ontario. Durham, North Carolina, is just over an hour away by plane, and it was just named the “Tastiest Town in the South” by Southern Living magazine, but I’ll bet it isn’t on the radar of many food tourists in New England. We hope to change that.
The other goal is to show off the fantastic culinary scene in Providence and Rhode Island. Like many of the other destinations featured at our conference, Providence is sometimes overlooked in favor of bigger cities. But the food scene in this city has exploded in recent years, with a fantastic crop of new restaurants popping up to complement the heritage of Federal Hill. The state has great farms and artisanal food producers and a prestigious culinary institution in Johnson and Wales University. All of this forms a rich food culinary landscape that we want to show the world.
Q: Thanks for the clarification! I think an issue for some people around here is they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that it is called a conference. There may be a perception that this coming weekend’s events are for industry people only. That’s way off base, correct?
A: Absolutely. This is an event that is open to anybody and everybody who loves food and loves travel. It is not an industry conference. We chose to call it a conference because we wanted to distinguish it from a food festival. Dave Dadekian did such a fantastic job launching the Eat Drink RI Festival this spring, and I’m such a huge of fan of what he’s done, that I didn’t think that Rhode Island needed a second food festival. Instead, we wanted to do something different. In particular, we want to showcase other culinary destinations in addition to Providence.
As with any conference, there’s an educational component to what we’re doing. This isn’t just about eating; it’s also about learning the history and the heritage of what you’re consuming. We are connecting people with their food by giving it some geographical context. So you don’t need to be in the food or travel industry to attend, but you may meet other attendees who are. This is an event for people who don’t just want to eat their food; they also want to understand it.
Q: That’s good to know. It sounds like a blast. Are any of the participants or restaurants being visited favorites of yours from your days at Brown?
A: I graduated from Brown in 1999, and the restaurant scene has definitely changed a lot since then. As a student, Al Forno, Cav and Mediterraneo were among my favorites. I returned to Providence in 2003 as the Program Director of 95.5 WBRU, and watched great places like Farmstead and Nick’s on Broadway come up. I produced events in Rhode Island after that, and was heavily involved with bartenders around the state. I worked with Frank Martucci from Twin River and the United States Bartenders’ Guild (he will be speaking at the conference) and Mike Lester of M.S. Walker, whose family owns The Dorrance (where we’ll host our cocktail reception). I really admire their efforts to elevate the art of mixology in the state. I left Providence in 2009, and this will be my first time back. There are so many new places that have popped up, I can’t wait to try some of them.
Q: That gives me a thought. What is one your favorite food and drink pairings?
A: I’m hoping to find a few new favorite pairing at the conference. Cesin Curi of Los Andes first introduced me to Peruvian ceviche several years ago, and he’ll be talking about what to pair with it, so I’m curious to hear what he has to say. Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider will be pairing her ciders with other Vermont foods, so I’m excited to see her session. I am also a rum fan, so I can’t wait for Frank’s session with Brent Ryan of Thomas Tew on the history of New England rum, and to see if they suggest any pairings.
Q: One last thing before I let you get back to the logistics and planning… Anything else you want to tell us about this weekend?
A: I think the key is to come to this event with a sense of adventure. This is for foodies who like to discover new things, but I also think you’ll be surprised by exactly what those new things are. One of the eye-opening experiences for me was speaking with Marina Marchese of Red Bee Honey. Like most people, I thought of honey as a uniform condiment, similar to ketchup except that it comes in bottle shaped like a bear. I had no idea that in Europe, they taste honey like we taste wine. In fact, geography plays a huge role in the different flavor profiles of honey. Marina will lead a session on the terroir of honey, and I think people will be fascinated by it.
I think Danielle Brodhagen of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance is going to surprise a lot of people who may not have given Canada much thought as a vacation destination. Her organization is among the best in the world when it comes to developing memorable and authentic culinary experiences for travelers. I think people will walk out of her session and immediately book a flight. So if you come to this conference with an open mind and a love of food, you’re going to have a great time discovering new things.
2013 tickets start at $65 and are available now at http://tastetrekkers2013.eventbrite.com.