Culinary Vacations Not ‘Cookie-Cutter’ With Destination Discoveries

cooking classAs we’ve continued to report at Gadling, a new generation of culinary tours is on the rise. Food-loving travelers want more than generic cooking classes that teach how to make pad thai in Thailand or risotto in Tuscany. And a few companies – such as Destination Hotels & Resorts, North America’s fourth largest hotel management company – are complying by offering tours and classes that focus more on culture, locality and experiential elements.

With the launch of Destination Discoveries, hotel guests can tour the on-site apiary at Kirkland, Washington’s, The Woodmark, before taking a honey-themed cooking class with Chef Dylan Giordan. On Maui, personalized farm tours enable participants to harvest ingredients for a private class in their accommodation, as well as visit producers and sample handcrafted foods from the island.

The adventures aren’t just limited to food. There are also art, literature and active themes that reflect a sense of place; fly-fishing lessons in Lake Tahoe; nordic pursuits in Vail; art classes in Santa Fe; or a cultural and historic tour of Walden Pond via the Bedford Glen property in Boston. Here’s to more hotel groups doing away with homogenous travel.

[Photo credit: Destination Hotels & Resorts]

Cochon 555 Pork Competition Turns Five, Kicks Off February 17 In Atlanta

baconMuch ado about pork products is made on Gadling, with good reason. Even if you’re sick to death of pork-centric eateries, and lardo this and sausage that, it’s hard to deny the allure of the other white meat (I can’t tell you how many vegetarians and vegans I know who still have a jones for bacon).

For those of you wanting to attend the ultimate porkapalooza, get your tickets for Cochon 555, a traveling, “National Culinary Competition & Tasting Event Dedicated to Heritage Pigs, Family Wineries & Sustainable Farming.”

The 10-city tour kicks off February 17 in Atlanta, and will include stops in New York; Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; Miami; Vail; Seattle; San Francisco; and Los Angeles, before culminating in the dramatic Grand Cochon at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on June 16. Notice that Colorado gets two Cochon visits? The South isn’t the only place that appreciates pork.

Cochon was created by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe to raise awareness about, and encourage the sustainable farming of heritage-breed pigs. At each destination, five celebrated local chefs must prepare a nose-to-tail menu using one, 200-pound, family-raised heritage breed of pig. Twenty judges and 400 guests help decide the winning chef. The 10 finalists will then compete at the Grand Cochon for the ultimate title of “King or Queen of Porc.”

Depending upon venue, attendees can also expect tasty treats like Heritage BBQ; butchery demonstrations; mezcal, bourbon, whiskey and rye tastings; specialty cheese sampling, cocktail competitions; a Perfect Manhattan Bar, raffles, and killer after-parties.

For additional details and tickets, click here. Partial proceeds benefit charities and family farms nationwide.

[Photo credit: Flickr user out of ideas]

Happy 100th: 15 Places To Celebrate Centennials In 2013

A new year isn’t just the time to look ahead, it’s also the time to look back and commemorate. 2013 marks plenty of centennials, from the birth of civil rights activists to metro lines. Here is your chance to not only explore new destinations, but also learn a little bit about the past with a list of places that all have something worth celebrating this year.

If you’re looking to help celebrate a few centennials in 2013, look no further.

Glacier Park Lodge, Montana, USA
Opening to guests on June 15, 2013, the Glacier Park Lodge has become a focal point of the park. Built on the Blackfeet Reservation, the land was purchased from the Piegan, a tribe of the Blackfeet Nation, and at its opening, hundreds of Blackfeet Indians erected teepees around the lodge. Today it features 161 rooms and can accommodate up to 500 people.

National Museum of Fine Arts, Cuba
Located in Old Havane the National Museum of Fine Arts houses both a Cuban specific collection as well as a universal one, including ancient art from Egypt, Greece and Rome. The museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tour de France, France
One hundred years of mountain stages, yellow jerseys and champagne finishes, Tour de France 2013 should be a momentous occasion. The centennial edition kicks off in Corsica on June 29, and in an attempt to celebrate the beauty of the country that is its namesake, the route is 100% in France, the first time in 10 years.
Washington State Parks, USA
If there ever was a time to take advantage of the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, it’s this year. For Centennial 2013, explore the state’s extensive network of beautiful spaces, complete with yurts, rustic cabins and the occasional mountain goat.

Metro Line 8, Paris, France
Serving some of the City of Light’s most iconic stops like Invalides, Opera and Bastille, Métro Line 8 was the last line of the original 1898 Paris Metro plan. Opened on July 13, 1913 (one day before French independence day), it is the only Paris underground line to cross the Seine and the Marne above ground, via a bridge.

Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA
An iconic hub of travel, Grand Central Terminal in New York City is known for its Beaux-Arts architecture, and the pure romanticism of adventure that it induces. After almost a decade of renovation, on opening day on February 2, 1913, it welcomed over 150,000 people from all over the city. It’s no surprise that Grand Central Terminal has a year of events planned, and maybe it’s time we all took a commemorative train ride.

Soccer fields, USA
The U.S. Soccer Federation is celebrating its 100 years on the field with a variety of events throughout the year, but a special emphasis will be on the U.S. Women’s National Team’s matches, and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s campaign to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which means for soccer fans, there are plenty of places around the country to celebrate.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama, USA
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks would have turned 100 this year, and in her honor the Rosa Parks Museum is coordinating the Rosa Parks 100th Birthday Wishes Project. They have been collecting words and inspiration from visitors and 1,000 will be chosen from the Montgomery area and 1,000 from around the state and country. Take part in the celebration on February 4, Parks’ birthday.

Bangladesh National Museum, Bangladesh
One of the largest museums in Southeast Asia, the Bangladesh National Museum started out as Dhaka Museum in 1913. Besides the standard collections of archaeology, classical art and natural history pieces that national museums are traditionally known for, it also illustrates the freedom struggle that ended in the liberation of Bangladesh.

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Italy
Attached to the famous Scala Theater in Milan, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala holds over 100,000 works that relate to history, opera and ballet. In the hallways you’ll find musical instruments and portraits of great singers to have graced the theater. A must for any classical music or opera lover.

Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh, Scotland
The 82-acre Edinburgh zoo, is home to the UK’s only Giant Pandas, which are a huge hit with locals. They also have a Squirrel Monkey cam for your viewing pleasure. With over 1,000 animals, the zoo has an extensive list of activities to celebrate its 100th year.

Karachi Race Club, Pakistan
You rarely hear of people traveling to Pakistan for the horses, but the Karachi Race Club has now been attracting racing fans for a full 100 years. The biggest racecourse of Pakistan, seven to ten races are held at Karachi Race Club every Sunday.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Line A, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Opened to the public on December 1, 1913, Line A was the first line of the the first working subway system in the southern hemisphere. Today it is used by over 200,000 people a day. Until recently, some of the line’s original La Brugeoise trains were still in use, but are now slated to be replaced by more modern day cars, and the line itself is set for reconstruction in mid-January.

[Photo credits: davidwilson1949, ChrisProtopapa, s4nt1, infrogmation, Diego3336]

Nighttime ‘Oyster Picnics’ Offer A DIY Taste Of Puget Sound

oystersOyster aficionados and hunter-gatherer types will want to hoof it to Seattle this winter for a moonlight adventure of the briny kind. Fifth-generation, family-owned Taylor Shellfish Farms is hosting its annual “Walrus & Carpenter Picnics” on January 8, and February 7, to support the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Taylor is famed for its sustainably-farmed Manila and geoduck clams (click here to read about my ‘duck dig at Taylor’s farm on the Olympic Peninsula), Mediterranean mussels, and four species of oysters. The company has other farms around Puget Sound, as well as a much-lauded restaurant, Xinh’s Clam & Oyster House, at their Shelton location.

The oyster picnics are held at low tide, and inspired by the 1872 Lewis Carroll poem, “The Walrus & The Carpenter (“O Oysters come and walk with us … A pleasant walk, a lovely talk, along the briny beach!”).” Participants depart Seattle on a chartered bus at 6:30 p.m., returning at midnight.

The evening includes DIY gathering and shucking (experienced shuckers are available for those who prefer to keep their extremities intact) of Taylor’s celebrated Olympias, Kumamotos, Pacifics, and Virginicas, which are paired with chilled wines. Chilled participants get to enjoy steaming bowls of Taylor chef Xinh Dwelley’s famous oyster stew prior to departure.

Tickets are $125; reservations required. For more information click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zone41]

Restaurant Rooftop Gardens: Five Of America’s Best

beekeepingFrom where I stood on the roof of Bastille Cafe & Bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, I could see flocks of seagulls circling nearby fishing boats, as I catch whiffs of brine, gasoline and eau de canal water.

Despite the industrial marine supplies and salmon canneries across the way, up here I was surrounded by buzzing honeybees and dozens of varieties of produce, from heirloom French beans and petit pois to herbs, tomato starts, lettuces and cucumber vines.

Bastille is part of an emerging breed of urban restaurant (many of which are located in hotels) popping up across America. Not content to just source food locally, today’s seasonally- and sustainably-driven chefs and restaurateurs are installing rooftop gardens and beehives to augment the product they purchase from family farms.

Many of these restaurants offer public tours of their rooftop gardens, greenhouses and hives, so even city-dwellers (or line cooks) no longer have an excuse to remain clueless about where their food comes from – and the public can’t get enough. With the urban farming movement – backyard produce, chickens, bees, even dairy goats – at critical mass, savvy chefs, concerned about their carbon footprint and wanting more control over the production and quality of their ingredients, have turned their rooftops into kitchen gardens.

Few restaurants can spare the labor or have staff experienced in cultivating crops, which is where small businesses like Seattle Urban Farm Company and Ballard Bee Company come in. The Urban Farm Company’s services include construction and maintenance of residential backyard farms, rooftop gardens, educational school gardens, and on-site gardens at restaurants and businesses. With regard to the latter, chefs and cooks receive education as well, and become involved in caring for and harvesting crops and collaborating on plantings based on menu ideas.

Corky Luster of Ballard Bee offers hive hosting or rental, where homeowners keep hives on their property, in exchange for maintenance, harvesting, and a share of the honey. Bastille keeps hives, and uses the honey in cocktails and dishes ranging from vinaigrette’s to desserts.

Following is the short list of rooftop garden restaurants that have served as inspiration for imitators, nationwide. Here’s to dirty cooks, everywhere.rooftop gardensBastille Cafe & Bar, Seattle
Seattle Urban Farm Company owner/founder Colin McCrate and his business partner Brad Halm and staff conceptualized Bastille’s garden with the restaurant’s owners three years ago. After substantial roof retrofitting, rectangular garden beds were installed. Over time, beehives were introduced, and this past year, plastic children’s swimming pools were reinforced with landscape fabric and UV-protective cloth, expanding the garden space to 4,500 feet.

In summer and fall, the garden supplies chef Jason Stoneburner and his staff with 25 percent of their produce for Bastille’s French-inspired seasonal cuisine. Housed in a lavishly restored, historic 1920s building, it has the vibe of a traditional Parisian brasserie, but here you’ll find an emphasis on lighter dishes as well as cocktails crafted from boutique spirits and rooftop ingredients.

Every Wednesday, Rooftop Garden Tours are hosted by Seattle Urban Farm Company, and include a complimentary Rum Fizz, made with Jamaican rum, mint, sparkling wine, bitters and (of course) rooftop honey. Cost is $10 per person; limit 10 people. Contact the restaurant for reservations.

honey
flour + water, and Central Kitchen, San Francisco
Thomas McNaughton of popular Mission pizzeria flour + water opened his newest venture on May 9. Both restaurants have rooftop gardens, and Central Kitchen is a lovely, modern rustic sanctuary serving simple, seasonal fare that highlights Northern California ingredients.

In addition to beehives, Central Kitchen is producing peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, berries, figs, citrus and herbs in a 2,000-square-foot space. Lexans (heavy-weight plastic storage containers used in professional kitchens) serve as garden beds, while herbs flourish in a converted Foosball table. Talk about recycling!

Uncommon Ground on Clark, Chicago
This big sister to the new Edgewater location features a 2,500-square-foot garden with solar panels to heat water used in the restaurant. Everything from beets, eggplant, okra and bush beans are cultivated, including rare seed varieties from the Slow Food “Ark of Taste.” The Ark is dedicated to preserving the “economic, social, and cultural heritage of fruits and vegetables,” as well as promoting genetic diversity. Expect refined crunchy granola fare with ethnic flourishes.
tomatoes
Roberta’s, Brooklyn
This insanely popular Bushwick restaurant made national headlines when chef Carlo Mirarchi was named a 2011 Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine for his wood-fired pizzas and way with rooftop produce, including some heirloom varieties.

Mirarchi, who is passionate about urban farming and community involvement, uses two repurposed cargo containers on the restaurant’s roof for cultivating crops, and keeps a blog about the evolution of the garden.

[Photo credits: honeycomb; Laurel Miller; tomatoes, Flickr user Muffet]

In this video, Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, Atlanta, talks rooftop gardening and beekeeping. He grew up on a family farm and dairy in Ohio.