Four Great Culinary Vacations

It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the term “foodie.” Food-centric vacations are here to stay, and even the nonculinarily inclined can enjoy these four great vacations that put food at the center of all the fun without sacrificing the destination or the hotel experience.
The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa – Rooftop Bee Workshop
Hosted by the property’s own beekeeper, guests learn the ins and outs of tending bees so they can implement hives at their own homes. Guests receive an arrival amenity consisting of all of the bounty from the Brown’s rooftop bee hives; including: Honey Lavender Soap, spa treatments featuring the honey, even a beer created in collaboration with a local brewery.
Four Seasons Resort Whistler – Chef-Led Farmers Market Bicycle Tour
The executive chef at the property personally leads bicycle farmer’s market tours from the resort’s front door. Following the farmer’s market, guests return to the property for a cooking lesson (with the market’s fresh bounty), and a gourmet meal at the chef’s table. Guests learn how to pick the best produce and learn cooking skills that they’ll be able to use in their own kitchens when they return home.
Travaasa Hana – Traditional Hawaiian Net Throw
Traditionally passed down through generations of native Hawaiians down from father to son, guests learn the art of catching fish with Hawaiian nets, then return to the property for a lesson on preparing the fish and cooking it. (Picture shown above).
Four Seasons Resort Vail – Mushrooms & Mercedes Expedition
Four Seasons Vail has partnered with Larry Evans, a renowned mushroom forager (who knew there even was such a thing) to offer guests a unique day trip to hunt for mushrooms and cook and enjoy a gourmet dinner upon return to the property. Evans gives guests an overview of what types of mushrooms to hunt for, what to avoid, and how to property pick and clean mushrooms. The highlight of the experience for most attendees is when the group reconvenes in the kitchen of Flame, the signature restaurant.

Breakfast And Botox: Hotel Offers Cosmetic Procedures After Your Meal

Want to come back from your vacation more beautiful than when you left? Guests of the Four Seasons in downtown Austin, Texas, can now take advantage of a unique hotel package that allows them to get cosmetically enhanced after breakfast.

This week, Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery opened on the main floor of the Four Seasons Residences Austin, which is located on the same property as the Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

“It’s a major convenience,” Lorley Musiol, director of the Four Seasons Residences Austin, told NBC News. “It’s rare to find a plastic surgeon in a downtown market. So this should appeal to hotel guests such as women whose husbands are here for a meeting and to people who work and live in the city.”

The menu of procedures includes Botox, chemical peels and, starting next year, breast augmentation, liposuction and other services. According to Katie Davin, director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, marketing cosmetic services to luxury hotel guests is a great idea because this type of guest usually makes use of extra add-ons and amenities. Additionally, it allows guests privacy and comfort during the initial recovery period.

While you won’t see the “Botox & Brunch” packages on the Four Seasons website, Musiol assures the hotel is working with Westlake to offer discounts and promotions to guests.

What do you think of the “Botox & Brunch” hotel package?

[Image via avlxyz]

5 California Hotels Where You Can Learn To Ride The Waves

If you’re looking to try your hand at surfing this summer, there’s no better place to pick up a board than California. For decades, California’s surf beaches have beckoned rookies and professionals alike with their laidback atmosphere and consistent waves. Dozens of surf schools line the coast, offering instruction from beginner to advanced. But if time is limited and research intimidating, look up the following hotels, which offer surf packages on California’s gnarliest beaches to help ease the introduction.

Huntington Beach, Orange County
Huntington Beach Surf Experience at Shorebreak, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
Includes: accommodations, equipment rental, a bar of Organic Surf Wax, an “Endless Summer” DVD, and a two-hour surf lesson.

Coronado Island, San Diego

Hey Sake Lady: Four Seasons Sake Sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto Brings Eastern Flavor to the Western World

Here, we take a deeper dive into one of the coolest jobs in the hospitality industry – a sake sommelier.

Four Seasons Baltimore’s beverage manager Tiffany Dawn Soto wants you to know two things – first, that sake is pronounced “sa-keh” and not “sa-kee” and second, that you should never, under any circumstances, do a sake bomb.

“So many people think that sake is just hot sake – that battery acid you drink at 3 a.m. with bad sushi!”

Authenticity means everything to the Western World’s most famous female Master Sake Sommelier, or kikzake-shi, which translates to a loose cross between sommelier and educator.
The 30-year-old has traveled to Japan more than two dozen times to further her sake education, and it shows.

She leans in, her bright red hair and pale, almost Irish-looking visage at odds with her flawless pronunciation of Japanese terms. In a 101-level Sake tasting video, Soto teaches patrons the basics. She starts with the most basic, Junmai.

“Junmai very simply means that sake is un-messed around with. It has four ingredients: rice, water, yeast and a mold called koji.” She goes on to talk about Yamahai (also called Kimoto) sake, which she says “uses a traditional brewing method that presents as a caramelized, earthy texture” or, in layman’s terms, “goes great with spicy food.” Another she describes as “a little more filling, probably not something you’ll want to have at the all-you-can-eat sushi bar.””If it’s sake, Tiffany knows it,” says Evan Wald, director of special events for Sushi Samba and Sugarcane Lounge, Las Vegas, where Soto worked until 2009.

But it’s not just Soto’s knowledge – or her sex – that make her so special, although she is one of only two female sake sommeliers considered to be at her level of knowledge and understanding in the United States.

“She has the spirit of a 100-year-old Japanese man trapped inside her,” says E.C. Gladstone, a Las Vegas-based food writer who has known Tiffany for more than half a decade. It’s an interesting comparison. Petite and fashionable, Soto looks more like a ’40s pinup girl than a zen master. But she didn’t enter the field because she thought it was a moneymaker, even though it is.

Sake experienced a 13.9 percent year-over-year importation growth from 2010 to 2011, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, totaling up to $41.7 million dollars in annual sake import in 2011, a staggering $29.3 million increase in importation since 2002. Soto holds the distinction of being the highest seller of sake outside of Japan for several years running, a total that amounts to 25 percent of the United States’ overall sake sales.

All facts Soto says she doesn’t consider. She didn’t intend to become involved in the food and beverage industry at all. Ten years ago, Soto thought she’d work in advertising.

Not yet 21, Soto began her first forays into the alcohol world while working at a fine dining restaurant in North Carolina, where she was attending college. The state’s beverage laws permitted those under 21 to serve alcohol so long as they “trained” in it, and so began Soto’s love affair with wine. For the next year, she took weekly education classes to boost her skills.
Midway through college, Soto returned to her hometown of Las Vegas closer to her family.
While there, Soto quickly started attending, and soon teaching, wine education classes. The innately competitive Soto decided to delve in to sake when the University of Nevada’s large Asian population began asking questions about sake she couldn’t answer. That, she decided, was unacceptable.

And thus began her love affair with a spirit she modestly says her already sensitive palate had a unique and innate feel for. With encouragement from her professor, she decided to become a sommelier, even as she worked to finish her degree in advertising. Level One certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers in hand, Soto entered the food and beverage world and quickly rose through the ranks, working at Las Vegas’ most acclaimed hotels, including Wynn, Venetian, Palazzo and more. She also holds the industry’s highest title from Niigata Sake Research Institute as well as a Sake Professional Educators Advanced Certification from Sake One.

“Tiffany is without a doubt the most knowledgeable sake expert I have ever come across,” says SushiSamba group’s Assistant General Manager Michael Durovsik.

Soto loves her career, and works hard at it, but it doesn’t define her. She prefers to spend her off hours with family, including her 10-year-old daughter, Evie, and her new husband, Ryan, at their rambling historic farmhouse just outside of Baltimore.

Interestingly, it was her husband that inspired her next career move. When Ryan, also a sommelier by training, was accepted into law school, Tiffany never dreamed of following – her career and family were in Las Vegas, and the move for school was only temporary. A position opened soon after Ryan’s acceptance to University of Maryland Law School at Four Seasons Baltimore, where acclaimed chef Michael Mina was opening his first Japanese izakaya-style restaurant, Pabu. Soto couldn’t say no. So she packed her bags, rented a 26-acre historic farmhouse in Elkridge, and arrived this past December.

“I knew we had to make her part of the team,” said Patric Yumul, Mina Group president, who found Soto through her LinkedIn profile and Sake2You consulting site, a business that she’s grown in recent years to include nine employee consultants that travel the globe when she’s on a job or restaurant site. “She has proven to be a great decision and continues to assist us in growing our vision with the beverage programs and hospitality.”

Pabu, opening in May, will have at least 105 sakes on the opening menu, the largest and most comprehensive collection on the East Coast.

But she’s not all sake, all the time. True to her Type A routes, Soto spends her free time scrapbooking, working on a wine cellar in her home’s newly-discovered secret passageway, helping her daughter with a soon-to-launch food blog called Junior Epicurean and uploading photos to her Instagram feed.

Someday, she says, she’d like to take a step back and become a full-time mom. But she’ll always have a hand in the sake world, she says. It would be too hard to give up completely.
With all these passions, one might think Soto is exhausting just to watch, but she isn’t. What’s hard is imagining how she does it – Soto won’t even touch caffeine, eschewing even the traditional green tea served with so many meals in Japan.

Soto is modest about her success, calling it “easy” and “natural.” “I have the best job in the world,” she says with a wry smile. “I get paid to drink.”

But it’s not just Soto’s palate that makes her unique. “She doesn’t lord her knowledge over you as much as use the knowledge to help you understand how sake can be enjoyed and that it doesn’t need to be enjoyed only in a traditional setting,” Gladstone says. She’s passionate about what she loves – and it comes through in her work.

Her education in the spirit doesn’t make her a snob – most of the time. During a recent lunch, Soto rolls her eyes when a dining companion says she prefers wine from a box. It’s the same disgusted look she gets when someone mentions sake bombs.

That doesn’t make Soto a price snob, just a quality one. She prefers $19-a-bottle 10 Cane rum for her mojitos (which she learned to make on a trip to Brazil) and $30-a-bottle Hangar vodka, which, she says, “it isn’t over-distilled to the point of practically becoming moonshine.”
Of course, her love of all things “spiritual” sometimes leads to geeking out, like when she dubs Hangar’s Mandarin Flower vodka perfect for a “retro-nasal breathe.”

The concept is simple. “Smell [the vodka]. Take a sip, hold it in your mouth for a moment, breathe in, swallow and then slowly breathe out,” Soto suggests. “You’ll get a second whiff coming from the back of your throat.”

It works. Soto smiles. It’s exactly what she wants people to learn, and part of what she wants to do with sake – make it as accessible as spirits like vodka, rum and whiskey.
It’s easy to believe that Soto would know how best to taste each liquor. On one trip, where she chose Sushi Samba in The Palazzo’s collection of more than 125 sakes (the largest on the West Coast), Soto tasted more than 2,500 varieties on a two-month journey.
So why won’t this self-admitting lover of all things Japanese just pack her bags and move to where the sake got its start?

She would if she could … but she can’t. Even without the ties of family and kids keeping her in the states, Soto is allergic to soy, a product that’s in almost all Japanese foods, right down to the local KFC or hamburger joint. It’s in everyday products, such as shampoo, as well as present in the pollen and air.

Although she visits the Japan every chance she gets and has been on many trips, several dozen, by her own estimation, several over a month in duration – Soto packs a separate suitcase of food and medicine to get her through each trip, hoarding her granola bars and jerky to last for two meals before splurging on a traditional meal for dinner. She can’t pass up an authentic experience.

Soto says she’s sampled everything from horse meat (her favorite is horse sashimi) – “it’s incredibly lean, like bison” – to an izakaya specializing in beef tongue, which she dubbed “one of the best meals I’ve ever had.”

Thankfully, sake doesn’t have any soy in it, just rice.

Hotel News We Noted: June 22, 2012

It’s finally summer, and outside isn’t the only thing that’s warm in this week’s edition of Hotel News We Noted. Here, we explore some of the world’s most sizzling new hotels and promotions, as well as cool amenities that can keep you traveling in style.

As always, if you have a suggestion or a comment, feel free to email us.

Hotel Trends: U.S. Hotels Catering to Chinese Travelers
Chinese travel to the United States is up 36 percent over last year, to the tune of more than $1 million. This article from the Seattle Times explored what that means for hotels. Chains like Marriott and Hilton have already rolled out special programs for tourists, while Starwood and The-Ritz Carlton have relocated managers to China to help them gain cultural awareness. Fairmont has just rolled out a new Chinese menu. Just one example includes the nation’s strict hierarchy – employees should not be placed on a higher floor than their boss, no matter the room type. Chinese guests are also not housed on floors with the number four, which sounds like the word for “death” in Mandarin – a strange request for a U.S. audience, but something that these tour groups have greatly appreciated. And, at the tune of $5.7 billion per year spent by the Chinese in the United States, or $6,000 per traveler, hoteliers can’t afford not to take note.

Cool Perk: Leave the Workout Gear at Home, Thanks to Westin
Westin is making it easier than ever to stay fit on the road (and still avoid checked bag fees). For $5, guests can get an entire New Balance outfit – from a sports bra to shoes – delivered to their room as part of an exclusive gear-lending partnership with New Balance.

Money We Wish We Had: Larry Ellison Buys Lanai, Two Four Seasons
Oracle CEO and billionaire Larry Ellison has gone and done it again. This time, he bought Lana’i, one of Hawaii’s seven islands, which has not one but two Four Seasons Resorts. Purchased are the 236-room Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay and the 102-room Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele. We didn’t realize this was even possible, but apparently it is – he purchased the island to the tune of $500 or $600 million from David Murdock, another billionaire.

Unique Amenity: An On-Site Bagpiper
Guests at Sea Island’s (image of their luxe property The Cloister above) can relax after a day of shooting school or playing one of the resort’s three championship golf courses and enjoy the sounds of the resort’s resident bagpiper, who plays on the golf course every day at sundown. Shockingly, this isn’t the only U.S. hotel to offer the amenity – the Inn at Spanish Bay near Pebble Beach has the same thing. Who would have thought?

Soon-to-Open: Hotel BPM, Brooklyn
It’s no shock to us that Brooklyn will be the home base for the boutique Hotel BPM, or Hotel Beats Per Minute in Sunset Park. The hotel, opening August 1, has one cool program we’re keeping an eye on – guests can request one song that will be played throughout the hotel sound system at some point during their stay. At just $139 a night for the opening rate, it might be worth it to go and request something terrible like “Ice Ice Baby” or country music just to see the reaction of other guests. Sorry, we’re terrible.