Culinary tourism can benefit Michigan | MLive.com
At the most basic level, you are a culinary tourist because you eat while on the road.
Move the definition up a notch and you are a culinary tourist if you research restaurants, wineries, breweries, bake shops, delis and such before heading out.
With a smart phone or iPad, you can search out attractions while rolling down the interstate. We did this on a recent trip to Maine, finding a great barbecue joint in Rochester, N.Y., and a knockout cheese shop near Portland, Maine.
Before the Internet, all we had was the AAA tour book, a packet from the visitor’s bureau, a newspaper travel article we had clipped and a tip from cousin Mary. We made great finds by accident on our travels and, of course, we had a great time.
Now, with a world of information a mere screen touch away, you might wonder why those who operate and promote food-related destinations need to do much more to corral the tourist. Let him find us.
The response obviously is if it’s that easy for the consumer to find your bed and breakfast near Traverse City, it’s just as easy for him to find one in Milwaukee, Galena or Gatlinburg and go there instead.
Tourism officials believe a new type of foodie traveler has emerged.
“We are seeing people who want more than good dining (in their travels),” says Linda Jones of the state Grape and Wine Industry Council. “They want an educational component as well.”
They want to see how the grapes are grown, for instance, before tasting the wine.
Jones was one of the organizers of the first Michigan Conference on Culinary Tourism. It took place last week at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.
About 200 representatives from dining, convention sales, resort, winery and other sectors paid $50 each to brainstorm about how to better promote their regions and the state as culinary destinations.
As Melody Johnson from the International Culinary Tourism Alliance said, everyone involved in this industry must push themselves to think outside the box for new and better ways to promote and package these attractions.
Yet, it can be as simple as “becoming a concierge for Michigan,” said Barb Tholin, publisher of Edible Grand Traverse magazine.
That helps make it real for me. It means that the clerk at the Holiday Inn Express is primed to talk enthusiastically about the Flint and Grand Blanc farmers markets, historic Westwind Milling Co. in Argentine, our fine Middle Eastern restaurants and, of course, the Flint Cultural Center.
It’s too bad that no Genesee County representatives attended the one-day conference to share the energy I felt. But they can catch up by signing up for regional gatherings planned over the next two years.
The state Agriculture Department and Travel Michigan, a part of the Pure Michigan campaign, are soliciting foodie tour ideas. Up to 11 stops can be included. Any restaurants should use local foods and products.
Outlines can be submitted to Carol Royse at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before you can develop a tour proposal, you have to sit down and list all the possible stops. That will open one’s eyes to Michigan’s wealth of culinary/agriculture resources.
Jones said a golden opportunity exists for entrepreneurs to develop and market such packages.
“We have to get to the point where tour operators are bringing groups to Michigan. There’s such potential.”
In the meantime, we can devise our own local foodie tours. Think about what yours would look like.
Community ed cookery
Add to your recipe repertoire or explore a cuisine in enrichment classes being offered in Flint and Grand Blanc this winter and spring.
Cake baking and decorating can be a great pastime as well as financially rewarding. Learn the essentials in four-session classes in April through the Flint School District. Call (810) 760-1211.
Grand Blanc Community Education will offer a dozen one-session classes starting next month. Topics include tamale-making, make-ahead freezer meals, jam-making, Middle Eastern cuisine and soups and stews.
Call (810) 591-6088.