Travel by Taste
Dive into local flavor with place-based cuisine and unique epicurean experiences.
By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Travel is all about authentic experiences, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in local culture is through cuisine: the flavors and dining customs that are unique the area. According to a recent survey conducted by AAA, approximately 75 percent of Americans feel that food and dining are an important part of their travel experiences. Four out of five have toured wineries and distilleries, or participated in activities like cooking classes while traveling. The organization cites millennials, in particular, for embracing the foodie travel trend, with 88 percent of them reporting that they participate in food-related experiences while vacationing.
With properties located in diverse environments, from tropical Florida to urban New Orleans and rural Virginia, Salamander Hotels & Resorts provides an array of opportunities to learn about local culture through unique epicurean experiences available both on- and off-site. Seasonally inspired dishes designed to capture the flavor of a region are created with the culinary adventurer in mind, and activities like on-site cooking classes and customized in-suite dining experiences add to the allure.
Fresh Flavors in Coastal Florida
Located beside a white-sand beach on the Gulf of Mexico, The Henderson in Destin, Florida, is positioned in a prime location to execute its dock-to-table dining concept with fresh off the boat, top-quality seafood.
Brendan Davey, executive chef of the signature restaurant Primrose, insists on cultivating relationships with purveyors. “I want to know where the food is coming from and the story behind it,” he says. The chef, who has worked at a Forbes Five-Star resort and a Five-Diamond hotel, brings with him an exceptional skill set, with an eye toward excellence. Menu favorites include a chilled seafood plateau comprised of blue point oysters, chilled Gulf shrimp, tuna poke, king crab and sashimi, and a gluten-free seafood paella using local ingredients. “We create it using techniques from around the world with ingredients we can source from our own backyard,” Davey says.
Other popular dishes include daily fish specials, pulled directly from the Gulf, and the crab cakes. “We use a high ratio of crab, lightly breaded and served with a tarragon remoulade with a citrus and fennel salad,” he says.
Those making travel plans may want to time the trip to take advantage of nearby food festivals, like the Sandestin Gumbo Festival. The competition attracts chefs from all over the Gulf Coast every February. Celebrity judges name “Area’s Best,” and guests have the opportunity to vote for “People’s Choice.”
“We create [the seafood paella] using techniques from around the world with ingredients we can source from our own backyard.” ~ Brendan Davey
Those who enjoy adult libations will want to mark their calendars to attend the Annual Bourbon at the Bay held in November at the Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club, where guests can indulge in a selection of scotch, bourbon and Champagne, while bidding on trips, gifts and more in a silent auction.
The piece de resistance, however, is the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival. The best-in-class event is held in April, but feels like Christmas to die-hard foodies. Featuring more than 800 wines, Champagne, craft beer and a variety of fine foods from cheese to olives, oysters, sushi, charcuterie and chocolates, the event should be high on the priority list of anyone who is seeking a first-class culinary experience.
Located about six hours west of The Henderson in Palm Coast, Florida, Hammock Beach Resort offers a wide variety of culinary experiences on-site, including an Italian chophouse, a seafood restaurant, a sushi bar, a gastropub and outdoor poolside dining. “A guest can visit here for a multiple-day stay and not have the same food experience twice,” says Jason Neff, the resort’s director of food and beverage.
Culinary-inspired travelers are also invited to take advantage of Hammock Beach’s fully customized in-suite dining experiences, where chefs work with guests to create a memorable menu for four to 20 people in the privacy of their own accommodations.
Wine dinners and tastings that range from beer to wine and spirits are held throughout the year as well, and cooking with the chef classes are especially popular, according to Neff.
Seasonal Fare in Historic Virginia
Salamander Resort & Spa in historic Middleburg, Virginia, is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of large cities. “We are located in the heart of Virginia wine and equestrian country, and many who stay at our property visit the wineries and come back for dinner, then afterward gather around the fire pits for s’mores,” says Jacob Musyt, director of food and beverage.
Guests who enjoy an interactive experience can sign up for cooking classes conducted by Executive Chef Ryan Arensdorf. “We do hands-on, experiential cooking classes, which last two hours and are tailored to our guests and the season,” says Musyt, explaining that the program may include festive cakes and pies during the holidays and a class on prepping vegetables and planting a garden during the spring season, where the director of landscaping assists. Bacon, sausage and ham are also made in-house and techniques are shared with guests. “We have a large Green Egg smoker and conduct a curing and smoking class,” Musyt says. Another product crafted on-site is honey. “We tend to approximately 150,000 bees. Guests can walk up to the area where were harvesting,” Musyt adds.
As with all the Salamander properties, chefs make it a point to know the purveyors. “We want to be environmentally sustainable and meet the suppliers,” says Musyt, using a July Fourth celebration as an example. “It’s customary for the chef to visit the farm and pick the pig for our outdoor pig roast. He knows where the pig eats and sleeps. Sourcing products starts with a relationship before ending up on someone’s plate.”
Selecting local ingredients is just part of Salamander’s fresh food philosophy. “We grow a lot of our own vegetables. Our chicken comes from Purcellville located right down the street, our seafood comes from the Rappahannock, and we get our fresh crab from Maryland, which is just a drive away,” Musyt says.
When the weather turns warm, locals and out-of-towners gather for the annual Twilight Tasting held at the Equestrian Center during the month of July. “We serve food and bring together local wineries, distilleries, breweries and Nashville acts for a superior sensory experience,” he says.
The area is also ripe for foodie outings. The Market Salamander, located nearby on West Washington Street in Middleburg, is a convenient stop for browsing, buying or indulging. The working chef’s gourmet market features cuisine that spans the globe with internationally inspired dishes that reflect American and Mediterranean influences. Foodies can choose from among a variety of meats, wines, domestic and imported cheeses, and freshly prepared foods and desserts.
Located about a half-hour drive away is the Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, which is open seven days a week from April through December. Few activities exemplify Southern charm more than afternoon teas, which are held throughout the year. According to Moriah Lemming, manager of special events and site use, offerings vary by season, with Christmas and Mother’s Day teas being the most popular. “For each tea, we feature a special scone, like lemon ginger, along with tea sandwiches like classic cucumber, blue cheese with pear and fig, devilled ham, and apple butter cream with cinnamon,” says Lemming, adding that entire families are encouraged to attend the teas, with hot cocoa provided for the little ones.
History, Food and Fun in New Orleans
NOPSI Hotel, New Orleans, located on the corner of Baronne and Union streets in the heart of NOLA’s Central Business District, is an architectural treasure. Built in 1927, it affords guests old-world luxury in a modern era, including three distinct dining environments featuring fresh Gulf Coast seafood, classic New Orleans fare and much more.
Saving room for brunch at the on-site Public Service restaurant is a must, especially for the pain perdu, which is served with bananas Foster sauce and fresh whipped cream. Or indulge in the restaurant’s upscale riff on a traditional crab cake, called the Rex, and served with jumbo lump crab, poached egg, avocado, smoked corn, hollandaise and a drizzle of aged balsamic.
Guests who stay at NOPSI can also take advantage of the popular New Orleans Culinary History Tour (noculinarytours.com). Kelly Hamilton, a retired educator with a degree in history, hosts the three-hour educational activity, which takes guests on a leisurely stroll through the French Quarter to sample the cuisine of iconic restaurants like Antoine’s, established in 1840, and Tujague’s, which dates back to 1856. Guests will learn the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine and have the opportunity to taste classics like turtle soup. “The Creoles ate and cooked what was in the water surrounding them,” Hamilton explains.
Classic treats like pralines will be offered along the way, as well as New Orleans’ mainstays like red beans and rice. Hamilton, a New Orleans native, explains that the dish is traditionally eaten at the beginning of the week.
Iconic libations will also be offered, like the Sazerac, created in New Orleans, and the French 75, which Arnaud’s is famous for. During the tour, guests will learn more about the classic cocktails and their history, as well as the history of the restaurants that created the dishes for which New Orleans is known.
The Classic Sazerac With a Twist
We can thank Antoine Amedie Peychaud, owner of a New Orleans apothecary, for the Sazerac. Peychaud introduced his friends to toddies made with his trademark “Peychaud’s Bitters,” crafted from a secret family recipe. By 1850 the Sazerac cocktail became the first branded cocktail. The original recipe included French brandy. Eventually the brandy was replaced with American rye whiskey, with a dash of absinthe. The recipe continued to evolve over the years, with changes made as late as the year 2000. Today, the Sazerac Co. lays claim to this recipe as the “official Sazerac cocktail.”
1 cube sugar
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1.5 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon
¼ ounce Herbsaint
Pack an old-fashioned glass with ice. Place the sugar cube in a second old-fashioned glass and add the Peychaud’s bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube. Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar. Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint and discard the remaining Herbsaint. Empty the whisky/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with the lemon peel.
Note: Jacob Musyt, director of food and beverage at the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, creates a twist on this classic libation using local rye whisky and honey made on the property.