Culinary travel hot trend with vast potential

Let’s assume that you are hungry for something different this month. Wisconsin and its neighboring cities have an abundance of food expos, fancy wine dinners, ethnic culinary getaways, cooking seminars, demonstrations and product samplings.

Culinary tourism is becoming more deliberate in both rural and urban settings. People who love to travel must eat, and now we’re learning that people with a love for food may have reason enough to travel.

The International Culinary Tourism Association, founded this year in Portland, Ore., acknowledges the trend – and the growing interest that people have in following their food from the farm or production plant to the kitchen and dining room table.

Closer to home, “Farm to Feast Getaways” are being organized in Monroe and New Glarus (Green County), an area known for its Swiss cuisine, cheeses and beers.

It’s $275 to $375 per person for two nights of lodging, meals featuring Swiss specialties, cooking seminars by notable chefs, samples of locally produced products, farm and city walking tours – plus the sound of a polka or two.

To find out more, go to or call (800) 838-1603. The first culinary weekend is Oct. 17-19; the last is Dec. 5-7.

Almost 50 Madison restaurants this week celebrated the establishment of Madison Originals, a new chapter of the Council of Independent Restaurants of America, to get you thinking about where you dine.

“Whether you are a neighborhood bistro, a four-star restaurant or the trendiest place in town, you are in danger of closing for good,” the non-profit group says at

“In the battle for market share, the national chains are mounting a well-financed, aggressive assault on the nation’s major restaurant markets. They have the money to command prime real estate, they have the marketing dollars to saturate the market with publicity and advertising, and they can even sustain losses for a long period of time.”

So the CIRA is an alliance for indie restaurants and caterers, which gives them more clout and attention than each has when working alone.

“If a city loses those elements which contribute toward its unique character, then it becomes an homogenized society that cannot be differentiated from any other town or city,” notes Phillip Cooke, CIRA’s executive vice president.

Madison is the group’s 14th chapter; go to for details about members. A Milwaukee-based chapter has 25 members, one from as far away as DePere; go to

CIRA membership is meant to be inclusive rather than exclusive, Cooke says. There is room for both the fine dining of Sanford in Milwaukee, and the casual Dog Eat Dog in Madison, old-timers such as Karl Ratzsch’s and newcomers such as the Wisconsin Cheesecakery.

How about the beloved greasy spoon? You bet, says Cooke, as long as it upholds the standard for food quality, service, cleanliness and pleasant atmosphere.

One of my fondest bed and breakfast memories is of Cooper’s Cove Guesthouse, Sooke, British Columbia. Isolated and off the Galloping Goose hiking/biking trail (a former railway line), it was special because of the fine, multi-course meal that we ate as we watched chef-proprietor Angelo Prosperi-Porta at work.

He was a part of Culinary Team Canada 1994, and this was called “interactive dining.” We sipped wine with two other couples while sitting at an elegantly set kitchen counter, making small talk and watching the chef’s performance. Now he’s offering cooking classes, in addition to his great dinners.

Back in Wisconsin, European chef Marcel Biro recently opened a culinary school in Sheboygan. His resume includes work as a personal chef to Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor.

Biro and other chefs since May have offered two-hour cooking demonstrations, six-hour cooking “participation courses” and weeklong sessions (six hours on each of the five weekdays).

The school shares space with the new Kitchen and Bath Studio, a retail facility. Its16,000 square feet is “dedicated to demystifying, preserving and promoting classic European culinary technique.”

Class prices are $35 (“Gourmet Garnishes”) to $1,125 (“Christmas Dinner Around the World”). Classes can be customized; advanced students can be “chef for a day” at the Biro Restaurant and Wine Bar, also in Sheboygan.

For more, go to or call (888) 694-0016.

That’s not the only way in which my home county is expanding its tourism stature from “golf haven” to “culinary showcase.” The American Club is presenting its third Kohler Food & Wine Experience, an Oct. 24-26 event sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine.

Keynote speakers include dessert king Jacques Torres and Latin-American cooking expert Aaron Sanchez, both from the Food Network. Notable Wisconsin chefs and cheese/wine experts also are in the lineup. Topics go from simple to complex. Admission is free to many presentations; others are $12 or more. The annual Celebrity Chef’s dinner, at $165, already is a sell-out, as is a $75 per person wine tasting.

So word gets around. Dena Adamson, event manager, says more than 1,780 ticket reservations have been sold so far, which is more than last year.

For details, go to or call (800) 344-2838.

OK, we’re getting pretty full, but here are other ways to play while you’re eating:

* An Autumn Harvest Wine Dinner, featuring California’s St.Suprey Winery label, will be Oct. 8 at the Heidel House Resort’s Grey Rock restaurant, Green Lake. It begins with cocktails at 6 p.m.; dinner cost is $60 per person. For details, go to or call (800) 444-2812.

* Chicago has many neighborhood tours. The destination is Devon Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 15. It is called the city’s “international marketplace” because of the blend of foreign cultures and foods. Go to or call (312) 742-1190. Cost is $25.

* The Kitchen Window program in Minneapolis conducts cooking lessons at some of the Twin Cities’ best restaurants; the weekend classes typically last three hours over lunchtime and cost $65. Other imaginative food workshops take place at the business’s cooking school. Go to or call (888) 824-4417.

* The Madison Food and Wine Show is Oct. 24-26 at the Alliant Energy Center, featuring 100-plus vendors, lectures and demonstrations. The emphasis is on organic products and local merchants/chefs. Cost is $30, which includes a wine glass and tasting plate. Go to or call (608) 280-3640.

* This year’s Taste of Home Expo, a food and cooking event, will be Oct. 10-11 at the Midwest Airlines Center in downtown Milwaukee. There will be a recipe swap, cooking demos, coupons, samples. Vendors tend to be mainstream: Think Campbell Soup and Sara Lee. Admission is $10; two sessions each cost $5 more. Go to or call (800) 784-0518.

As a reward for reading to the end, I’m distributing four pairs of tickets to this event, which is sponsored by Taste of Home magazine. Just send a quick e-mail about your favorite place to shop for cooking accessories or unusual kinds of food. Please include your name and address.