New Orleans Culinary
In a city whose chief attraction is its abundance of amazing food, groups have several options for exploring the flavors of the Big Easy. New Orleans Culinary History Tours, one of the local food tour operators, blends classic Louisiana flavor with an education on the city’s history.
“I’m a native of New Orleans, with a master’s degree in the history of ethnicities and immigration,” said the company’s founder, Kelly Hamilton. “I’m fascinated by all of the immigrants who came here and brought their food from home. All of these elements came together to create a unique cuisine here in New Orleans that relies on the abundance of fresh seafood and produce.”
The walking tours take place in the French Quarter and give participants an overview of the French and Spanish cultures that influenced New Orleans so heavily. Visitors learn about the differences between Cajun and Creole cooking by sampling examples of each at the tour’s eight stops. At restaurants along the way, tour members taste turtle soup, shrimp remoulade, pralines and other classic New Orleans fare.
One of the most memorable experiences is the stop at Antoine’s, a restaurant that has operated since 1840.
“Antoine’s is the oldest restaurant in the city,” Hamilton said. “We have seafood gumbo, which everyone associates with Louisiana. We also take a tour of the restaurant — it’s filled with a lot of historic culinary memorabilia, like menus from the 19th century.”
Virginia’s Coastal Food Tours
The cities in southeast Virginia’s Hampton Roads Region enjoy proximity to both the sea and fertile agricultural areas, making fresh local food readily available to visitors. Coastal Food Tours gives travelers a sample of some great sustainable dishes in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
“It’s all for people who really want to learn about the area and enjoy the finer things,” said Jeff Swedarsky of Food Tour Corporation, which operates Coastal Food Tours. “The culinary history here is diverse — you’ve got the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and a lot of different places where food was brought in. And we have wonderful local food movements that make this area great.”
The company offers local tours that highlight specific neighborhoods in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. For culinary-minded groups, though, they have a special multiday itinerary called the Harvest Feast that visits both cities, as well as farms and food producers in the surrounding region.
During the Harvest Feast tour, groups visit the region that produces Smithfield ham, have Virginia-style barbecue on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and explore a vineyard on the Eastern Shore, among other experiences. The tour concludes with a final, celebratory feast.
“We take elements from every place that we’ve been and bring it together in a big family-style meal,” Swedarsky said. “It celebrates the harvest, so the menu changes from season to season. But you’ll have things like Chesapeake oysters, crab cakes, Smithfield ham biscuits and Virginia peanuts, all in a three-to-four-hour meal.”
Charleston Culinary Tours
Charleston, South Carolina, charms visitors with its architecture, history and delicious food heritage. Last year, locals Glenn Morehead and Oscar Hines created Charleston Culinary Tours to introduce visitors to their favorite food spots in the city.
“People come down here for food — we’re the culinary mecca of the South,” Morehead said. “They also come for the history, so we combine those two elements. We do a two-and-a-half or three-hour tour, and you get a history of the city in between restaurants.”
The tours take most of the afternoon, and participants eat so much along the way that the experience often counts for lunch and dinner. At each restaurant, the chef or manager comes out to greet the group and tells them about the theme of the restaurant and the food they’ll eat.
The food can vary from trip to trip, but the team always makes sure to include some classic Southern fare.
“We try to mix it up on each tour,” Morehead said. “It’s definitely a Charleston tour, so we make sure that shrimp and grits are available on every tour. And because we’re right on the water, we always have a catch of the day from the water straight to your plate.”
The company is introducing a second tour this year, which takes participants to restaurants on Upper King Street.