Course Profile: Cultural Tourism

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Anyone in the BU Gastronomy program is aware of just how popular food has become within the past decade. The advent of the “foodie” has meant that more and more people are paying closer attention to what they eat and food has become more than just a means for sustenance but a form leisure activity. Needless to say, with more people interested in food comes a demand for more places to eat, and this has given rise to the popularity of culinary tourism, one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries today.

Culinary tourism is something that is discussed in some of the program’s core courses, such as theory and methodology, as well as anthropology of food. The topic is approached more from a social science perspective as students examine the cultural and social implications on local populations, as well as tourists’ motivations for traveling to experience new foods. The readings and discussion can lead one to examine their own motivations for trying new cuisines, but it can also lead students to consider culinary tourism as a possible career path.

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Fortunately, students have an opportunity to explore the broader industry into which culinary tourism falls: cultural tourism. Metropolitan College’s Administrative Studies department offers a course in the fall semester on cultural tourism that is open to BU Gastronomy students as an elective credit. Professor Samuel Mendlinger has been teaching the course for nearly a decade and is the founder and director of the Economic Development & Tourism Management concentration in the Administrative Studies department. Dr. Mendlinger has spent the majority of his career specializing in economic development in the developing world. In doing so, he became aware of the positive impact that tourism had in developing local economies. Since founding the concentration at Boston University, he has worked or been a consultant on tourism development in the United States, Dominican Republic, China, United Arab Emirates, Liberia and Tanzania

Dr. Mendlinger is quick to point out that “tourism is not hospitality. [the] goal is not to provide the best service possible to [the] client/tourist.” He continues explaining that “true tourism development has three clients who all must be satisfied: (1) the tourist who we wish to provide with the best memories and experiences possible; (2) the local population who we wish to aid in wealth and good job creation; and (3) the future, so we wish not to destroy or seriously damage the environment or the local culture.”

The course provides a look at tourism from more of a business perspective, and students explore the theories and principles of cultural tourism development and management, a nice compliment to the social science approach offered in the Gastronomy core curriculum. Students who take the course learn that cultural tourism has only been considered a distinct branch of the industry since the 1990s and is defined by tourists’ desire to participate in cultural activities as the primary or secondary motivation for travel. These cultural activities include art, music, history, and, of course, gastronomy, which receives its own segment during the course. Students learn how to identify cultural assets of a tourist destination, including gastronomy, and how to market these assets and develop them as tourism products in the most sustainable and responsible ways so that they cater to the three clients Dr. Mendlinger describes.

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Student Carlos C. Olaechea’s final project

Utilizing the principles and theories learned in readings and lectures, students then critique two cultural tourism products to assess how successfully they have been developed and if they do, indeed, serve the needs of tourists, the local population, and the future. Additionally, students become equipped with the knowledge to offer their own recommendations for how these tourist attractions can be improved. The course concludes with students offering and presenting their own plans for the development of a cultural asset into a cultural tourism product. Student projects have included formulating statewide beer trails in Vermont, developing a local market in Lyon as a tourist attraction, and creating a tropical agriculture and gastronomy food tour in Miami.

Students who complete Dr. Samuel Mendlinger’s course on cultural tourism are then invited to take his course on economic development via tourism in the developing world in the spring semester, which meets in Tanzania.

Paired with other food business and food marketing related courses, the course on cultural tourism can greatly aid students in pursuing a career in culinary tourism or perhaps starting their own company catering to tourists in search of new gastronomic experiences.

Cultural Tourism (ML 692) is offered in the fall semesters and is cross listed with AD 603. The course is attended by a diverse group of students from all across the world and across various disciplines.

A Whirlwind Culinary Exploit in Asheville

by Debra Zides

Student Debra Zides recaps her gastronomic escapades in Asheville, North Carolina.

Cucina 24 Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, serves up his canestri pasta

Last weekend I hopped a flight into Charlotte, North Carolina, grabbed a rental car, and drove two hours to the artisan community of Asheville for a whirlwind weekend exploit. For years, friends had been telling me about the town’s great restaurants, breweries and art galleries – so I decided to put my newfound Gastronomy program education to the test.

I began my adventure Friday with the Eating Asheville High Roller Walking Food Tour. We met up with our tour guide, Hank, at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar and kicked-off our culinary experience with a glass of French Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine and locally-sourced Gouda cheese spread and smoked trout spread on bruschetta. Hank provided background about Asheville’s restaurant scene, discussing the trends in supporting local farmers and sustainable foods. Then we were off to our first excursion, Cucina 24. Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, personally met our group and served us his canestri pasta creation paired with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. He spent time with our group discussing his restaurant concept and some of the challenges of owning a business. It was interesting to note that his greatest challenges are not in the kitchen, but rather the administrative and business sides.

a server putting finishing touches on the chimichanga at Zambra

We said “thank you” to Chef Canipelli, and we were off. Over the next two and a half hours we explored and additional five restaurants where we met chefs, owners, and managers. At Table, we were served a delightful Devils on Horseback appetizer consisting of bacon-wrapped stuffed dates topped with a balsamic reduction. Zambra had the most amazingly exotic sangria packed with port sherry, brandy, mulling spices, and citrus which paired very well with the chef’s signature chimichanga served over pureed avocado sauce. Isa’s Bistro introduced us to a Black Angus beef tartare, which was presented cleanly in a small white dish atop a triangle-cut slice of toast. Strada Italiano is a 3 star green certified facility, and while not a standout with their inconsistent Tucson Poached Egg appetizer, the restaurant is an example of why Asheville is considered the first Green Dining Destination as per the national Green Restaurant Association with over seven percent of the city’s restaurants certified Green. We finished our culinary experience at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge cleansing our palates with a conversation about the critical role of terroir in chocolate making and sampling their supremely decadent chocolate truffle steeped in Earl Grey tea.

But there was no time to kick back and enjoy the food coma, as I had also booked a brewery tour for the following afternoon.

A view of Twin Leaf Brewery tasting room and the brewing facilities

The tour was run by Asheville Brewery Tours. I selected the Sunset Deluxe 4-Stop Tour, which was a driving tour and enabled us to visit several parts of town. Our knowledgeable tour guide, Eli, was originally from the Boston area and had worked at Harpoon Brewery prior to moving to Asheville to become a part of the microbrewery scene. Today he and his partners are in the process of starting up their own brewery, which is expected to open Spring 2015.

Touring Green Man Brewery

Eli took us to four sites, including Twin Leaf, Urban Orchard, Green Man, and Catawba Brewery. He leveraged the various facilities to demonstrate key beer making processes as we sampled an array of concoctions. The most unique stop on the tour was Urban Orchard, which is actually a hard cider production company that uses locally sourced apples from Hendersonville, North Carolina as the base for their creations. We had the opportunity to visit the production facility on the lower level, then returned to their bar for a tasting of their ciders currently on tap. We sampled the dry Ridge cider, ginger cider, and a jalapeño cider. The jalapeño cider was a treat, starting very subtle and timid, and then suddenly, “Bang!” as you felt the rush of heat from your mouth through your esophagus.

Overall, I found Asheville a culinary delight. One weekend was definitely not enough to gain a full appreciation for all the cultural and gastronomic activities. This city will be staying on my list of places to visit.