The Benefit Of Traveling With A Chef And Exploring The World Through Food

Ever watched a travel food show and thought, "I want to do that"? You can — and frankly, if you have the means, you should. On a global scale, the past decade has seen travelers shift away from visiting landmark destinations like museums toward more immersive, experiential activities based on culture. Now, foodies are asking the question, "What if instead of being served by chefs on vacation, we dined beside them?" The answer is "a more profound, dimensional experience of food and what it can be."

Traveling with chefs changes the lens for foodies craving new tastes and new traditions. Rather than ticking off a list of popular destination hot spots, your trip is colored by a chef's experience and industry wisdom. Anthony Bourdain (who saw more of the world than most people in history and had a long career as an executive chef) traveled with chef José Andrés through his hometown of Asturias, Spain. Bourdain and French chef Eric Ripert of New York City's Le Bernardin visited France together multiple times for episodes of "Parts Unknown." Travel with a chef to emphasize community and the perception of food as part of an essential web of people, history, and ecosystems — rather than as an isolated dinner plate on a white tablecloth.

Eat your way along the road less traveled

By letting a chef plan the itinerary for your trip, chances are you'll encounter places and events you wouldn't find otherwise. Anthony Bourdain's number one tip for foodies visiting a new city for the first time was to head to the local market for locally-grown produce and indigenous flavors. Why? To illustrate the intersection between a plate of food and the people who make it and enjoy it every day. A chef-led trip might not necessarily tote Michelin glamour, but it promises intimacy and education — "sucking out the marrow of life," to paraphrase Thoreau. 

Per the authority at the World Food Travel Association, food tourism focuses on personal idiosyncratic ventures like small-scale agriculture, sustainability, and regional wines. If you swing by a city's trendy, "must-see" restaurant, that delicious plate could exist in a realm that's tragically distanced from the culture that inspired its creation in the first place. Travel with a chef and you could end up watching a clay-covered duck roast in a hole in the ground instead. (Swoon.)

How to make it happen

There are food tourism companies that specialize in this sort of service, like Terroir Symposium or Roads and Kingdoms, pairing chefs with groups of culinary-curious travelers. It's also a plus for chefs, as pros and amateurs enjoy the same global cultural experiences. At the food tourism company Modern Adventure, chefs are paid and their travel expenses are covered. Or, if you'd rather skip the middleman, become a regular at a small-scale local restaurant in your city. Build a relationship with the chef. Already got a friend who's a chef? Take 'em on vacation and let them lead the way. It's no small thing for a chef to break away from their restaurant for a week-long trip, but the effort will be well worth it for everyone.

Food tourism is having a major moment in 2023, emerging as a solid and growing global enterprise. It stimulates local economies and fosters curiosity and appreciation for different cultures and histories. Plus, on a more immediately tangible scale, you might get to skim cheese curds in a hydroelectric farmhouse or fish wild salmon out of a roaring river. (We dare you.) Travel with a chef and "live" food as much as you "eat" it.