As a follow - up to my culinary tour with Liz, I asked her a few questions about it. For more information on current tours, visit http://www.lizbiro.com/.
Andie: So why food tours? What got you interested in that?
Liz: Food is a hotter topic, I think, than its ever been. Food has become not just nourishment but entertainment. We follow celebrity chefs, we watch Food Network, we want to prepare fabulous meals. The hot travel trend for a few years now has been culinary tourism. Whole vacations revolve around food. And me, well, because I’m a journalist who has been covering the dining scene in Wilmington for six years now, I feel like a walking restaurant guide. People constantly ask me food-related questions and where they should eat. All that combined with so many wonderful restaurants and so many great food stories packed into downtown made a culinary tour there a no-brainer.
But, for me, the tours are more than a business opportunity. In my years of writing about Wilmington dining, I’ve heard so many interesting stories about chefs and restaurant owners, and they have generously shared those tales with me. I wanted to give back to them, and I wanted people to know the cool people behind the great restaurants here. These humble chefs are so passionate and so willing to share their knowledge of food and cooking. Mixto chef Eric Gephart each week provides a whole cooking lesson, and it's never something minor. One week, he’s demonstrating how to make tuna tartare; the next week it might be how to prepare soft-shell crabs and fresh guacamole. I also wanted people to know about Wilmington and coastal North Carolina’s food culture, and I want them to be as excited about dining here as I am. I want them to never forget Wilmington as a top dining destination.
I want participants to get a varied experience, I want to promote local food culture and share local food history, but mostly, I want to promote Wilmington’s dining options in a way that convinces people to stay here and eat.
Andie: Where and how did you do your historical research?
Liz: The good old-fashioned way: Reseaching books, newspaper clippings, the New Hanover County Library's North Carolina collection and years of reporting about the area's dining scene.
Andie: How do you select your participating restaurants? What kinds of negotiations do you have to do with them ? Do you help them plan the samples they’ll be providing?
This first tour, what I call the “Heart of Downtown Wilmington tour,” is a mix of restaurant dish and downtown Wilmington food history from the early explorers who were thrilled to find wild grapes they thought would make good wine growing along the Cape Fear coast to the latest chef putting his or her mark on the downtown food scene.
So, I looked first for restaurants that have a history significant to downtown or an interesting history. For instance, Caffe Phoenix is on the route in part because its opening 21 years ago helped revitalize downtown. Aubriana’s, on the other hand is new, but has a dramatic backstory: the promising chef, Hakim Clemmons, who opened the restaurant died suddenly months after the shop debuted, but he was so talented and beloved that the owners decided to carry on the restaurant named for Hakim’s daughter.
Some places are not restaurants, but boast some food history nugget. A present-day hat shop contains a brick oven once used by a 1700s-era bakery there. A wholesale grocery warehouse that milled its own specialty flour starts the story of biscuits in the South.
Andie: What do you want people to take away from one of your tours?
Liz: I want participants to get a varied experience, I want to promote local food culture and share local food history, but mostly, I want to promote Wilmington’s dining options in a way that convinces people to stay here and eat.
Andie: What is your plan for changing the tours up? New places? New food? Are you planning any special seasonal tours (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas)?
Liz: Yes, new tours are on the way. Stay tuned.