Culinary Tour to International Destinations Flavored by Door Peninsula Chefs

By | December 15, 2015
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Janice Thomas with Italian Tour Group
Janice Thomas, second from left, with one of her tour groups in Italy


How about a culinary tour and class to international destinations that are uniquely flavored by Door Peninsula chefs and cultural experts who are connected to culinarians in areas beyond?

These tours offer people—foodies, artisans, travelers and others—the opportunity to experience places in an in-depth manner. Participants stay on a Sicilian wine estate overlooking a vineyard to the sea; in a restored French chateau or behind the walls of a Chinese national relic. And as they cook and taste food and beverages, they also learn about a culture and history. Serendipity seems to find its way to the table, too.

“There is always a little adventure. And you see people on the tour going out-ofthe- box. ‘Oh, I would never eat a sardine,’ they say. But they do it,” said Janice Thomas, chef and owner of the Savory Spoon Cooking School, Ellison Bay, who annually coordinates culinary tours. “My goal for the trips is to help people see the true country, the true area,” she added.


Get to know food and begin to understand a country’s culture, culinarians believe. Travelers meet local residents and immerse themselves in a place’s agriculture and history. “Because people have always eaten food, stories lead to history,” Thomas said.

Brian and Jeanee Linden, owners of the Linden Gallery, Ellison Bay, are long-time China residents. They manage The Linden Centre, an award-winning retreat center in the Yunnan Province. And in January 2016, they will launch The Linden Commons in a restored Chinese national relic, the first cooking school to open in such an important building in China, Brian said.

“Chinese food, which is served in the center of a big table with all dishes shared among participants, illustrates the importance of sharing among friends and family,” he said, adding that Chinese culture is incredibly rich and at times overwhelming to visitors.

“Being long-term Chinese residents, we are able to facilitate a deeper interaction with the locals and present the beauty of China’s traditions in a much more palatable way.”

Cultural immersion means that people on the culinary tour may not see the Great Wall of China or Mount Etna in Sicily unless they extend the trip (and many do since they have already paid airfare to get there). On a Thomas-guided trip, the small group of 10 travelers may stay in just one place, such as a wine estate. Classes may take place there and elsewhere. Daily excursions lead to markets, farms and more places.

“On my trips, we never try to see everything. We go to one area, we settle in and we get to know that area. And that makes travelers feel close, intimate and personal with the culture,” Thomas said.

Janice Thomas and Giada Amadei
A mural in Sicily


A typical day on tour with Thomas mixes cooking, cultural touring and relaxing. Take a day in Sicily, for example (May 16 to 23, 2016 is the next planned trip there, by the way). The group stays at a wine estate, Foresteria Planeta. Breakfast is alfresco over a two-hour window of time, allowing people time on the patio or for exercise before the day’s activities.

“And then we might have a class here at the wine estate or we may go to an olive estate.

And that place is not where tour buses go,” Thomas said. But before class starts, the group learns how the olives are pressed and what the olive oil producer, Becchini Estate, does with olive pits. “We don’t just go to a place and say, ‘ That’s that,’” Thomas said. The olive estate is also home to a sheep farmer. So travelers taste fresh ricotta cheese “just like you taste porridge, but it’s from that estate. And we have a class there on making fresh ricotta,” she continued. The day in Sicily may have the group arriving back to their accommodations about 3 p.m., allowing time poolside before dinner. Then, the evening meal is paired with four different wines made at the wine estate. “The meal always lasts two hours and sometimes three. The conversation is good, the food is good,” Thomas said.


Meanwhile, in China, travelers can stay in one of The Linden Commons 16 upscale boutique hotel rooms. The site is home to the cooking school as well as painting academy, bakery, workshop, textile classes and a 1930s Shanghai–style piano bar restaurant and a café, Linden pointed out.

The cooking classes will focus on local ethnic culinary traditions— Bai, Dai, Hmong, Tibetan, Muslim and Yi.“We also will offer special classes upon request in traditions such as Thai, Burmese, Laotian, Italian and French,” Linden said.

Linden called culinary traditions of China the country’s greatest “soft-power assets.”

“In a time when this powerful country is asserting itself worldwide, the lack of knowledge of China is alarming. China must learn to package its cultural traditions to soften its political and military actions,” he said.


In southwest France, people get to know about the area’s famed foie gras and go to farms to see how the delicacy is produced. Savory Spoon culinary tour participants also experience The Kitchen at Camont with Kate Hill and a class featuring food from Gascony area farmers and market vendors (next trip to Gascony, France, is May 9 to 15, 2016).

Although Americans can taste, for example, artisan cheese near home, it does not compare to doing it abroad, enthused Thomas. “We have artisan cheesemakers in America, but the Europeans have been doing it forever. When you taste it in the right atmosphere and you have the great wine with it, it is very full-circle. You can’t separate it. That cheese in New York City may be the same cheese, but your head is not in that same exact moment,” she said.


Savory Spoon’s trips are researched and coordinated by Thomas, who does not use a tour operator. She teams up with other culinarians and food experts—people she has connected with over the years. The price includes transportation to and from the airport, accommodations, classes, food and drink and side trips. People need to arrange and pay for flights.

“If you compare the trip to (a big bus brand), mine would look more expensive. But people, when they travel with me, have a higher expectation than what they would expect on a big bus tour,” she said.


Indeed the opportunities are unique: how often does one get a chance to stay overnight and cook in an ancient Chinese heritage site? Travelers also appear to be drawn to culinary trips with a Door County seal about them. The Linden Gallery has been in business since 1995, and Savory Spoon launched in 2004 (culinary tours started then with Oaxaca, Mexico; and in 2016 Sayulita, Mexico, is on the itinerary).

“Our Door County connection, especially our commitment to intercultural exchange, demonstrates our commitment to providing a bridge of understanding between the West and East,” Linden said.

As Thomas (who has also coordinated culinary trips to China involving the Linden Centre) put it, people have developed trust in what they have seen and experienced in Door County. So, they take the next step and follow her thousands of miles away from Ellison Bay.

“I am clearly in the culinary realm,” she said. “And I think I am giving the traveler a comfort level and the opportunity to have that adventuresome palate, so to speak.”

Savory Spoon Cooking School 2016 culinary tours
Sayulita, Mexico, Feb. 21 to 28
Gascony, France, May 9 to 15
Sicily, Italy, May 16 to 23

The Linden Centre & The Linden Commons
China retreats, cooking classes

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