No wonder she looks so happy – Carol Ketelson has everyone’s dream job. Her company Delectable Destinations offers carefully curated culinary travel expeditions featuring custom-tailored itineraries to locations like Spain, Italy, and India
These trips are meticulously planned to offer an intimate experience that will surprise and delight. With food tourism all the rage (a survey commissioned by the World Food Travel Association found that of the 170 million leisure travelers in the U.S., more than 30 percent chose trips based on the availability of culinary activities), here’s your chance to look at culinary travel through the eyes of an insider.
What is culinary travel like in 2016?
Culinary travel is one of the most direct, enjoyable (and delicious) ways to experience local culture. When I started in 2009, most people were a bit confused about what I was offering. Now, when I mention that my trips are culinary-themed, the reaction is “Wow, I would love to do that!” The explosive success of cooking shows and the shareability of our meals on social media, people are more sophisticated about food. Our palates are changing, and we’re always looking for new taste experiences. Our awareness and education about food sources and local produce are at a much higher level and something people search for, to get a real sense of the places they’re visiting.
The explosive success of cooking shows and the meal shareability on social media has made people a little more sophisticated (and a lot more enthusiastic!) about food. Our palates are constantly evolving, and we’re on the hunt for new taste experiences. Another factor is our awareness about food sources and local produce. People want to explore this to get a real sense of the places they’re visiting.
What’s it like to travel with a group of strangers?
Because I take small groups, I have one on one contact from the beginning, whether by email or phone. By the time we leave, there’s a bond, even if we’ve never met in person. The dynamics of the groups are always exciting. It’s a chance to meet like-minded people and form new friendships. For myself, it’s what I love about what I do – I get to meet new people and some of them have become wonderful friends – it’s the best souvenir. For myself, it’s what I love about what I do – I get to meet new people and some of them have become wonderful friends – always my favourite souvenir.
What can you tell us about your destinations?
I started bringing people to Italy in 2009, choosing to introduce them to the legendary Amalfi Coast. It deserves its popularity, and it remains our “signature trip” to this day. From Amalfi, it was a natural choice to expand in Italy, and now I bring groups to Tuscany and Puglia. Puglia surprised me as a first-class food and wine destination, a unique region to put on the bucket list.
Spain was another natural progression. It’s Mediterranean, so I have a good sense of what people want to see and eat, and the region I chose for my trips – Andalucia– is beyond anything my guests could imagine. Spain gives me a chance to open up an area that isn’t as well-known as Tuscany or Amalfi, and it has been well worth it.
In 2015, I decided to get a little more exotic and arranged the first Delectable Destinations trip to the Golden Triangle in India. In 2016, I expanded that trip by adding a week in the Darjeeling region at the foot of the Himalayas and stayed at a stunning tea estate. India is not always top of the list for culinary destinations, but I know from experience that this magical country has some of the best food in the world. It is sensory overload in every aspect. It’s also true that visiting India is a spiritual experience – you do not leave the same person you were when you arrived.
What kind of activities can travellers expect?
Wherever I bring my clients, the mandate is to reveal each region through its cuisine, wine, local flavours, and of course its unique culture. One day might focus on a cooking class, the next on a wine tasting at a private vineyard, olive oil sampling or truffle hunt.
One of the main advantages of my company is the solid contact list. Because of it, incredible opportunities pop up for us – like making pizza with Franco Pepe (recognized in Italy as the world’s greatest pizzaiolo) or raking olives during the harvest before watching the first press. Of course, these spontaneous moments are usually the highlights of the trip.
The tour staples are lots of eating and unique, hands-on experiences. Aside from the food and drink, culture plays a significant role in my tours. We visit some of the more off-the-beaten-path locations, so my groups feel like they’ve had the opportunity to experience more than the average traveller.
Can you describe a recent trip highlight for us?
The 28-course tasting menu at Dani Garcia’s Michelin-star restaurant in Marbella, Spain. It might make me sound like a food snob (we also go to excellent small family-run restaurants), but this dining experience was art. I have never felt so excited waiting for the next dish to arrive! When you go into the kitchen, a silver counter rises slowly before you; you are poured a glass of crisp white wine and served melt-in-your-mouth caviar and oysters. The whole meal spanned four hours but when you’re in that kind of food haze, time doesn’t matter. There is a real interest now on how chefs work and you get a sense of how the creative process unfolds, truly illustrating Spanish cuisine and culture.
Personal favourite food destination?
That’s a tough one. My heart is in Italy and no doubt, the cuisine there is my comfort food. Still, if I have to pick a favourite, my answer is Spain. It is a feast for all the senses, and I can’t get enough of it. It is a delightful gastronomic region full of wonderful surprises.