Culinary experiences for discriminating foodies who are willing to put their money where their plate is — the gourmet tour trend is growing, and fast!by Percy Roxas
The road to Doi Angkhang is long, narrow, and steep. But that’s no hurdle for about 150 self-declared foodies from Bangkok who have driven all the way to the remote mountaintop retreat some three hours away from Chiang Mai. The reason for their journey: To enjoy a three-day gourmet tour activity that combines upscale dining and wining experiences along with the usual perks of a fun holiday escape.
In many parts of the world today, gourmet tours – culinary adventures, wine tours, mobile cooking classes, and related activities – are the “in” thing. They often promise aficionados exclusive lifestyle experiences. At their best, these tours capture the unique food, wine, and culinary traditions of each destination where they are conducted. From Singapore to Sicily, London to Legos, California to China, New York to New Zealand, there is a growing demand for these gourmet tours. Thailand, being an emerging gourmet destination hub, is no exception. In fact, they have become an activity that anybody who is anybody in the community wants to get in on.
In just the first few months of 2015 alone, two major gourmet tours have already happened in Thailand. They set the tone for the year’s most amazing culinary experiences in the kingdom: The Gourmet Tour Angkhang, organized by the Royal Agricultural Center (Anghkang), in late February, and at the time we were writing this story, the PB Valley Harvest Festival was taking place.
Gourmet Tour Angkhang
What makes the Gourmet Tour Angkhang different from other such gourmet tour programs? It was organized in support of the Royal Projects of His Majesty King Bhumibol. Held at least twice times a year, the Gourmet Tour Angkhang incorporates nature exploration in the scenic Angkhang Mountains and tea plantations among the hill tribes in the food tour.
The program includes experiencing the area’s stunning flora, fresh fruits and vegetables grown on the plantation, a sampling of an authentic ethnic Thai Yai breakfast and delightful lunches in unique settings, and delicious luxury dinner parties interspersed with other holiday activities.
But the highlights, as expected, are the dining created by celebrity chefs from Bangkok invited for the tour. This year, it includes a gala set dinner, a gourmet buffet breakfast on the tea plantation, and a BBQ night. In the last few years, the tour has been inviting chefs of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and Le Cordon Bleu to create these glam dining events. This year, they have decided to invite the master chefs of the Dusit Thani group.
Dusit Internaitonal ‘s group chef of Thai cuisine, Morten Bojstrup Nielsen corporate chef, and Dusit Thani Bangkok executive chef Philippe Keller prepared a stunning Gala Set Dinner in the Greenhouse, a Gourmet Buffet Breakfast on the top of the tea plantation with scenic views of the Angkhang mountains, and a BBQ Jazz Dinner in the Bonsai Garden – incorporating fresh produce from the Royal Projects to give their fine dining skills and give their creations a new and special twist.
The Dusit chefs did not disappoint, exceeding even the expectations of the guests, who included some of the most affluent members of the Bangkok community, local celebrities, and other selected guests who have to pay a whooping THB 17,000 per person (THB 15,00 per person for couples) for the experience. For more details on how to join, visit: www.thairoyalprojecttour.com
Khao Yai Wine Tours
Khao Yai is another popular gourmet tour destinations because it is Thailand’s veritable wine central, and this home to some of the country’s leading vineyards has its own charm that lends itself so attractively to connoisseurs of fine dining and wining.
The Khao Yai area called Asoke Valley is home to several vineyards – such as Khao Yai Winery (PB Valley), Village Farm and Winery, and Granmonte — making the destination appealing to those who enjoy wine tastings, farm stands, and country drives. There is a family-run winery called Supartra Vineyard, where one can sample selections of local wines, grape juices and grape cookies. Granmonte Winery, of course, is one of Asia’s largest and most renowned wine producers and we remember this winery creating custom-made wine tours for enthusiasts every year as does PB Valley vineyard, home to the area’s oldest and still one of its best wine producers.
Last month, PB Valley held a scintillating wine tour dubbed as “Rhythm in the Vineyard – PB Valley’s Harvest Festival 2015.” The annual event started with a tour of the vineyards and the grape harvesting activity with lots of photo opportunities, followed by a tour of the winery with an invitation to a barrel tasting. Similar to what one can experience in the vineyards of France, Chile, California, or Australia, the organizers of this wine tour open the vineyards to all who can afford the fee of THB 2,600 net per person, THB 4,500 net for two (with a PB Membership Card) and THB 6,250 net for three persons.
The PB Valley event is in fact a reflection of how Khao Yai is growing in popularity as a foodie retreat and destination for alternative lifestyle experiences. Thus, even places such as Escape Khao Yai have been importing the best culinary talents from the capital to provide a new experience for their guests. Escape Khao Yai’s Green Oak Bistro, for example, has introduced what it calls “farm to table cuisine” bringing together the region’s freshest ingredients to a style of cooking that has been perfected in their “underground” kitchens.
Expect more gourmet tours to happen in other major destinations around Thailand this year!
To join any of the wine tour programs, contact the individual vineyards and wineries:
● PB Valley Winery & Vineyard
(Tel: 036 226 415-16)
GranMonte Family ●Vineyard
(Tel: 036 227 334-5)
●Village Farm & Winery
(Tel: 02 273 0222-4 / 044 228 407) or the
●Thai Wine Association
(Tel: 02 716 1450)
Of course these are just two of the major “gourmet tours” so far. We can expect more similar tours to be organized especially as the high season of tourism draws near, and not just for Thais — but also for expats and tourist around the kingdom’s major tourists destinations such as Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin!