Illustration by Gabriel Hollington
As the world emerges from the biggest social disruption of our time, several ground-breaking companies are looking to reinvent travel through one-of-a-kind, highly curated food experiences.
For PRIOR cofounder and CEO David Prior, the trick is maintaining a fine balance between stage-managing magical moments (like floating 1,000 tea lights down a river, say) and shining a light on the people, traditions, and culture of a destination. A food and travel writer by trade with a keen eye for style and design, Prior attributes his knack for orchestrating those moments not only to his magazine background, but also to his time working alongside chef Alice Waters, whom he calls "the maestro of event experiences." His subscription-based travel club launched in 2018 and curates bespoke trips such as exclusive weekend takeovers of properties with celebrated chefs; there are retreats planned this year with Italy's Massimo Bottura and Slovenia's Ana Roš.
This summer, the company is ramping up its offerings: Outside of guided trips, the company will launch a marketplace for experiences (where you can book a sommelier in Paris to take you to the best wine bars, for example), as well as unique guides for different major cities. In each, you'll find the very best picnic spots marked on a map, and, yes, they'll collaborate with a number of high-profile chefs to deliver you that picnic, as well.
Modern Adventure launched in 2017 with a similar ethos of "creating moments that couldn't be replicated," says CEO Luis Vargas, a trained sommelier and travel curator. The company partners with "Tastemakers"-including Food & Wine Best New Chefs such as Traci Des Jardins, Nina Compton, and Kate Williams-for rare, one-off trips. "We're really giving people the opportunity to travel with some of the world's most interesting people," says Vargas.
The trick is maintaining a fine balance between stage- managing moments and shining a light on the people, traditions, and culture of a destination.
Their culinary trips mostly include meals in people's homes-Vargas is adamant that local communities are supported. "As a certified B Corp, we believe the lion's share of the money should stay in the country," he says.
In the pipeline for 2022 are new trips under the rubric Paragon by Modern Adventure. The first of these no-expense-spared, suspend-all-disbelief experiences will head to Japan with chef Kyle Connaughton of California's three-Michelin-star SingleThread Farms. Vargas says Paragon will always raffle off two spots on the trips to raise money for a charitable cause and democratize access to this type of experience.
That sentiment is echoed by Aashi Vel, CEO and cofounder of Traveling Spoon, a culinary travel company that launched in 2013 and operates like the Airbnb of cooking classes, connecting travelers with vetted hosts for a class and a meal in their home. The company offers over 1,000 cooking, dining, and market experiences in more than 60 countries including Armenia, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. It pivoted to virtual classes at the start of the pandemic.
While Vel initially made that move to support the company's hosts, many of whom are women in developing countries, the virtual classes were so successful that she plans to keep operating a hybrid business, even as travel resumes. "I feel like these online classes have democratized food travel," says Vel. "You don't have to spend tons of money to fly to a different part of the world to learn."