If dining well means knowing that the food you eat is fresh from local farms, woods, or waters, then dining better still means experiencing nature’s bounty firsthand—picking the ripe crops, discovering the wild ones, even diving to the ocean floor in pursuit of dinner. No wonder food travel is such a hot ticket and food lovers are flocking to a wide range of hotel- and resort-sponsored, uniquely personal culinary experiences. Here are a few:
Boston Harbor lobstering. Spend a Saturdaynight this June through September at Boston’s Battery Wharf Hotel, and you’ll be able to book a ride on a working lobster boat. On the two-and-a-half-hour harbor excursion, you’ll learn how to bait and lower lobster traps, haul them up, and claw-band those crustaceans big enough to keep. For an added fee, you can enjoy the day’s catch at a traditional lobster bake at the hotel’s waterside fire pits. By then, everyone will surelyhave the local pronunciation down: lobstah. Info: batterywharfhotelboston.com
Trowel lessons in Tennessee. One of the pleasures at Blackberry Farm, the 9,200-acre Relais & Chateau property in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, is the opportunity to book a one-on-one class with the inn’s master gardener, John Coykendall. The 73-year-old agricultural eminence grise, who has a Southerner’s gift for storytelling, shares his half-century’s know-how as an heirloom seed saver and passes on some of the farm’s 500 flavorful varieties. In four-hour “Day in the Life of a Farmer” experiences, you can share in the fieldwork in some three acres of kitchen gardens, learning about sustainable organic farming. Yes, it’s fine to sample ripe cherry tomatoes and beans off the vine and berries from the bush. Merely mention, say, that you’re fond of asparagus, and Coykendall will “arrange with the chef to provide a wow,” something special at dinner involving that garden specialty. Info: blackberryfarm.com
Tree-to-table chocolate in Brazil. At Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa on the UNESCO-protected town square in Trancoso, Brazil, the dozen cocoa trees in the lush garden offer more than shade.Twice annually—June through September and October through March—hotel staff harvest the cocoa pods, and guests can lend a hand in the chocolate-making process. Classes typically last an hour or two. You leave the kitchen with a bespoke three- to four-ounce chocolate bar (if minus a preemptory bite or two) and an insider’s knowledge of that night’s chocolate ice creams and other desserts, such as warm chocolate petit gateau with coconut sorbet and red fruits sauce; and white-and-dark chocolate mousse with crunchy Brazil nuts and pitanga fruit sauce. Info: uxua.com
West Indies dive and dine. If you’re an experienced scuba diver, you can stay at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis in the West Indies and lend a hand supplying the day’s catch. Executive chef Jason Adams or his executive sous chef regularly take up to six dive-certified guests on a private charter with a local dive master in the Caribbean waters off St. Kitts and Nevis in search of lunch or dinner. Maybe the crew will spear a lionfish or other local delicacy. But the primary prey is spiny lobster, caught the local way: lassoed with a wire loop at the end of a pole. Back on dry land the group reassembles for cocktails in a luxury beach cabana. Then chef Adams explains the preparation of his Caribbean sofrito marinade—which uses fresh organic ingredients from the resort’s herb garden—and grills the just-caught lobsters. Info: fourseasons.com/nevis
Colorado BBQ University. This June at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, barbecue maven Steven Raichlen will again convene his popular BBQ University. This year, his ninth grillside, he’ll be sharing tips and techniques, including a smoked cheesecake with a burnt sugar cream sauce from his latest book, Up in Smoke. The three-day experience includes indoor, stadium-style classes and plenty of time on the awaiting battalions of grills. The five-dozen slots fill quickly, because many alums return year after year to learn new marinating methods and such advanced skills as cooking directly on coals or basket-weaving pork loins in bacon. Info: broadmoor.com
California Abalone Camp. June 26 to 28, the Little River Inn in Mendocino will host a second annual sea-to-sauté pan abalone experience. Abalone Camp participants at the 76-year-old inn can watch from shore or don a wetsuit and snorkeling gear (after purchasing an abalone license) and try their skill at prying the prized shellfish from near-shore rocks in waters about 10 feet deep. Dive guides may also surface with urchin or box crabs and perhaps a speared codfish or two, adding to the night’s briny feast. But dinner is all about the abalone—how to clean it and cut it into steaks, tenderize it, bread it, and sauté it. Inn owner Cally Dym’s grandfather taught her all these skills when he ran the inn and the now-rare delicacy was so abundant it was a nightly menu offering. Info: littleriverinn.com
Burgundy barge truffle hunt. Come September and October, black truffles ripen in France’s Burgundy region. Belmond Afloat in France, which charters five small luxury barges, includes a truffle hunting/cooking experience on one day of its six-night Belmond Alouette cruises on the Canal du Midi. You can marvel at the nose-to-the-ground ability of a trained truffle-hunting dog and see the prized fungus carefully unearthed by the local truffle farmer. Back on the barge, you can learn to shave the fresh truffles over dishes that you can help the onboard chef to cook—perhaps an earthy, aromatic pasta dish or an indulgent omelet. Info: belmond.com/afloat-in-france.
John Grossmann, a Maine-based freelance writer, wrote about restaurants with private dining options for the last issue of BJT.