With a program packed full of sessions on farm to table dining, regional specialties, food history, and plenty to taste along the way, I was a lucky volunteer at this weekend’s Taste Trekker’s Food Tourism Conference, “the nation’s first food tourism conference” at The Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. With dining events on Friday night and a delectable food truck brunch Sunday, Saturday’s program provided food for thought with presentations, talks, and demonstrations. [You can check out the session summaries here.]
Taste Trekker’s creator, Seth Resler, opened the conference not only to explain how the conference came to be and preview what lay ahead, but to locate the heart of the conference within a sense of place. Resler proclaimed that the conference aimed to “showcase place through the lens of food,” focusing on the connections between place and taste, rather than discussing place as simply a characteristic marker of a food or coincidental setting for a restaurant.
This primary framing of place continued throughout the day, locating itself, at least for a time, squarely within the city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island. Following Resler’s comments, Providence Mayor, Angel Taveras, reinforced this focus, welcoming conference attendees to Providence, a city that everyday, but particularly during the conference weekend, is a noted food destination that looks forward to growing further.
In the keynote address, Matthew Jennings, Farmstead chef and owner, talked of the strong thread of community that binds together those who love food, highlighting specifically the unique food patriotism exhibited by Rhode Islanders, particularly for local products. In a tiny state with big food passion, the city of Providence is not only proud to top the rankings of Travel and Leisure’s America’s favorite cities for the food/drink/restaurants category in 2012, but also locally enthusiastic about food with the same sense of ownership and ferocity that New Englanders express their love for Dunkin’ Donuts and the Pats. The food here is well and truly theirs.
While the day was full of sessions focusing on artisanal products with meaningful stories behind them, family businesses with generations of experience and perspective, and innovations in sustainable dining poised to change the consumer experience—not to mention the tasting pavilion that was literally bursting at the seams with specialty products from both near and far—I was most affected by the overall “rhody” quality of the day. Though in his keynote address Jennings nodded to other great food cities—Austin and Portland (in both Maine and Oregon)—Providence won the day as a worthy foodie host—a renaissance city whose sense of place finds itself strongly connected to a profound love of food, farmers, producers, travelers, and eaters.