‘Place making’ is a concept that economic and destination development practitioners are well aware of. Done well, it contributes to the vibrancy, branding and attractiveness of a location for visitors and is an expression of social cohesion in the community. There is now both an economic and social imperative to provide an ‘experience’ around ‘place.’ Destinations that effectively use their food and drink to differentiate themselves from other locations are said to provide a ‘taste of place.’
For destinations that perhaps do not have the financial means for dramatic urban renewal projects or development in their pursuit of visitors or tourists, ‘taste of place’ activities are cost effective tactics to market their distinctiveness and create deeper connections with visitors.
Mature tourism destinations who have successfully leveraged their unique food and drink offerings should be asking, “What and where to next?” Innovation in Taste of place activities develop and extend their gastronomic assets and enhance their gastronomic capital.
Taste of place can play a role in repositioning long-held (perhaps unfavourable or unremarkable) perceptions of your destination’s food in people’s minds. Leveraging these strategies creatively will provide new and constantly changing taste of place activities to capture the hearts, minds and stomachs of visitors, to ensure you are on their ‘revisit list’.
Begin at the Beginning
Start by looking at the latest demographic profile of your region which is available at profile.id. This site allows you to research your community’s demographic profile by suburb and council area on many different levels. This will help you build a picture of how the community you serve and the visitors and types have changed over the time. The latest 2016 Census data can be a revelation for some.
Many local council websites have information or resources on the demographics, history, heritage, tourist attractions, business mix and community events, activities and classes for various age/interest groups. By discovering what services your council offers and links to, you can get some insight into what the community has deemed important.
Most local councils have libraries with a wealth of local historic resources. They have a variety of activities and events which relate to the demographics and needs of the area and usually have historical collections for Local Studies, Family History. Some have Oral Histories recordings which may shed light on historical agriculture and significant dishes that were cooked in the past. They may have copies of locally produced cookbooks from the area which will give some insight into historic foods and favourite dishes of the area.
Your region’s historical society may undertake research on your behalf for free or for a modest fee. You might like to research historic agriculture, cookbooks, recipes or infamous or famous characters and photos from your region to build a story around a dish or food specialty.
The historical society or local RSL club may have printed or electronic historical recipes, menus or photos of dishes, tables or special gustatory events. These pieces of ephemera will shine a light on what your community have enjoyed in the past and may provide inspiration for current chefs to reinvent these dishes for their modern clientele. These dishes come complete with your own taste of place back story.
Hidden Databases You Can Survey
Your local tourist information office, destination marketing organisation (DMO) may have a database of members from online newsletter sign ups. Facebook or Twitter followers provide you with lists which you can survey for information about your food and beverage offerings. Online surveys are easy to design in Survey Monkey’s free software and links to the survey can be inserted into your Twitter page, Facebook Page, online newsletter or printed and posted to your older residents. Better still, interview and visually record your oldest patron’s memories of their earliest food memories and experiences.
Food and Drink Narratives
The power of crafting an engaging narrative around your food and drink was driven home to me recently when I volunteered at the joint Feather & Bone/Slow Food Sydney stall at historic Rouse House’s Autumn Harvest Festival.
“Good morning, madam. Are you contemplating our Bull Boar Sausages? (Big smile) These are no ordinary sausage. They are a unique recipe in danger of extinction which was created by the Italian-speaking Swiss immigrants in the Victorian goldfields around 1850. They contain organic beef and pork marinated for three days in garlic infused red wine with added Christmas spices providing a fulsome flavoured sausage. We are serving today on artisanal sourdough with a bold, spiced, apple chutney for $5.00. So this is an historic sausage.”
We sold a lot of Bull Boar Sausages with this narrative. What narratives can you craft around your food and drink from local and regional agriculture, geography, history, characters and food culture?
Celebrate Your Celebrities
This taste of place technique is about building a narrative around your community’s cooks (domestic and otherwise), chefs and mixologists. (Don’t forget the Grandma’s and Grandpa’s that cook!) What are their cultural stories? What foods and food related issues do they care about? What do they make from scratch or do that is unique? Can they share their recipes or highlight their favourite local growers or producers? Can you encourage a talented local photographer to photograph your chef for a Shoot the Chef photographic competition?
Elevating your community cooks, chefs and mixologists to celebrity status, starting even starting within the walls of a venue or town, can pay off in many ways – not the least of which is your local press and social media exposure.
Carème (1783 -1833) the inventor of French cuisine, named his dishes by ingredients and basic preparation method e.g. shrimp bisque. The variations where named using honorific individual achievement, geographical or historical names. Shrimp bisque for example comes à la française, à la Cornieille, à l’amiral de Rigny. à la princess, au chasseur, à la regence and à la royale.
Jamie’s Italian Trattoria in Parramatta is modern example of branded cuisine. His dishes are his take on his favourite Italian dishes. In his menu, he honours his mentor Gennaro Contaldo and he gives a contemporary nod to his British heritage by using unmistakeably English expressions such as “the full monty.”
Adriano Zumbo signs/brands his dessert creations with a small ‘az’ disk. What dishes could you design and brand after the local geography or history, honorifically after the chef, club’s founders, local food heroes, known characters from the club’s history or present day?
Masterclasses, Workshops and Appreciation Events
Masterclasses, pairing, and food and drink appreciation events gain cooks, chefs and mixologists priceless marketing exposure. With the growing interest in Australian-made gins, what food pairing event could you create to highlight your chef’s talents and your mixologists gin knowledge? What ticketed masterclasses could cooks or chefs present at your destination to showcase their talents and become a culinary hero. Cold oil spherification? Gold leafing? Chocolate and Sugar Work decorations and garnishes? Multi-cultural desserts? Elegant meals from cheaper cuts of meat? Fermented foods? Pumpkin & Lemon Scones? Preserves and Pickles? Slices?
Ride the Trends
Carème’s genius, his “invention” of French Cuisine lay in the way he capitalised on and magnified trends – well in evidence. It is not ‘selling out’ or ‘taking the easy road’ to hitch your star to a food or drink trend. In fact, it is good business sense and contributes to taste of place when cooks and chefs put their unique twist on the trend. Leverage this concept for a ticketed food event around a classic film like Babette’s Feast or new foodie film.
What’s your destination’s twist on Babette’s Rum Baba with Figs?
Viktoria Darabi is a Food Culture Tourism Whisperer, Food & Beverage Trendspotter & Futurist, championing the power of food culture activities to celebrate multi-culturalism, promote social cohesion, engender a sense of community pride and to transform or construct ‘place’ to define a destination’s identity and distinctiveness.