So, this week’s overview is near and dear to my heart as it is a company that has combined two of the founder’s passions – food and travel – which just so happen to be my two passions! It’s certainly no coincidence that we found each other, and I am super excited to share with you all that she can offer to my you – my valued clients.
And who is she? That would be Stephanie Lawrence the co-founder and co-owner of Traveling Spoon – a company based on her passion for local culinary experiences. I had the opportunity not to long ago to welcome Stephanie to my weekly live chat to share with you what Traveling Spoon is all about.
Company Background: In a nutshell, Traveling Spoon provides authentic culinary experiences in local homes. But if you look deeper you will soon discover that this is a company that connects millions of travelers around the world NOT only with local authentic food experiences but with a true cultural immersion through these meaningful experiences – making memories – and friends that last long after your vacation is over. Traveling Spoon unites travelers with local hosts around the world to share in home food experiences such as learning to make pasta with an Italian grandmother or grinding curries from scratch on family farm in Thailand.
During our discussion, Stephanie shared the story with us of how the idea for this venture came about. She actually started the company after a somewhat disappointing trip to China in 2007 where she had a negative experience during the stay mostly because it was so touristy. She related how it was her first time in Asia and the entire two and half weeks she was there they ate only in hotel banquet halls and with only other travelers – no locals. And the food – though good – was westernized – think scrambled eggs – and she knew it wasn’t what locals were eating at home. She also knew there was incredible food there, but she never once experienced it and she left there feeling she didn’t connect to the culture at all. This experience inspired her to move to China to learn Mandarin as she felt she needed to know the language to connect to the culture and explore the country through its food. So, for six months in 2009 she lived in Beijing. During that time one of her bucket list items was to learn how to make dumplings from a Chinese grandmother – however – she couldn’t find that experience anywhere as there was no culinary tourism to connect her to a local. Realizing she was probably not the only one looking for this type of experience when they travel – she decided to start a company for others who wanted the adventure of connection via local authentic food experiences. As she said so perfectly – “It’s about making travel more meaningful because my best travel memories are connecting with locals – literarily breaking bread with someone.”
Itineraries, Hosts and More: There are three different options with Traveling Spoon and your itinerary can have one, two or all three of those options – you decide. The three experiences are in home meals, cooking classes and market visits. So, depending on what you are looking for – we can set it up however you want. All of the experiences are 100 % private with just you and your host and the average group size is two to six people. However – if you are a solo traveler or a traveling with a larger group – they can accommodate those you as well.
The hosts are 100% vetted because – as Stephanie explained – she wanted a curated marketplace and to find the best home cooks out there. There is a vigorous three step vetting process the hosts must go through that ends with an in-person trial experience with them. And all hosts speak English or have a translator present – usually a friend or family member – if they themselves don’t speak English.
And side note – thanks to my relationship with Stephanie I can discuss with her what we are looking for and since she has a one on one connection with the hosts – she can help me choose one – to make sure I connect you with the right person so you have a positive experience and mesh with your host.
Destinations: They actually started with their first experience in India – due the fact that Stephanie’s co-founder – whom she met in business school is from India. Now? They currently offer over 1000 experiences in 180 cities and 60 countries and continue to grow as they launch new destinations often.
And – since COVID-19 put a halt to the experiences for the better part of the year – Traveling Spoon decided to launch online classes in order to give their valued hosts a chance to earn an income while the pandemic was going on. These are all private classes and are either personalized one on one – just you and the host – or you with friends or relatives in small groups with the host.
Experiences: To give you an idea of just what each experience could entail, below is a sampling of three of the thousands of experiences Traveling Spoon offers.
- Milan: This experience is a pasta making class with Luca and his wife Mariel where you will learn how to make three different types of pasta. They live in a beautiful heritage home outside of the main city center of Milan – an area where Luca was born and raised. He learned to cook from his mother and prides himself on teaching you how to cook heritage pastas as he his extremely passionate about using heritage grains and ingredients from the area. (Side note: Stephanie once asked him about a gluten free pasta experience, and he was happy to try it due to his interest in different heritage grains and his fascination on how to use oat and other flours from the region and incorporate them into different pasta.) Here you can opt to do just an in-home dinner with them and skip the cooking lesson if you wish – or you can do both.
- Mexico City: Here you will be making tortillas and sopes with Margarita in a beautiful home outside of Mexico City. Since her stunning garden home is situated outside of the hubbub and bustle of the city, you’ll instantly feel totally transported. Margarita is very knowledgeable, and she even has her own cookie company. She will teach you how to make traditional Mexican dishes like sopes and show you how to hand press tortillas. And with Margarita you can also opt to do the full experience if you would like – which means you would start by going to the market to pick out the ingredients together prior to the lesson. Or you can opt to do just the lesson and the meal – or just the in-home meal with Margarita and her husband.
- San Francisco: One of their newer experiences is with French Laundry Chef Nicholas who actually trained at French Laundry. He resides in Noe Valley in a beautiful San Francisco home and left the restaurant because the industry was incompatible with raising a one-year-old and he wanted to spend more time with his child. However – he is still deeply passionate about classical cooking techniques and will prepare a Michelin star meal while teaching you the secrets of how to create these beautiful dishes. (Side Note: For local – i.e. – domestic travel – I can help you with an opportunity like this San Francisco area one. What a great experience to do close to home! Or like me for instance who moved from New York to Texas – how cool would it be to do a Traveling Spoon experience here to learn more about that fabulous Texas Barbeque!)
Type of Traveler: So, I have booked professional chefs on this experience – as they wanted to enhance their knowledge of a specific’s country culinary culture. I have also booked newlyweds who return and start their new life together cooking these memorable recipes. And I have booked families. In fact, I had one client who had an experience in Paris where they took their three young kids and it just so happened that the host had young children as well – around the same age – and it became this whole cultural immersion that happened naturally for the entire family.
Miscellaneous: One of the cool things about these experiences is that a lot of my clients have relayed to me that they are still connecting with their local hosts because they became friends and love to share recipes and more. And Stephanie said one of her favorite stories to relate is a host from India eating Thanksgiving dinner with the family she hosted the year before – they invited her to Connecticut to have Thanksgiving with them and she did just that!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As these experiences are available in many different destinations please check with the Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health in the destination you are interested in visiting for up-to-date entry requirements.
So – ready to book a Traveling Spoon experience? I sure am! Now as you may or may not know – I have a culinary arts background and I am part of the World Food Travel Association so when you book an itinerary with me – it will always have a culinary aspect to it. Why you may ask? Because I wholeheartedly believe that the easiest way to get cultural immersion is through an authentic culinary experience.
And that being said – of course I use Traveling Spoon as often as possible to get these experiences. I work very closely with Stephanie when I build your itinerary so I can give you a local experience with someone at a destination whom you can cook with or learn to cook with or just share a meal with – basically get you a local host for a short period of time.
Another reason I go with Stephanie’s company? Because she is socially conscious just like me – in fact one of her missions is to help create micro food entrepreneurs! And every booking with her has a great effect on the local economy. By booking with her you are helping people grow. What a great way to do socially responsible and sustainable travel. If you couldn’t already tell – I am in love with this experience because of all this and thanks to my passion for food and travel and my love of off the beaten path experiences!
For more details on Traveling Spoon, it’s experiences, destinations, price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!