As the demand for authenticity continues to flavor meeting and incentive travel around the globe, the state of Kentucky is among the destinations that’s upped its game when it comes to providing memorable — and mouthwatering — experiences.
“For the past several years, Kentucky has put increasing resources, emphasis and focus on promoting Kentucky’s culinary scene,” said Kimberly Clay, director of cultural heritage tourism at the Kentucky Department of Tourism. “Right now, Kentucky’s culinary stage is red hot. There’s such growth and interest in the industry.”
Several of the state’s traditional specialties are naturally attracting a lot of attention, according to Clay.
“Kentucky’s bourbon community is currently experiencing an unparalleled renaissance,” she said. “And the vision and expertise of chefs native to Kentucky is combining with that of chefs new to Kentucky, resulting in new and exciting ideas being created and introduced to the public.”
Among the trending topics, Clay said, is the “growing interest in farm-to-table and sustainable food systems, and the fusion of traditional cooking methods Kentucky is known for with new visions and trends being created by today’s chefs, have culminated in a Kentucky culinary scene that is on fire.”
Kentucky’s ever-expanding array of interesting food and beverage options is good news for groups, Clay added.
“From a meeting planner’s perspective, this is a great time to be in Kentucky,” she said. “There is a great variety of culinary experiences from which to choose, and events can be tailored to virtually any group. There are bourbon distillery tours, farm-to-table dinners, special event and featured dinners where chefs interact with participants detailing food origins, preparation and other interesting insights about the meal, craft beer tours, winery tours, themed food tours, restaurant hops and more.
“All of these experiences can be found in Kentucky’s urban areas, but also in smaller communities where they might be unexpected, and where visitors are provided intimate, authentic interactions with locals in the community,” Clay noted.
Indeed, throughout the state, Kentucky serves up an impressive selection of unique food-and-beverage-related experiences for groups. From culinary creations to spirited tours and bourbon experiences that are so uniquely Kentuckian that they deserve special mention, planners will find an abundance of memorable options.
Culinary experiences are a big draw for Kentucky’s largest city, according to Katie Kubitskey, marketing and communications manager of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Kentucky’s food tourism is a major selling point for meeting planners because of the region’s uniquely southern take on cuisine, the culinary experiences hosted by local chefs and the restaurants and distilleries that are readily available for their attendees to experience,” she said.
“In Louisville, our top chefs can be found in all corners of the city, adding bourbon to their Appalachian-inspired cuisine and offering chef’s table experiences for groups of all sizes,” she added. “The city is also home to the famed Hot Brown sandwich and Old Fashioned cocktail, which gives attendees a real sense of place when venturing out to restaurants and bars during the convention.”
Indeed, Louisville is home to several unique culinary traditions. The Hot Brown, for example, is an open-faced, hot sandwich with turkey and bacon, first served at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville in 1926. Today, the AAA Four Diamond Brown Hotel, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, serves the legendary dish at its restaurant as well as an option in corporate event menus.
Among the trending experiences, according to Kubitskey, are distillery visits, including bourbon-related activities, and pickling classes with Chef Edward Lee, a former Top Chef contestant who now heads 610 Magnolia, a contemporary southern restaurant in the Old Louisville neighborhood. At Moonshine University, groups can learn the secrets of distilling, while at Copper & Kings, groups can join distillery tours, take mixology classes and savor pairings of brandy with country ham, another Kentucky favorite.
One of the newest group-friendly options in Louisville is Angel’s Envy Distillery, which opened in November 2016 in a 19th century building; tours and tastings are available.