By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
Taking a food tour is a great way to explore local flavor and get out of your restaurant rut.
Over the last eight years, as I’ve traveled Colorado telling festival and travel stories, one narrative that’s grown significantly is our state’s culinary story, and today it’s getting national attention. Currently, some of our state’s premier chefs are being featured on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
The 15th season of this reality show began airing in January and pits 15 of Colorado’s top chefs against one another in culinary challenges. The fact that our state is being featured on this wildly popular show is proof-positive that when it comes to the culinary world, Colorado has arrived on the scene.
With chefs turning out beautiful and farm-fresh dishes in their restaurants to food events such as Meeker’s Jammin’ Lamb Fest, which features fantastic, chef-created lamb dishes, it’s a good time to be a foodie in Colorado. If you consider yourself a foodie, you should consider doing a food tour.
Taking a food tour is not unlike being a judge on a show like “Top Chef.” Guests sample the flavors of a town and get a VIP experience at some of Colorado’s finest dining establishments.
After going on a tour with Rocky Mountain Food Tours in Colorado Springs in 2016, I now seek out food tour operators when I travel to other places. This May, I’m planning to take a tequila and taco tour on a visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Local Table Tours started offering food tours in Boulder in 2010, and today they run tours in Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. Founder Megan Bucholz says that many of the tourists who book tours with her company do tours in every city they visit, but Local Table Tours isn’t just for visitors. Locals book tours as a way to discover their own city, and because Bucholz is continually adding new restaurants to the mix, a person could tour several times a year and always discover new and tasty stops.
“I eat out a lot and I follow the food scene,” says Bucholz. “Honestly, I just try places out and if a place is awesome I call them up and see if they want to be on the tour.”
In Fort Collins, there are 2 Local Table Tours. The “Chocolate, Coffee and Waffle Tasting” and the “Taste of Old Town Culinary Tour.” Both run on Sundays and could be done back-to-back for a full day of food fun. There’s also a tour at Jessup Farm Artisan Village that takes guests on a jaunt through the village with tastings of coffee, beer and food.
Local Table Tours offer a lot of tours of Boulder, such as a cocktail outing and a farmers’ market tour. Denver has two tours available, and with the Mile High City’s thriving restaurant scene you can be sure that these excursions will be scrumptious.
“The food scene here is chef-driven and crafted,” says Bucholz. “I think one of the things that I appreciate so much about knowing the Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins scene is that there are some similarities in that you’re guaranteed to get an excellent meal, but they are completely different scenes with different offerings.”
In Denver, Local Table Tours is adding a “Coffee & Donut Tasting Tour” and a “Taste of the Highlands Tour” this spring. You can visit them online at www.localtabletours.com.
Rocky Mountain Food Tours (RMFT) opened in 2010, offering culinary tours in Colorado Springs, a city with a blossoming food scene. In fact, one of the chefs on the newest season of “Top Chef” is Brother Luck, owner of Four by Brother Luck, a restaurant that is currently part of RMFT’s Delicious Downtown Tour.
“From carefully crafted distilleries to Food Network-featured stops, we’ve seen so many wonderful restaurants pop-up here in the Pikes Peak region,” says Chelsy Offutt, director of communication for Visit Colorado Springs and lifelong resident.
“Visitors can grab a pint in a reimagined elementary school at the Lincoln Center, slurp gourmet ramen downtown or even dine under the stars on a local farm,” she adds.
I have been on the Delicious Downtown Tour with RMFT and can wholeheartedly agree with Offutt. The restaurants we visited on the tour were not only serving delicious food, but many were sourcing locally. Chef Luck is one chef who is always seeking out local ingredients to use in his restaurants.
He was recently quoted in an article by staff writers at Colorado.com as saying, “I think the people of Colorado’s food scene set it apart because many of us are transplants that became connected to the state through our own stories. The farmers, ranchers and foragers of the state provide such great ingredients that allow us to showcase great drinks and dishes.”
In addition to the food, it was the stories I heard on my RMFT outing that gave the day extra flavor. For instance, the anecdotes related by the manager of The Famous Steak House provided real insight into Colorado Springs’ culinary history, and tales told by the energetic owners of Spice Island Grill, the city’s only Jamaican restaurant, added some Caribbean zest to our day.
“We’re adding on a lot of new partners in 2018,” says Samantha Wood, owner of RMFT. “Thankfully, Colorado Springs is growing in terms of the restaurant scene and we’ve got some opportunities to work with some really cool places this year.”
RMFT is adding two entirely new tours in 2018. Wood also has plans to expand beyond Colorado Springs and is working on developing a self-guided food tour. Keep tabs on RMFT by following their Facebook page, and visit www.rockymountianfoodtours.com to book a tour.
A new food tour is happening in Longmont, a city that recently played host to Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” Guy Fieri featured Samples World Bistro on his show this past January.
The Discover Longmont Food Tour has collaborated with Brewhop Trolley to offer tours on various Saturdays during each month. See www.brewhoptrolley.com and click on “tours” to learn more.
Should you travel beyond the Front Range, and you should, Colorado’s Western Slope has its own flourishing food scene and Grand Junction is home to several authentic farm-to-table restaurants. Booking with Grand Junction Food Tours is an excellent way to get a real sense of what’s happening in this burgeoning foodie town.
If you’re curious as to who goes on food tours, it turns out that a lot of people do, including locals who want to get out of their restaurant rut or are looking for ways to entertain guests. It also makes for an interesting date night. Tourists also make up a good portion of the guests on these tours.
“The average tourists on our outings now says that they do a food tour in every state that they visit,” says Bucholtz.
Many operators provide private tours. Private tours make for excellent corporate bonding experiences, are perfect for bachelorette parties and can be a fine way to enjoy an afternoon with friends. Knowing everyone on a tour is a fun way to go, but even doing a tour with strangers can result in friendships, as nothing brings people together quite like food.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is the founder of HeidiTown.com and author of Mountain Living’s The Heidi Guide. She specializes in writing about festivals, food and travel.