Culinary travel is not new. But with a rising global appetite for gastronomic adventures, The Culinary Social brings opulence to the table.
By: Dimitria Vitanova
Posted on: June 3, 2016
A golden, exceptionally round spoon lies on a royal blue surface. A fork, apparently plucked from the same set, reposes next to it. What seems to be a pale lemony cloth stretches across, revealing the sharp outline of an ascending plane and three miniscule, bubbly human figures. All that is rimmed by intricate, Victorian-style swooshes, rendered in the same mellow yellow palette. Amid the thousands of premium tour operators’ logos, this one definitely sticks up. It belongs to The Culinary Social and wittily cues to its ethos.
Think of this novel Indian venture as an all-inclusive, first-rate agency that rests on three pillars – travel, food and interaction. It curates luxury accommodations and Michelin-star suppers, alongside local street thrills and food trucks. It all depends on the preferences of the vacationists who seek the service of The Culinary Social, which focuses on putting together bespoke holidays with a gastronomic emphasis.
“I [am] pretty sure that whenever you travel out of India, you come to know the culture of [your destination] through its culinary heritage. But since it’s [also] important to network and meet new people and indulge in activities that the destination is famous for, we created The Culinary Social,” says Dhaval Udeshi, hospitality entrepreneur and restauranteur, who founded The Culinary Social together with Ricky Barot, luxury products expert, and Shaival Chandra, a businessman with a taste for fine dining.
With close to 20 million outbound Indian tourists in 2014, according to the World Bank, and a UNWTO prediction of an almost three-fold increase in that number by 2020, the three long-time friends may be well poised to satiate India’s growing hunger for travel. Having just commenced earlier in 2016, their intended tours, for now, span six destinations – from the tourist hubs of Hong Kong and Dubai to still underrated Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Morocco, as well as Italy’s Amalfi coast. Their curated locales could not be more propitious. While Sri Lanka is steadily claiming a growing spot on holiday-makers’ radar, Dubai last year hosted 1.6 million Indians, forming the largest national group that visited the opulent city.
To Hong Kong with appetite
Calling on their own painstakingly cultivated contacts in the luxury world, Mr Barot, who has now lived in the upper echelons of Hong Kong for decades, and Mr Udeshi, are to lead a 12-strong group to the bustling, skyscraper-dominated metropolis this July. It is the inaugural first-class journey of The Culinary Social, which is already booking for its next escapades, hoping to loop three trips per destination in its first year of operation.
“We decide our travel tours [in accordance to] the season and the best time to visit a particular [place], where climate also plays an important part,” says Mr Udeshi. But in sub-tropical Hong Kong, July sizzles right across the May – November typhoon season, with heat, showers and humidity often grating on any summer fete.
With an astounding eight-day gourmet indulgence, however, concerns over the weather are likely to melt in the background. Local seafood, Spanish tapas, Italian pasta and French fillet mignon at some of Hong Kong’s most iconic restaurants are on the menu. Dinners at Catalunya, Sushi To by Harlan Goldstein, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Otto e Mezzo will parlay into celebrity-like treatment in coveted nightclubs.
“Whatever we have included in the itinerary is something you cannot miss, as we have chosen the best. The waiting period for some of the restaurants is minimum one month,” says Mr Udeshi. “We have handpicked the best culinary experiences available in Hong Kong.”
And not only. The week’s modus vivendi comprises an eclectic list of activities to engage even the most pretentious. Included are the obligatory touristy strolls around the historic Peninsula Hotel and the souvenir-packed Stanley Market as well as a serene sail onboard the iconic, quaint Aqua Luna. Spoils such as yoga sessions, Tai Chi crash classes and spa treats round up the stay at the contemporary 5-star Upper House hotel.
All that pamper, which comes with a private concierge and a chauffeur, carries a price tag in the range of INR 2,50,000 – 3,40,000 ($3,700 - $5,000). Although Mr Udeshi does not disclose the precise cost for the Hong Kong luxe package, the expense reflects the duration and ritz of the trip as well as the administrative work, from visas to flight reservations, which The Culinary Social team handles.
The Savory Route Ahead
The upcoming foray into Hong Kong’s crème-de-la-crème attractions is what Mr Udeshi refers to as a “fixed curated tour.” The Culinary Social also assembles fully customizable experiences – from relaxed family outings to romantic honeymoons to paint-the-town-red bashes. You name it, they vow to organize it.
With plans for a rapid expansion, The Culinary Social aims high. “We will make sure we have more than 50 destinations in two years and are the preferred curators for travel in India,” Mr Udeshi says, promising a domestic culinary route, as well.
As culinary travel is now attracting a diverse flock – from chefs in pursuit of the best ingredients to lay gluttons on a quest to delight their palates, The Culinary Social adds a pinch of sumptuousness to the succulent mix. And it goes beyond world-class lodgings and superb dining options. It is the decades of expertise in hospitality and the flexibility to cater to each client’s needs and desires that the founders count on to take their venture off the ground.
Mr Udeshi says, “Believe in us and we will give you accessibility to places, which you can't even imagine, [where] you will be treated like royalty in a [foreign] country.” Culture shock sounds so much less benign this way.