Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tour de Forks

What could be better than traveling to Italy with three in-the-know food hounds? Lisa Goldman, Melissa Joachim, and Giuseppe Ricotta don’t think anything beats that! … Which is why, for 5 years now, they’ve been leading culinary tours through Puglia, Sicily, and soon Emilia Romano. The team focuses on uncovering hard-to-find restaurants and specialty ingredients.

One such hidden treasure is a certain squid ink pasta found in Palermo. I’ve been sworn to starchy secrecy about the exact where-abouts of the primo pasta, but it’s tid-bits like that that makes Tour de Forks the number one way to travel to Italy.

Tour de Forks favorite hotel, Grand Hotel Villea Igiea, Palermo.
The tours usually last about a week and are between $5000 and $8000: a price that includes fantastic food, wine, cooking classes, accommodations, special events, and transportation within the country.

This is the ideal trip for those who want to eat well but don’t want to worry about doing the research to get the inside scoop. The best Italian restaurants are family-run, off-the-beaten path spots that often have no sign, no phone, and no way of getting in unless you know the mama.

Lisa, Melissa, and Giuseppe know many mamas and love to share the big Italian love. Besides surreptitious squid ink, they’ll feed you other Italian delicacies in the sumptuous home of a Baron and Baroness. You’ll dine at a table with a centerpiece that hails directly from Versailles. Goldman says that a successful food tour is about, “finding a balance,” so in addition to gracing the homes of royalty, you’ll head to down-home markets where farmers will wow you with fresh produce, cheese, and the likes.  
Blood oranges, Capo Market, Palermo.
Fish stall, Capo Market, Palermo.
Greek Temple, Segesta.
Cloisters, Monreale.
Clockwise from top left: Food historian and author, Mary Taylor Simeti explains the cedron; Tour de Forks group dines with Sicilian royalty; Eremo della Giubiliana, convent converted to 5 star hotel, Ragusa; Tour de Forks dining at 2 star Michelin Ristorante Duomo, Ragusa. Chef Ciccio Sultano in background; Cassata Siciliana demonstration, Bar Alba.
Tour de Forks caps their tours at twelve people so whether you are at a dinner party or getting a private tour of the markets, it will always be an intimate ordeal. It’s easy to “keep people enthusiastic” with activities like visiting salt marshes, tasting artisanal salame makers, and checking out an olive oil museum. The tours are organized in such a way that no one will get too full to enjoy a single bite, by mixing adventure with relaxation, and light bites with decadent dinners.

Tour de Forks has been featured in New York Magazine, Bon Appétit, and Oggi Magazine. And famed New York City chef, Anita Lo, is a huge fan. She makes a good point about visiting a country as diverse and delicious as Italy: “You could do it on your own, but chances are, even if you have several good guide books, you’re going to be disappointed with more than just a couple of meals, and you won’t get the personalized VIP treatment you get by having a few famous, local food professionals showing you around as you do on Tour de Forks.” It’s true. Who else could show you “elite experiences customarily reserved for restaurant royalty, including jet setting to the island of Pantelleria for a Passito wine tasting or nibbling on sea urchin and bottarga - tuna caviar- while listening to the secrets of Sicily’s star chefs are all standard fare?” I’m sold!

To find out how you can sign up for the quickly filling fall 2007 trips, visit

When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out