Culturally unique experiences

This past summer I spent the Fourth of July in Thailand, the Land of Smiles, and ate some of the world’s most amazing food. I was there for a week, having spent the previous seven days in Dubai. In both cases I was not on vacation, but in fact conducting F&B training with our culinary and F&B leaders in each region.

Travel for me has always been defined by authentic food experiences that provide a glimpse into the real culture and history of the area. Some destinations are steeped in tradition and centuries of food-defined culture, while others are relative new kids on the block with less rich history to build on. This dichotomy is very clear when discussing Thailand and Dubai.

Thailand has a culture built on street food stalls located strategically in the path of busy travelers to satisfy instant need with convenience. Thus, travel to Thailand is always built around experiencing the amazing flavors of spice, sweet and sour in Tom Yom Goong, for example. I always tour the markets, and nothing beats a hot day in Bangkok like fresh cracked coconut filled with coconut ice.

Not only can we find this on the street, but it is also as a signature in our restaurants, like the photo below of the restaurant Flavors at the Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa. For many food enthusiasts, the flavors of Southeast Asia are too exciting to resist.

Dubai has less infrastructure due to the nomadic culture of its Bedouin history, bringing food along rather than sourcing along the way. Mezze dominates, and if what Dubai lacks in a food culture infrastructure, it makes up for it in new and state-of-the-art dining venues. We have a JW Marquis opening later this year with 17 restaurants and more than 1,500 rooms, adding to Dubai’s legendary dining venues. 

Every big chef in the world is in this city, and you could eat at a new celebrity chef restaurant every three days for a year without ever leaving the city.

As a global portfolio, infusing a “sense of place” and local perspective is critically important to restaurateurs and guests. This topic alone makes up a great deal of the discussion content whenever we bring our F&B experts together for training. “Local” has more to do with culture than ingredient, but as an industry we often translate this term to distance traveled, proximity of supplier or a tie-in to some notion of farmers market. We must offer authentic, relevant experiences, and to do so it is often through foods that tell a story. Not every destination can deliver a truly locally grown year-round concept. It may be easier to do in San Francisco or the Hudson Valley than in Dubai or Minnesota in the winter, but every destination can deliver a culturally unique experience, which is truly what we should focus on. In the end, food is the lens to the soul of any culture, and building true authenticity into the dining experiences will add enormous value to the guest experience of even our most seasoned travelers.