Courtesy Maryland Office of Tourism, Film and the Arts
Steps away from Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, guests at Rowleys Bay Resort gather around a cauldron suspended over a flickering fire. As the water comes to a roiling boil, an older gentleman regales them with stories of the area’s history, from the days of the Potawatomi to the present.
The storyteller, Peter Rowley, pauses each time the “boil master” makes an appearance. The boil master adds salt to the water, then potatoes, then onions. Last comes the piece de resistance: whitefish, cut into chunks.
As he reaches up to ring an old schoolhouse bell, Rowley warns the crowd to step back from the pot. The bell clangs, the boil master spills kerosene on the fire, flames shoot toward the sky, and clouds of steam eclipse the cauldron. Like lava, fish oil bubbles to the surface and spills down the sides, effectively removing oil from the boiling water.
So goes the aptly named fish boil, a Door County signature feast. Thanks to the actor who portrays Rowley, a curmudgeon who settled in the area in the 1830s, the fish boil is both dinner and a show at Rowleys Bay Resort. The theatrical fish boil has grown so popular that the property bought bleachers to accommodate the spectators.
“It’s very iconic,” said Jewel Peterson Ouradnik, the owner of the resort, whose 7,500 square feet of meeting space caters to meetings of up to 200.
Rowleys Bay Resort isn’t the only property that gives groups a taste of iconic cuisine. From Cuban dishes in Florida to peaches in Georgia to maple syrup in Vermont, resorts and restaurants showcase their signature foods.
For the meeting planner, injecting local flavor into a banquet, an off-site excursion or even a breakout session is a tasty way to create memories.
Looking forward to local
Depending on the destination, meeting attendees might arrive with appetites whetted for regional foods. That’s the case at the Inn at Brunswick Station in Brunswick, Maine, about 30 miles north of Portland.
“Most people who come for retreats or multiday meetings want to experience lobster and lobster rolls,” said Brandon Hussey, director of sales and marketing.
But some guests — and planners — may not know about an area’s trademark cuisine. Seafood is expected in Tampa, Fla., yet the city is also steeped in Cuban culture, with Cuban food on nearly every corner.
Culinary events like a Door County fish boil, a New England lobster bake or a South Carolina Low Country shrimp boil can serve as icebreakers or as a grand finale.
The Chesapeake Bay’s favorite crustacean, blue claw crab, is part of a steamed crab feast at Phillips Crab Deck in Annapolis, Md., and Phillips Crab House in Ocean City, Md. Up to 1,100 guests can wield wooden mallets at the Ocean City location.
At Plain and Fancy Farm in Lancaster County, Pa., groups of up to 300 can sit down to a Pennsylvania Dutch feast: chicken potpie (made with square noodles instead of a crust), dried sweet corn, shoofly pie, iced raisin bread and chowchow, which is a tangy-sweet relish. Many of the ingredients come from local Amish farms.
A savory reminder
Even without a themed meal, meetings can be infused with local flavor. Goodie bags for conference attendees at Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock, Vt., might include a bottle of maple syrup, Vermont smoked cheese and Vermont maple candy. At the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, in Greensboro, Ga., spiced pecans are often attendee gifts.
Planners can arrange to have a whoopie pie — a sweet whipped filling sandwiched between two cakelike cookies — in guest rooms at the AmishView Inn and Suites, located on the same property as Plain and Fancy Farm. The hotel often has chicken-and-corn soup in the lobby as a winter warm-up for guests.