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Taste Your Trip in the South

Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that “an army travels on its stomach,” and that holds true for nonmilitary excursions, as well.

We travel for many reasons — to soak in spectacular scenery, to interact with different cultures — but on those adventures, eating is among the greatest pleasures. Gastro-tourism allows travelers to engage with a place’s history and traditions, its food, and the people who grow and prepare it.

The South has a wealth of wildly varying cuisines, all emblematic of their culture. Here are six places where your groups can enjoy not only delicious meals but also truly memorable experiences that will be the highlight of their trips.

Chinatown Mall


Atlanta is famous for fried chicken and Coca Cola, but its vibrant immigrant community has added “soul food” from around the entire world, expanding the metro’s culinary scene far beyond its original borders. The epicenter of this global cuisine is found on Buford Highway, a corridor that includes nearly 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses, more than 100 of which are restaurants, representing more than 20 nations.

A food court is a great way to experience a little bit of everything, and visitors will find the best bites of Asia at Chamblee’s Atlanta Chinatown Mall, along with specialty shops and a lovely, manicured garden. Food writer Alex Leo-Guerra is best-known as “the Burger Guy,” but he extolls the offerings at Chinatown. “The dumplings and the Mala Tang [spicy hot pot] from China Kitchen are incredible,” he said. “You can watch the chefs at New Lan Zhou Noodles hand-pulling dough into these long noodles — so delicious. It’s a great time, and anyone going in can find something new to discover and to appreciate.”

Travelers should bring cash, as not all vendors accept credit cards.

Goo Goo Clusters

Nashville, Tennessee

What a cluster! Nashville — and the nation — have been gaga for Goo Goos since the country’s first multi-ingredient candy bar was invented here in 1912.

“That original Goo Goo Cluster constituted marshmallow, nougat, caramel and peanuts, enrobed in milk chocolate” said Beth Sachan, vice president of sales and marketing for the candy company. “Since then, we’ve added pecan and peanut butter to our classic line. And we have a lot of seasonal specialties and our Little Goos, which are bite-sized treats.”

The brand became closely tied to another Nashville institution, the Grand Ole Opry, with country legends like Minnie Pearl and Lester Flatt singing the candy’s praises. A retail store in downtown Nashville opened in 2014, and in 2021 the confectioner expanded again, completing a $2 million renovation that created an experiential hands-on classroom where visitors can make customized clusters.

“Guests get a little bit of history,” said Sachan, “and then get hands-on, making their own combinations from dozens of ingredients and fillings to go inside their creations.”

Special classes like “Goos and Booze” pair wine and spirits with Nashville’s official candy bar.

Viking Cooking School

Greenwood, Mississippi

Founded in the 1980s, Viking brought professional-grade ranges to home kitchens, and by 1990 all production was occurring in Greenwood, the hometown of Viking founder Fred Carl Jr. and the filming location for the 2011 movie “The Help.” Across the street from the Alluvian Hotel (now also owned by Viking, and boasting a luxurious spa), the Viking Cooking School offers a variety of classes for hands-on or demonstration-style meals.

“Our hands-on classes are for eight to 12 people,” said kitchen manager Loren Leflore. “They work in groups of four, and each group cooks everything from start to finish. Everything is premeasured and in its place. The ovens are preheated, and the instructor walks you through each recipe. You cook and then sit down to eat and drink wine while you do it. For larger groups, most of those are demonstrations — the same concept except you don’t cook. But you are served course by course as the instructor demonstrates the class.”

Menus range from Delta classics like hot tamales, parmesan-crusted catfish and chocolate cobbler to elegant menus featuring filet mignon with porcini demi-glace, arancini and pots de creme.

Hermitage Farm

Goshen, Kentucky

The Bluegrass State is famous for producing the world’s finest horses and smoothest whiskey, and just 20 minutes — a short gallop — from downtown Louisville, visitors can enjoy both while dining on seasonal selections from produce grown on the premises. Historic Hermitage is a 683-acre working Thoroughbred and sport horse farm that welcomes guests for unique culinary, equestrian and art-focused events.

Hermitage is well known in the equine industry, raising horses that have won prestigious races such as the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup, to name a few.

“We’re a working Thoroughbred farm,” said events director Curtis Conlin. “We are mostly a Thoroughbred nursery now, and we want to tie in that experience while giving guests a taste of the best of Kentucky.”

The Sport Horse Interaction Dinner is held in the Stud Barn, which houses horses that drive carriages and also contains a carriage museum. The event begins with a cocktail hour on the front patio while Hermitage’s horses graze peacefully nearby, and retired Thoroughbreds are introduced to visitors by guides. The festivities then move inside for a farm-to-table feast and sips of the state’s finest bourbons.

Mardi Gras Cooking School

New Orleans

“First, you make a roux” is the beginning of countless Cajun and Creole recipes, from etouffee to gumbo and beyond. Guests at the Mardi Gras Cooking School, just off Jackson Square in New Orleans’ storied French Quarter, can learn to make a roux (and much more) in hands-on classes where chefs guide them through the intricacies of pralines, jambalaya, King Cake and NoLa-style barbecue shrimp.

“All of our chefs are native New Orleans professional chefs,” said Collette Lewis, the school’s customer experience specialist. “They explain the secrets of the seasonings and the preparation of all the different recipes, so groups get stories of the history and the development of the cuisine, with anecdotes about growing up with this cuisine and what it means to the natives who live here.”

Groups of up to 40 can choose one of five classic menus (including vegetarian) that include three courses. Complimentary soft drinks, wine and beer are included, and travel planners can add champagne or a bloody mary or mimosa bar onto their classes.

Lowcountry Oyster Company

Charleston, South Carolina

Oysters are a staple of low country cuisine, and visitors will get an in-depth understanding on this farm tour, which guides them from tide to tasty table. Former fisherman and sixth-generation South Carolinian Trey “Cricket” McMillan became mesmerized by mollusks while visiting a farm on Chesapeake Bay and returned home to found Lowcountry in 2016.

“I was kind of drawn to it,” he said, “and at the point in my life I was ready to be home and not travel as much. So I took a leap of faith, left my career, started the farm, and here we are.”

Lowcountry is a sustainable farm that now raises a couple million Eastern oysters a year, supplying some of Charleston’s finest restaurants and overnight shipping Lowcountry Cups to happy slurpers across the nation.

The tour takes visitors on a scenic boat excursion that covers the entire life cycle, ending with a shucking lesson, and of course, a tasting of the briny bivalves. Lowcountry works closely with a local caterer and can also arrange a full-blown oyster roast right on the farm or at the venue of your choice.