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Cook It Raw a Catalyst for Culinary Tourism Development

At first glance, Cook It Raw Alberta is a prime example of extraordinary event power-planning.

Hundreds of stakeholders came together in mere months to serve up a premiere world culinary extravaganza under the leadership of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance (ACTA).

It hit the spot. From May to October 2015, #rawAlberta saw over 20 million impressions on social media. Its documentary series had over 10,000 views. The event won the Collaborative Tourism Award at the Travel Alberta Industry Conference and was in part responsible for ACTA receiving Restaurants Canada’s first-ever Culinary Tourism Experience Award at the Canadian Tourism Awards this November.

Take a second look, and you’ll see a remarkable legacy that continues to build the profile of culinary tourism in Alberta today.

Alberta chefs are now strutting their stuff on the world stage, and international media are noticing. New tourism partnerships are forming across the province. A veritable buffet of new, experiential tourism products is being prepared.

“Cook It Raw Alberta was a leap of faith,” says Tannis Baker, Executive Director of ACTA. “It helped businesses and organizations see the bigger picture by showing them opportunities to grow as part of Alberta’s culinary tourism industry.”

A Triumph of Partnership

Cook It Raw is a celebrated annual gathering of avant-garde chefs who travel the world to showcase local cuisines.

When ACTA  chair Don House invited the event’s founder Alessandro Porcelli to visit Alberta in 2014, he fell in love with the province’s landscapes, culinary history and indigenous foods. Less than a year later, Cook It Raw Alberta presented a chef retreat and 10-day exploration of Alberta cuisine, culminating at a public event in Calgary.

More than 100 stakeholders participated, guided by ACTA, a non-profit group founded in 2012. Its mission is to bring together agricultural, culinary, tourism and hospitality professionals to ensure Alberta’s culinary bounty is “known, savoured and grown” through travel experiences.

“There are so many great experiences happening across the province,” says Baker. “We’re the glue that helps pull things together.”

Alberta Chefs in Global Spotlight

Since Cook It Raw Alberta in 2015, Calgary chefs have been increasingly invited to prestigious conferences like Ireland’s Food on the Edge, working side by side with Michelin Star movers and shakers.

“John Jackson (chef at Calgary’s CHARCUT Roast House) says that for the first time, he’s hearing a lot of buzz in the international food world about Alberta,” says Baker.

The rising profile of Alberta chefs, with the attendant global media coverage, are all critical steps in the path to becoming a culinary destination, she says.

That’s important for Alberta because culinary tourism is a strong trend worldwide and a big draw for both travellers and tour operators, says Lisa Lima, Travel Alberta Manager, Industry Development.

“Travellers want dining experiences that are authentic,” she says. “They want to eat local and find those hidden gems. A destination’s culinary reputation and offerings can often be a big part of travel decisions.”

Inspiration for New Tourism Products

Cook It Raw Alberta has also been the inspiration for a series of culinary trails — travel itineraries to showcase Alberta history, culture and food.

They grew out of a desire to repeat the journey Cook It Raw Alberta chefs took through Lac La Biche and Canmore to experience local food culture and traditions.

The Sippin’ Alberta tour of the province’s award-winning craft breweries, distilleries and cottage wineries was introduced in 2016.

Work is now underway on a heritage trail that features architecturally significant heritage buildings that offer a culinary experience as well.

“We’re also strategizing on a calendar of cooking demonstrations at various parks, part of proposed initiative with Alberta Parks to tie in culinary tourism with comfort camping,” says Baker.

Several Cook It Raw Alberta partners are continuing to work together. Alberta Parks and Lac La Biche’s Canadian Native Friendship Centre are developing new tourism initiatives in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. Métis Crossing near Smoky Lake is developing a foraging walk to teach visitors about the use of native plants in traditional Métis cuisine.

“Part of the legacy of Cook It Raw Alberta is to challenge people to see how they can work under the umbrella of culinary tourism,” says Baker. “We’re planting seeds of ideas to help Alberta businesses grow in new directions.”

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