IN these times, it has become a necessity to adapt to the changes wreaked by Covid-19 to stay relevant.
Many industries have been affected and now have to evolve with the needs of the times to survive the devastation caused by the unprecedented global pandemic.
Tourism industry players – obviously hard hit by the pandemic – might want to take a page from how UOW Malaysia KDU schools its culinary arts students.
It is called gastronomic tourism, and it leaves a deep, insightful impact on the students.
"Our culinary arts students don't just come and learn to cook and go home. They go out to see the world of food and beverage and learn deeply that way," said UOW Malaysia KDU School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts chief lecturer Khairul Anuar Muhamad.
Take soy sauce for example.
"We take our students to a soy sauce factory. They see how the soybeans are fermented and also how the ingredients and amount of salt differ because you need one type of soy sauce for Bak Kut Teh and another for Char Koay Teow, for example.”
"When the students return to class and design recipes, we see them getting more technical about which soy sauce to use. They begin to be more particular about it," Khairul said.
An even more delicious example is squid. The chief lecturer takes his students all the way to Terengganu during squid season. They learn to catch squid with rod and line.
"We straightaway grill the squids. It doesn't get any fresher than that and when the students taste how sweet and succulent the squid is, they realise first hand how really fresh ingredients contribute to making fine cuisine," he explained.
These examples show how enriching gastronomic tourism can be.
Khairul urged tour agencies, hotels and even restaurants to spare some thought for this branch of tourism as a means to deal with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
"If you are willing to drive for hours just to visit a popular restaurant and try a tomahawk steak, that is a form of gastronomic tourism activity too. Do include cooking classes or workshops.
"There is a buffalo ranch in Langkawi that makes buffalo mozzarella cheese and visitors can try their hand at making the cheese themselves, for example," he said.
To produce a gastronomic tourism package that will delight tourists, Khairul said tour agencies, hotels, farms, food factories and restaurants need to work together.
"Guide factories and farms on how to open up to tourists. Show them how to prepare parking space for tour buses, build proper toilets and other facilities.
"We must show the farmers and food producers how gastronomic tourism improves their branding and popularity," he said.
Tour agencies must also make it rewarding for them.
Khairul Anuar said he knew of a tour agency that charges tourists RM60 per head to visit a salted duck egg production facility and get an enlightening tour from the business owner, but the owner gets only a meagre share of what the tourists pay.
"Everyone loves good food and many people love to cook. So gastronomic tourism will be a delight for many," he added.
For more insights into how UOW Malaysia KDU turns its culinary arts students into master chefs, visit https://www.uowmkdu.edu.my/programmes/hospitality-tourism-culinary-arts/