The Rise of Culinary Tourism in South Walton
March 20, 2015 by Richard Olivarez
With such a phenomenal selection of fine cuisine along our shores, it’s hard to imagine that it’s only in the past decade that the role of food has come to such prominence. It is now regarded as one of the most significant components of the overall vacation experience.
Worldwide, food now ranks alongside accommodations, climate, and scenery as the deciding factors on where to travel. Fortunately for our Gulf coast community, we have all of the above! Foodies are flocking to South Walton – and for very good reason. We enjoy some of the finest fresh seafood in the country, but it’s what our local chefs are doing with it that has elevated our epicurean tourism onto the national stage.
Locals take dining seriously and anyone you ask will not hesitate to recommend their favorite eatery. However, if your time in town is limited, we recommend you start with Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award Winners. Florida Trend’s Golden Spoons are the oldest and most coveted dining awards in the state and South Walton is privileged to enjoy the most winners per capita. With no less than five South Walton Restaurants receiving the award in 2014, culinary tourists can spend a week at the beach and experience an extraordinary dinner each night.
The most recent winners include Bud & Alley’s (Hall of Fame Golden Spoon award winner) in Seaside, Fish Out of Water in WaterColor Resort, Vin’tij Wine Boutique in Miramar Beach, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse at Grand Boulevard. Recent Gold Spoon awards also went to some of our favorite restaurants in neighboring towns such as Cuvee Bistro in Destin, Firefly, and Captain Anderson's in Panama City Beach.
In addition to an array of fine eateries on and off the beach, South Walton also hosts several world-class food and wine festivals. While there are numerous notable events, the signature culinary event is the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival. This annual weekend-long extravaganza is hosted each April and is the foremost affair for gourmets and oenophiles. In fact, last year the festival won a Flagler Award, a prestigious designation that recognizes outstanding tourism marketing, for the organizers’ success in bringing state and regional awareness to this gastronomic exposition.
For the aspiring Chef, or those who simply wish to be more hands on – Vickie's Kitchenique is a cooking school in Miramar Beach that has been hosting the Gulf Coast’s Top Chefs since 1985. A rich celebration of food and friendship, an evening at Kitchenique is an intimate affair with a master Chef and few dozen like-minded culinary connoisseurs. In their state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, you can follow along and sample dishes as they are prepared. Here, your most valuable souvenirs from the evening are the recipes you take home to recreate South Walton’s most notable feasts! Kitchenique classes are found on their website.
South Walton has become the most desirable culinary destination in the region and the best way to experience our coast may be taking it all in, one dish at a time. Bon Appétit!