Self-guided culinary tours — progressive dinners, roving cocktail parties, bar crawls — can be a fun way to dine out, but a self-guided tour doesn’t dig into the soul, the passions of the people behind each venue.

What’s the story behind the chefs and mixologists and hospitality professionals who are the heartbeat of our cities’ restaurants? Introducing guests to the people who feed locals, tourists and everyone in between is what fuels Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

The soul of a city can be found in the roots of its stories… how these ideas came to be and what makes each place one of a kind.

What began as a 2009 start-up out of Taste Carolina founder’s Lesley Stracks-Mullem’s home in Durham is now a nine-city company with more than 20 employees, and room to grow.

“The food tastes better when we know the background and the story of each chef and each restaurant,” says Stracks-Mullem. “A lot of chefs don’t get to come out of the kitchen very often, but they’re able to connect to guests and customers this way. I’m also a sucker for digging into city history.”

The first Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours began in Chapel Hill and Durham. Due to an influx of calls about Raleigh, Stracks-Mullem soon added the City of Oaks and two years later expanded to Hillsborough, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Tours have since launched in Wilmington, Charlotte and Asheviile.

Sample your way through five or six downtown restaurants, where locally-sourced ingredients are used to create contemporary Southern and regional specialties. Chat up chefs and owners, and hear about city history, music, art and architecture along the way.

Saturday Downtown Greensboro and Winston-Salem Arts District and West End tours are an ideal way to try a variety of food and drink and learn about the Triad’s thriving business and arts communities. During the week, plan a private or corporate tour with co-workers for a team-building adventure or an end-of-quarter incentive. 

Neapolitan pizza with locally sourced toppings paired with a biodynamic wine. Hand-rolled cannelloni and a spicy cocktail. Goat cheese and local honey crostini with roasted red pepper soup. A choice of 18 cheesecake flavors. Shrimp & grits, bacon-wrapped meatloaf and tomato pie paired with wine. Savory bread pudding and a macaron. Stuffed grape leaves and hibiscus tea…. Just a few examples of sweet and savory tastings on the tours.

It’s fun to experience these cities as both a local and as a visitor.

Erin Greene, a transplant from Asheville, was unsure if her move to the Camel City was a good decision. Her husband purchased tickets to a Winston-Salem tour as an anniversary gift in hopes of getting to know their own hometown. 

“I was by no means a local so it helped me learn the ‘cool’ spots which I might not have found or gotten to try right away on my own,” Greene says. “Going on that tour really saved me, it showed me there are cool areas and people and delicious places to eat that are local and interesting. All hope was not lost.”

Stracks-Mullem has the opportunity to see each city as a local, a visitor and a business owner.

“I remember visiting Greensboro and Winston-Salem and thinking, These cities are so cool and edgy,” she says. “There are all of these interesting restaurants opening. When I look up at the tall buildings and skyscrapers, I want to know the stories behind the buildings. And the restaurants around them are almost 100% independently owned, and they’re delicious.”

The history of each city goes farther than just their geographical information and statistics. The heart and soul of the Triad lies within Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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