Natural & Vegetarian Restaurants

Taste of Kalamazoo Festival ~ July 21-23

taste-of-kalamazooEvery year, on the fourth weekend of July, thousands of hungry festival-goers flock to downtown Kalamazoo to enjoy the endless variety of foods prepared by Kalamazoo’s most popular eateries at the Taste of Kalamazoo Festival.

More than 30 local restaurants and chefs will offer mouth-watering ethnic items, family favorites, exotic dishes, and local specialties. Enjoy almost 200 items ranging from savory offerings like crab rangoon, shrimp etouffee, sushi and sashimi, prime rib, sunset scampi, beef satay, coconut shrimp, chicken curry and jambalya to desserts including bananas foster, tiramisu, strawberry shortcake, baklava, cannoli, and turtle torte. Vegetarians aren’t left wanting either and there are a wide variety of beer, wine and other alcoholic & non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy.

There’s also live music from bands including the Macpodz, Matt Giraud and Edgar Winter along with all kinds of family fun including ice sculpting, grill-offs and the Greatest Kazoo Duck Race!

Our giveaway includes 2 free entry passes and $10 in tasting tickets and all it takes to enter it (and all our other giveaways) is to be on our email list – use the box below!

Absolute Michigan will not share your email address with anyone. Period. Your inbox is safe with us. What we will share with you is a periodic but usually no more than weekly update, possibly including a special offer, potentially a prize or giveaway and definitely some great news about what is working and fun to do in the Great state called Michigan that we love!

Michigan Culinary Tourism

Mack-in-touch Apples by (  Jennifer  )
Mack-in-touch Apples by ( Jennifer )

A month ago, Absolute Michigan participated in the the Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations conference (read our live blog) where the Michigan Culinary Tourism initiative was launched. For the video below, we spoke with Melody Johnson of the International Culinary Tourism Association, keynote speaker Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s, Linda Jones of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council and a number of attendees to get a sense of what culinary tourism can mean for Michigan.

Check out the Michigan Culinary Tourism page for links to foodie tours and other resources.  We’re also wondering about your thoughts on how culinary tourism can play a role in Michigan’s future – let us know your thoughts and interesting culinary experiences in the comments!

This video features photos from several photographers from the Absolute Michigan pool: blondieyooper, richard deming photography, photoshoparama, oldog_oltrix, southen, detroit derek, trish p and jennifer. Stay tuned to for the latest on Michigan’s booming epicurean industry!

Live at the Michigan Culinary Tourism Conference

Click here for a video from the conference!

Michigan Culinary TourismAll day today the Absolute Michigan team is at Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations, Michigan’s first conference on Culinary Tourism. The conference was a hot ticket, and nearly 200 tourism industry stakeholders are getting ready to learn about Michigan’s new initiative to increase tourism. You can learn all about the Michigan Culinary Tourism Inititative at that link and read on for updates as we have them!

Zingerman's Delicatessen
Zingerman’s Delicatessen by Ashley Dinges

1:30 pm The lunch keynote speaker is Ari Weinzweig of one of the giants of Michigan ‘s food scene, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. Ari is definitely a fast talker, and related that he got started washing dishes at Maude’s, and at that time, Tang and Space Sticks were his culinary adventures. He met co-founder Paul Saginaw at Maude’s and –  5 years after opening a deli in a town that wouldn’t support delis  at a location with no parking that people couldn’t find – was hailed as a genius. Today the Zingerman’s empire does $38 million in annual sales.

Ari says that (for him at least) all tourism is culinary. He relates  some “natural laws” from his book A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business that he thinks relate to building an authentic culinary destination. Natural law #1 is that an inspiring, strategically sound vision leads to greatness. He cautions that although  great visions come  from the heart, you need to develop your vision with enough richness and depth that people can understand what you’re talking about. He shared a bit of the vision for the West Side Farmer’s Market. With lines like “All these products have a story and none of them have traveled very far to get here,” it’s really clear that vision is a big part of what drives Zingerman’s.

His 2nd law is “You need to give your customers some really compelling reasons to buy from you.” He quotes Jim Hightower “Ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but 2 yellow lines and a whole lot of dead armadillos.” He  recommends that we seek to create offerings that have appeal for tourists AND residents to create a more resilient and dynamic customer base.

He closes with his belief that the customer experience is the most important thing. He breaks a recent study regarding employee attitudes toward their workplace into football terms: of the 11 players on a football team, only 4 know where the goal is, just two care who wins the game and all but 2 are just as likely to be  rooting for the other team as their own! Does this sound like your business? If it does, what can you do to change it? Ari suggests that maybe Michigan could steal a page from Hawaii and adopt the Ojibway word for welcome and become “The Aaniin State” … because someone has to be the most welcoming place in country!

Cheers,  ©n.walmsley
Cheers, ©n.wamsley

11:45 am – At the Building Lodging & Tour Packages session, Heather Price of Sandhill Crane Vineyards talked about the “Big Grape Bus” wine event they offer through the Pioneer Wine Trail in SE Michigan and all the pieces   – wine & food pairings, transportation, lodging and entertainment – that come together to create a compelling event. Steve Timmer of the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City echoed the importance of providing an all-inclusive experience and listed some of the things that his resort does including focusing on bringing local wines into their wine shop and even working with attendees on a cooking show.

One attendee (whose location shall remain nameless) wondered what to do when your area has little to offer in terms of culinary tourism. Steve suggested focusing on PR to invite food writers and the media and of course to leverage social media wherever possible. I asked him about if he had a sense whether today’s traveler is more or less interested in packages. He said that while packaging remains an important part of travel marketing, he’s finding that people are less interested in packages, preferring to design their own experiences. To me, that suggests that it’s really important for all players in the culinary travel industry to make their services and offerings clearly available across a wide spectrum of media, including that most old-fashioned of media: making your friends and neighbors aware of what you do!

The Bar @ Hopcat
The Bar @ Hopcat by stevedontsurf

11 am The “Marketing Your Culinary Destination” featured Dianna Stamfler of Promote Michigan, Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions and Paul Stermer of Fair Food Matters. An audience member asked Sam how he got his nearly 300 volunteers. He answered “It’s all about fun. We take care of them pre and post event and engage them as partners to market and develop the events.” He also suggested engaging your fans to help you grow your social media network. The audience seemed to agree that social media is a vital component of an overall strategy.

Dianna mentioned that it’s the first-ever  Michigan Beer Week in Kalamazoo.  It’s been developed  in conjunction with the Winter Beer Conference and bars, restaurants and retailers will be teaming up to offer beer tastings, tap takeovers, brewer meet-and-greets and other special events.

Charlevoix Michigan Peppers
Charlevoix Michigan Peppers by DTWpuck

10  am Melody Johnson of the International Culinary Tourism Association was next up. She shared examples from all over the world of how everyone from third world nations on up the economic ladder are turning to culinary tourism as an economic driver. She cited rocketing technological advancements and our exploding interest in food as two prime drivers and talked about FLOSS (Fresh Local Organic Sustainable and Self-absorbed food). With  your average meal travelling 1500 miles, FLOSS is a concept that can  help keep food local.    Melody also gave a shoutout the the new “Boyne Appetit” marketing effort for Boyne City.

She showed three pictures – a museum, roller coaster and nice plate of food, and reminded attendees that food & drink IS an attraction as well, illustrating it with her discovery of Founder’s apricot wheat – a beer that she had last night with dinner and very much enjoyed. It’s not something you’re likely to find outside of Michigan, so to have it again, she’ll have to return. “The Michigan Experience” is what visitors are seeking – unique and memorable experiences that a tourist can brag about when he or she returns home.

9:40 am Steve Loftis of the Michigan Restaurant Association offered some thoughts about where Michigan’s restaurants are and what will be on their radar in 2011. One of his recommendations is that restaurants look to younger/technologically savvy members of  their staff for  ideas on more effectively using technology to acquire new patrons, but also to work more with existing customers.  He also stated that “the L word” should be on everyone’s mind as they work with their menu, trying to add more local offerings.

grits & bits (pre-syrup)
grits & bits (pre-syrup)
by jenny murray

9:15 am Linda Jones of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council opened the conference with an introduction to culinary tourism. One new resource for culinary tourists that she pointed out are the Michigan Foodie Tours.
The foodie tours feature local food and unique experiences from the whitefish and pasties of the western UP to the 200 restaurants of Ann Arbor.

7 am Last night I had a chance to talk with Melody Johnson, a founding member  of the International Culinary Tourism Association. Melody is the organization’s Community Manager and helps partners develop collaborations and inititiatives to capitalize on their culinary tourism assets. She gave me a simple thought to frame the day: “You always need to keep in mind what your customers  want to be successful. When people are coming to Michigan, they are wanting Michigan. They want authentic culinary experiences, the flavors and experiences that they can only get here.”

Although saying “It’s the food, silly” may seem a little simplistic, as the nation’s second most agriculturally diverse state, Michigan is in a unique position to tout itself as an unparalleled food destination. The local food movement has already started many on the path to promoting the strength and quality of Michigan food & drink and this effort will hopefully encourage many more to  “make it a Michigan wine/beer/fill in the blank.”

Michigan Culinary Tourism taking off!

Great Lakes Echo is a project of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. The site uses Creative Commons reporting to to help the news community cover the environment of the Great Lakes watershed. Absolute Michigan supports the mission of Great Lakes Echo and will feature articles they produce. This article by Yang Zhang was originally published as State’s resources spark culinary tourism. The photos are from the Forest Grill in Birmingham’s Facebook page.

Forest GrillMiles of coastline, beautiful beaches and spectacular sand dunes. But traveling in Michigan offers more than that.

The state’s wines and beers, fresh fruits, fish and other local flavors are attracting visitors as well.

“Culinary tourism is an exciting new area of economic development for Michigan,” said Linda Jones, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Council.

On Jan. 10, a diverse range of businesses and organizations will celebrate their culinary assets and share ideas to promote culinary tourism at a statewide conference.

Jones said other states promote their culinary assets more aggressively than Michigan, such as Oregon, New York and California.

Culinary tourism includes cooking classes, foodie tours, events and festivals.

The Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance is one initiative boosting local industry.

Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations at Travel Michigan, said quality food is part of the traveling experiences people look for.

crispy sweetbreadsMichigan’s diverse agriculture, hunting and fishing provide fresh foods, which creates this experience, Lorenz said. His office is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

For example, Culinary Escapes, a Detroit-based company, offers walking tours to restaurants, markets and local food purveyors in downtown Birmingham, Detroit and Royal Oak from April through October.

Learn Great Foods in Petoskey offers themed retreats, tours and cooking classes. One is Maple Madness Weekend on the Parsons Centennial Farm in Charlevoix, where participants learn how to make maple syrup.

Karel Bush, promotion specialist at Grape and Wine Council, said Michigan’s 75 wineries also are travel destinations where people enjoy lush green valleys and savor award-winning wines.

Bush said there are wine routes along the coasts, such as the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine. Another is the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail along Lake Huron.

Experts said great dining and learning experiences attract more tourists and extend their travel time in the communities.

Lorenz said: “They go out there and spend money that help retain and build jobs.”

Jones said culinary tourism benefits the whole state, particularly areas with major visitor attractions.

Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, said the number of tourists in her region has increased because of the development of food-related businesses.

Behind the scenes at Forest GrillThe bureau serves Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Boyne City, which are well-known for wines, whitefish and morel mushrooms.

For example, people pick mushrooms in the woods and learn how to cook them, Dakins said.

“Farms and farmers’ markets create jobs and also are a stop for tourists,” Dakins said.

Cooking classes in restaurants and hotels have attracted many customers, Lorenz said. For example, Zazios in Kalamazoo has a Chefs Table, where customers learn from a chef how to make food and then eat it.

Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs at the Michigan Restaurant Association said developing culinary tourism is particularly important to the hospitality industry.

Deloney said many people have a misconception that they must go to New York, San Francisco or Chicago for both great travel and dinning experiences.

“In Michigan we have lots of fantastic restaurants, too,” he said.

Deloney said the conference will increase awareness of Michigan’s dining destinations and build connections among businesses.

The Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations conference in East Lansing is being organized by the Culinary Tourism Alliance in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Travel Michigan and the Restaurant Association.

Absolute Michigan Giveaway: 2009 Epicurean Classic in St. Joseph

Tasting Tent II by farlane
Tasting Tent II by farlane

The 2009 Epicurean Classic takes place St. Joseph August 28 – 30, 2009. It’s one of the premier annual celebrations of culinary artisanship, drawing big name chefs from around the nation and world who lead classes & cooking presentations and mingle in a relaxed and unimaginably tasty setting. Add in wines and wineries from all over the world and food & kitchen supply vendors sampling their wares and you will see why many people count this as one of Michigan’s signature events.

Suzanne E. of Lansing was selected as the winner of a pair of Gourmand Passes for the Classic. Click above to get YOUR tickets now!

Enjoy a taste of the Epicurean Classic in this video from Scott Allman Productions and be sure to attend – you will not be sorry!

2009 Rothbury Ticket Giveaway Is Over!

After tallying the votes from an enormous number of submissions we have identified our winner. Drum roll please……

“I moved from Michigan to Florida this January for work. People said “Florida in the winter….wow, you’re lucky” and “you got a job in this economy, man, you’re lucky”. Well let me tell you something my Michigan friends….you can take a man out of Flint, but you’ll never take the Flintstone out of the Man. Give me one excuse to leave this this oceanside resort for a reunion with the best people in the world, my Michigander soul people, and I won’t be taking Interstate 75 south again. This Michigan Man is ready to find a way to join all the spirited people celebrating our nations birth with some Great Times in the Great Lakes…..and I thank you for bringing me home!!! Say Yeah to Rothbury, the best music line up of the year….Say Yes to Me in M!ch!gan!!!”

Stace S

Rothbury by Dave Vann

Rothbury Snoop Dogg Crowd by Dave Vann

We are pleased to announce that just as we did last year we are having another Rothbury Ticket Giveaway thanks to the very generous festival organizers. This year we will be giving away a pair of 4 day GA Tickets camping included!

Tickets can still be purchased and just like last year’s Rothbury Festival they are offering a variety of packages to suit all lifestyles. Unique to this year’s festival are the 2 day Saturday & Sunday tickets.

About the Rothbury Music Festival

This year the Rothbury Music Festival takes place July 2-5, 2009 in Rothbury, Michigan (near Muskegon). RothburyFour days of music on six stages feature some of the biggest musical acts around including THE DEAD • BOB DYLAN AND HIS BAND • THE STRING CHEESE INCIDENT • WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY • THE BLACK CROWES • DAMIAN ‘JR. GONG’ MARLEY & NAS • STS9 • G. LOVE & SPECIAL SAUCE • GOV’T MULE • UMPHREY’S MCGEE • BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE • YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND • and about a jillion others!

The festival also will be showcasing “Circus & Theater“, a feature that demonstrates the festival’s commitment to the performing arts and theatrical culture.

All kinds of interesting Environments & Experiences where you can wander through the Sherwood Forest and stumble upon its many mysteries. Put your hands on some great new gadgets and games at the Festival’s Epicenter or wake up and get loose in a unique yoga journey.

The Rothbury Think Tank will be focused on finding energy independence and feature the innovators, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, celebs, and rabble rousers who – in this time of economic, energy and climate crisis – are offering a green path to a brighter future.

Rothbury in Video and Pictures

Checkout more Rothbury videos on their YouTube channel!

There is also this awesome slideshow from Rothbury 2008 via Flickr…

Live from the 2009 Boyne City Morel Festival

Editor’s Note: We originally planned for this to be a post-event feature, but Cherie was having so much fun that she wanted to give folks a chance to check out the rest of the festival today!

morel spring 2008 by baldo1man
morel spring 2008 by baldo1man

When an avid morel mushroom hunter stands before 250 people recounting a time when he walked out of the woods wearing only his underwear, socks and shoes, giggles burst but people listen. Finding the elusive morel is no laughing matter, but to the attendees of the morel hunting lecture at the 49th National Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in Boyne City, the entertainment was as delicious as the soup – seasoned with laughter and emboldened with rich enthusiasm.

After watching culinary guru John Sheets prepare a mouth-watering array of wild edibles, the crowd listened as native Anthony Williams recounted tales of his morel hunting lineage, sharing tricks and tips passed down through generations. Afterward, he shared a morel song accompanied by his wife, Robin Lee Berry. No one would walk away from Friday’s festivities empty-handed.

Boyne City Sunset by rickrjw
Boyne City Sunset by rickrjw

What Boyne City offers this weekend is more than just words. Yesterday organizers and volunteers from the community accompanied four bus loads of hungry hunters, through private land, to search and pick as they will again today. Experts offered suggestions and visitors shared in the excitement of discovering their first morel. Not everyone walked away with something in their sack, but each person had the opportunity to inspect this elusive mushroom–some place other than their dinner plate or produce aisle. Immediately following, attendees were invited to celebrate at the Morelfest Wine and Dine, which featured an elegant five course morel-themed dinner with wine pairings. The evening ended with live music from blues artist Larry McCray on Lake Charlevoix.

Weekend events remain and there is still time to join in the fun! Saturday (May 16) offers another full day of activities, beginning with a morel breakfast, followed by a hunting competition; there will be a cooking demonstration by an award-winning chef; a craft-fair, where you can purchase morel inspired walking sticks, wood carvings, mesh morel-picking bags, jams, jellies and many other treats; a carnival to entertain the children or satisfy the inner-child, and another chance to experience great music with Twisted Finster. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Boyne City, grab your family and friends and join in the fun!

…and just why was a morel hunter walking out of the woods in his underwear?

Apparently Tony had discovered “the mother lode” and, rather than leave them, utilized the remainder of his clothing to carry home the all the morels. Although he made no promises, with generous spirit and good humor he offered some of his secrets and instilled hope in a new generation of mushroom hunters.

Click for the all the details of the Boyne City Morel Festival or grab your Michigan map and head to Boyne City.

M is for Monday … and Midwest, MCS, Michigan Agriculture and MORELS!

Morels ! by cedarkayak
Morels ! by cedarkayak

The latest issue of Midwest Living feature on the Best Midwest Food Towns served up a platefull of restaurants in our region that might entice the culinary tourist. Their editors selected Traverse City as the #2 town and Ann Arbor #3. Also featured were a collection of recipes from Traverse City including Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce With Pasta and a Creme Fraiche from Shetler’s Dairy.

The Detroit City Council’s proposal to demolish Michigan Central Station as a means to bring in Federal stimulus dollars seemed to many to have all the brilliance of a plan to get rich quick by selling both your kidneys. Now the Detroit News reports that developer Manuel (Matty) Moroun is proposing to lease Michigan Central Station to the United States government for redevelopment. The Department of Homeland Security offices for Customs and Border Protection are seeking to lease almost 50,000 square feet of space in the Detroit area to house personnel.

Of surprise to nobody – outside of State government at least – the Detroit News is reporting that Michigan’s agricultural industry is bucking the trend of decline:

The state’s overall agricultural industry — which includes not only farming but also food processing and biofuels, wineries and beer-making — grew 12 percent to $71.3 billion in revenue in 2007, following several years of single-digit growth; 2008 figures are not yet available.

…Some 100 agri-food businesses have started in Michigan during the past five years, according to the MDA.

Imagine what we could do if we really invested in building and promoted our agricultural bounty.

Edward Vielmetti has a tasty post that includes Michigan’s morel festivals and the book How to Find Morels by Milan Pelouch. Even more about morels at Absolute Michigan keyword morel!

Michigan morels and the Boyne City Mushroom Festival

morel mushroom by Latitude 45

The Boyne City National Morel Mushroom Festival takes place May 14-17, 2009. This year is the 49th annual*, and the 4 day celebration of the morel mushroom includes a morel seminar and guided mushroom hunt on Friday and of course the Boyne Valley Lions National Mushroom Hunt on on Saturday (be sure to display your finds on the Mushroom Pole too!). In addition to the Taste of Morel event where you get to try all manner of morel dishes, there is a seminar on foraging & cooking with wild food guru John Sheets and another on hunting with local expert Tony Williams, concerts with Michigan Blues legend Larry McCray and others, there’s a carnival, euchre & poker tournaments, zany car race and plenty of fun for kids.

OnTony Williams with Morel Mushroomse of the highlights of the weekend is the “Morel Taste of Boyne” featuring a Chef’s Challenge along with the area’s finest restaurants in the big tent on Saturday afternoon serving different morel dishes and also presenting morel cooking demonstrations. This is the largest morel cooking (and eating) event in the world!

You can grab your sweetie and get warmed up with The Mushroomers Waltz and if you’re hungry,Lake Magazine has a recipe for morel & hazelnut soup that looks very simple but very tasty! Chef Eric Villegas of the TV show Fork in the Road offers a recipe for midwestern risotto of carnaroli and minnesota wild rice, morel mushrooms and white truffle oil that looks more complex but every bit as tasty. reminds you that you can eat any mushroom … once. They offer tips to help keep you safe, but the biggest tip is to hunt with someone who knows what they’re doing! Boyne City Mushroom Festival historical photoSpeaking of hunting, here’s a video interview of morel expert Tom Nauman that gives you a couple useful tips for morel hunting.

If you can’t attend the Mushroom Festival and can’t get to any morel-filled woods, you can still get morels (and leeks and other tasty treasures) courtesy of Michigan-based Earthy Delights.

Visitors will want to visit the Boyne City Chamber of Commerce and/or try Absolute Michigan keyword “Boyne” for lodging and other information. I thought it was pretty funny that the best article online about the Boyne City Mushroom Festival is from a Pittsburgh, PA newspaper. It’s from May of 2003 but has great background on the festival with a focus on the National Mushroom Hunting Championship. Check out Boyne City mushroom championship has no lack of morels.

* Next year the 50th annual takes place May 13 – 16, 2010 – they are seeking recipes for a commemorative cookbook, so send them if you have them!

2nd Annual Chef’s Challenge at Shanty Creek ~ April 24-26

chefs-challengeLooking for a way to heat up your springtime in Northern Michigan? Look no further than the   Springtime Splendor Week at the 2nd Annual Chef’s Challenge at Shanty Creek. What could be more fun than a food fight? A little healthy competition in celebration of the greatest food and food talent that Michigan has to offer?

The finest Chef teams from Northern & Southern Michigan will again compete in the 2nd Annual event at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire on April 24-26. The event celebrates Springtime Splendor Week in Michigan, and highlights Michigan’s great Agricultural diversity and growing wine & micro-brew industries.

The North vs. South competition on Saturday will again feature fantastic entrée samplings by twelve Chef teams, complimented by fine Michigan wine and micro-brew tastings. North & South winning teams will be chosen by the public and several professional culinary judges, and face off in an “Iron Chef” competition dinner that evening. Chef Eric Villegas of “Fork in the Road” TV fame, and Chef Michelle Bommarito, frequent participant on Food Channel competitions, are among the judges at the Iron Chef show-down.

hazelnut-chocolate pastries by Ledio
hazelnut-chocolate pastries by Ledio

Proceeds from the Chef’s Challenge benefit Challenge Mountain, an organization dedicated to providing adaptive outdoor recreational equipment to persons with developmental challenges.

Complete details are available at or call (231) 535-2227.

You might also want to check out the Chef Challenge promo featuring event organizer and local food promoter Joe Breidenstein.