Beginnings

Stir on the Road

Taking the Path Less Traveled for a Far Greater Experience

Stir on the Road (SOTR) is the travel component to Stir, Barbara Lynch’s demonstration kitchen and cookbook store, where guests are treated to backstage access that connects them directly to what’s on the plate and in the glass. In an intimate group, SOTR participants meet farmers, winemakers, and artisans to learn firsthand the provenance of revered ingredients. Chef Barbara Lynch sees it as the ultimate guest relations program: “We love to interact with our guests and give them a taste of the very best an area has to offer.”

Four years ago, Merrick Gilroy, Stir’s general manager, jumped at the chance to take the educational component out of the room and onto the road. The first SOTR was a culinary and historical exploration of Philadelphia. Still, the goal was to take a group overseas.

A year later, that goal was realized with a trip to Piedmont, Italy. Piedmont is a gem among Italy’s breadbasket that has inspired a worldwide love affair with Italian cuisine over the centuries, and so it’s really the perfect destination for SOTR.

“Those mountains are where hazelnuts and white truffles come from, and home to some of our favorite villages that yield Barolo and Barbaresco,” Merrick explains, passionately. “We aren’t traveling through sunbaked Tuscany or along the sandy shores of the Amalfi Coast. This is off the beaten path for many Americans. We want to showcase a special place that they might not otherwise be encouraged to explore.”

The Piedmont trip was a matter of happenstance. A good friend of Chef Barbara offered as a home base her renovated farmhouse on an estate in the middle of the Langhe. From there, Barbara plugged in her connections within the local food and wine scene: a winemaker with a centuries-old wine cellar; a truffle hunter game to take a group out looking for truffles before cooking for them; kitchen tours of tiny, authentic trattorias. Weaving in Merrick’s own travels in the region, the result is a harmonious blending of experiences afforded by “being in the know” from the perspective of someone who’s still hungry for it. For while Merrick seamlessly pulls it all together as the trip’s “attaché,” it’s evident that he gets as much out of the trips as everyone else.

Size matters—and in this case, Merrick thinks keeping it small is a big part of the appeal. “Most guided tours are much larger. But with a maximum capacity of 12, we can do a lot more on a local level and connect our guests with the craftsmen who live here.” That is Barbara’s ultimate goal: to break down barriers about the food and wine and showcase not just the ingredients, but also the people who make them. “Meeting the winemaker behind a bottle you love is like meeting a rock star, in a sense,” says Merrick. “These are names and labels you recognize and have revered for a long time. To understand firsthand that their way of life has not changed much over decades, that every day they fulfill their passion in passing down a love letter about their craft from generation to generation, is incredible. To meet them as they wipe the soil off of their hands before shaking yours is surreal.”

Go to stirboston.com/sotr this January to confirm dates for our SOTR trip to Austria in August and Piedmont in October.

The Grand Tour of Piedmont is in its third year, and a new four-day Truffle Boot Camp gives guests the chance to learn in-depth cooking techniques and regional traditions. Next year, Merrick is developing a Sir on the Road to Austria. “People think of the Alps and The Sound of Music. We want to showcase the other side of Austria: the complexity of the foods we don’t think about beyond schnitzels and pastries, like pumpkin seed pesto, and the wine country that has heavily influenced Cat’s wine program.” In fact, Cat collaborates each year with two Austrian winemakers to create BLG proprietary wines: Heinrich Red Heart Red Cat from the Burgenland region, and Loimer Grüner Veltliner Cuvée Cat for B&G Oysters from the Kamptal region. Yes, meeting both winemakers is on the Exploring Austria agenda.

SOTR is not only culinary. The communal aspect of a small group is very much a part of the experience. Merrick highlights a ritual of taking all the guests to soak in the local hot springs of Piedmont after they leave the city of Turin. “We all soak together in the natural thermal waters to decompress and cleanse from the urbanity before we move into the countryside. It’s the same baths Romans established, because they too found them relaxing, and it’s in this common connection that I think the foreign becomes more relatable.”

SOTR is a life-changing experience, part and parcel to the educational component that Barbara Lynch carefully imparts on all her guests, making accessible the experiences that were part of her own culinary foundation. After all, it’s what her legacy is all about. For Merrick, SOTR is a dream come true. “To follow my passion for traveling and food, as well as inspire others to do the same—it doesn’t get much better than that.”