by Matt Alderton | January 10, 2018

There's a deep bench of people to whom incentive planners can turn to help them immerse attendees in a destination. Often, for instance, they turn to tour guides, who can point out local landmarks and divulge local history. Sometimes, they turn to local speakers, who can discuss professional challenges and opportunities that exist in the destination. And frequently, they turn to local entertainers, who can expose attendees to the destination's unique culture. Planners who really want their attendees to experience a destination, however, should consider an oft under-utilized resource: chefs. After all, there's no better way to get to know a city, state, or region than by tasting it, and no one is better positioned to showcase local ingredients, dishes, and flavors than a chef. Because they recognize all their chefs have to offer, many hotels and resorts have created chef-led tours that allow incentive groups to fully leverage destinations' culinary attributes. Here are six such tours:

Truffle Hunting at Il Salviatino (Florence, Italy)
As the birthplace of the Renaissance -- and the home of Michelangelo's David -- Florence is best known for its magnificent art and architecture. Its location in the heart of Tuscany, however, means that it's also known for its fine wine. And wherever there is fine wine, there undoubtedly is delicious food -- including delectable truffles, which incentive groups can forage for themselves at Il Salviatino, a 15th-century villa that is now a luxury hotel. There, attendees can join a certified truffle hunter on a culinary treasure hunt on the hotel's grounds. With the help of the hunter and his dog -- a Lagotto Romagnolo, or "lake dog," a shaggy breed that's known for truffle hunting and swimming -- guests learn the ins and outs of truffle hunting, after which they present their bounty to the chef at La Cucina del Salviatino, the hotel's restaurant, who prepares their hand-picked truffles for attendees to savor -- over a soft-cooked egg, perhaps, or pasta -- along with breathtaking views of the Florentine skyline.

Day's Experience With the Chef at Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco (Tuscany, Italy)
Another way to be fully immersed in Tuscany's culinary offerings, this 180-room resort, set on a park of more than 1,400 acres offers several different tours led by the property's chef, Alessandro Manfredini (pictured). For the Day's Experience, the chef will huddle with attendees to develop a menu personalized to their tastes, then head with them outside the property, to the medieval city of Barga, where they select ingredients from a small market, cheese shop, and other spots. The group then heads back up the hill, dons their Renaissance Tuscany apron and chef's hat, and whip up a fresh Italian feast. Once the meal is ready, attendees can enjoy their hard work while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding Serchio Valley. The property (which includes 11 meeting rooms, including a sizable auditorium that can seat up to 900) also offers a Classic Culinary Experience cooking class and a cupcake-making session.

Market Tour at JW Marriott El Convento Cusco (Cusco, Peru)
Every day, locals in Cusco, Peru, shop at San Pedro Market in order to stock up on produce, meat, and other essential groceries. The indoor market south of Plaza de Armas -- which is home to dozens of food stalls and vendors -- is therefore a mandatory stop for any tourist who seeks an authentic taste of Peruvian culture and cuisine. Attendees can get an exclusive look at it courtesy of the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, whose resident chefs regularly lead groups on guided tours of the market to meet local purveyors and sample their wares, including native fruits, proteins, and cheeses. Later, on property, attendees will join the chef for a cooking lesson during which they'll learn to prepare authentic Peruvian favorites like ceviche and lomo saltado, a traditional dish that's made with stir-fried beef, tomatoes, hot chiles, and French fries.

Date Farming at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah (Ras Al Khaimah, UAE)
The Middle East is better known for oil than for agriculture. One notable exception, however, is the humble date, a sweet and sticky fruit that grows on the date palm tree, which is sometimes called "the tree of life" since dates are one of only a few crops that grow successfully in the desert. Cultivated in the region since at least 7,000 B.C., dates are a staple of many Arab countries' cuisines, which makes them an ideal vehicle through which to discover Middle Eastern destinations -- including the United Arab Emirates, where groups can learn about dates and date farming courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Located in the northern most of UAE's seven emirates, the resort offers a chef-led excursion to a local date farm where guests can wander the palm grove and sample its large, moist, and chewy offerings. Afterwards, a date-themed cooking class gives attendees a unique way to connect with the destination via their hands and palates.

Fishing at Hilton Panama or Waldorf Astoria Panama (Panama City, Panama)
In Panama, the sweetest treat isn't fruit that grows on trees. Rather, it's fish that swim in the sea. In recognition of the country's penchant for seafood, the Hilton Panama and the Waldorf Astoria Panama offer groups the chance to take a three-hour fishing trip with Executive Chef German Ghelfi, who takes attendees on an excursion to either a lake or the Pacific Ocean. The day's catch are cooked and served by Ghelfi the same evening during a special meal at the hotel.

Gullah Cooking Lesson at French Quarter Inn (Charleston, SC)
New Orleans isn't the only American city with a thriving "French Quarter." Charleston also has one, and its cuisine is just as remarkable. That's thanks in large part to the Gullah, an ethnic group in the Lowcountry region of Georgia and South Carolina. Descended from African slaves, the Gullah have a distinct language, distinct customs, and a distinct cuisine, all of which are on display at the French Quarter Inn, where Chef Benjamin "BJ" Dennis offers an immersive culinary experience for groups that want to experience Gullah food and culture. Dennis, who previously discussed Gullah cuisine as a guest on Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" TV series, leads attendees through a local farm or farmers' market to select a bounty of local ingredients, like okra. Afterwards, he hosts them at a stately Charleston home, where he gives a private Gullah cooking lesson and serves an authentic Lowcountry meal.