Love to eat, enjoy cooking and experimenting with new dishes? Maybe even consider yourself a gastronome? Then chef Gui Alinat and his wife, Caitlin, may have just the thing for you: dining in a private French chateau, visiting rustic outdoor markets and preparing foods of the locale under the guidance of professional chefs. The Alinats, who have just moved their catering business from Tampa to Largo, offer two annual culinary tours to his native Provence, France, and one to Mexico as part of their newest business. "We were going back to Provence every summer and worked as translators and guides for another company," Alinat said. "Last year, we started our own culinary travel business, Chef Scape.
"We go to markets, cook, visit wineries, sightsee, picnic, drink and eat well. The pace is relaxing and easy, as it always is in Provence."
Ditto for the culinary trip to Mexico, an "anti-Cancun vacation."
Tami Sheehan-Broadrick and her husband, Ron, who live in Lutz, took the Provence tour in July with the Alinats.
"It was fantastic," Sheehan-Broadrick said. "We saw things we would not have found on our own. My husband is an amateur chef — he does all the cooking. He picked up tips on cooking with spices and herbs hard to find in the States.
"We spent four more days in Provence after the tour and Gui and Caitlin created an itinerary for us."
Sheehan-Broadrick said she and her husband plan to take the Mexico trip next summer and return to France with the Alinats the following year.
The heart of the Alinats' business is their catering service that serves haute cuisine for every occasion, from small, private dinners and bar mitzvahs to weddings, corporate affairs and galas for as many as 300.
"Our most prestigious event is the Dali Museum's annual VIP donor party, a seated dinner for 250," Alinat said. "It will be our third year catering it."
Why are culinary trips to Provence a focus of your new travel business?
"Provence is where I was born, raised and trained as a chef," Alinat said. "I know it like the back of my hand and all my family is still there. When you come from Provence, the sense of identity is strong. Its people speak with a strong accent. They act more like Italians. They eat good, Mediterranean food and wine and take life really easy.
"The concept is sedentary travel, luxurious property, food and wine and flexibility for each client.
"In 2010, we hope to add trips to Tuscany or Spain or other areas in France."
What is your training as a chef?
"I started chef school at 16," Alinat said. "The first year was a big reality check for me. Chef training in France is culinary boot camp! It was only during the second year that I started to really enjoy it.
"After six years of chef school, I was off to work in France, England and Spain before getting to the U.S. Along the way, my culinary style developed, shaped by some of the chefs I was under and all that travel."
How many employees do you have?
"We have a full-time staff of four and a pool of 15 to 20 chefs, bartenders, servers and dishwashers that we work with regularly.
Why did you move your business from Tampa to Largo?
"My wife, Caitlin, and I now have two toddlers and we just couldn't manage such a long commute from our home in Dunedin. So here we are on Clearwater-Largo Road, where Cappy's was, closer to home and the kids' schools. Business hasn't slowed down, but we save on gas and have 10 extra hours a week.
Christina K. Cosdon can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.