World Regions of Gastronomy build stronger connections at their 27th meeting

14 international guests from 11 awarded and candidate regions gathered in Aseer, World Region of Gastronomy awarded 2024 to celebrate the 27th World Regions of Gastronomy Platform meeting (22-25 April), exchanging best practices and knowledge with the local stakeholders. Hosted by the Culinary Arts Commission of the Ministry of Culture of Saudi Arabia, the international group had the opportunity to visit several projects unfolding across Aseer, each aimed at enriching and championing the local food culture.

The Platform meeting opened on 22 April, with the 10th IGCAT Experts Meeting that offered valuable insights and experiences from different World and European Regions of Gastronomy.

On 23 April, after a special Saudi breakfast at Abha Castle Heritage restaurant, the Platform visited the College of Hospitality and Tourism at King Khalid University in Abha, appreciating their commitment to empowering students to become regeneration leaders and raise the standards of the local hospitality industry. Furthermore, they discovered the efforts of the university’s Centre of Bee Research and its Products to preserve the local bee varieties and considered the challenges of getting new generations into beekeeping.

Tackling food waste was the topic discussed at the Preservation of Grace Association, a first of its kind NGO that, with the help of over 16.000 volunteers, collects, repackages and distributes food leftovers from restaurants and private homes to families in need, covering 6 provinces in the Aseer region.

Platform members were also able to learn about the work of Aljanub Women’s Association that, with the support of the Culinary Arts Commission, organises training programmes in hospitality, cooking and entrepreneurship to empower local women and ensure they become economically independent by finding a job or starting their own businesses.

Together with representatives from the Saudi Tourism Authority, the international group explored The Vineyard tourist organic grape farm, the first structure in Aseer to develop agro-tourism experiences. A member of Aseer Slow Food network, the farm strives to preserve local fruit plant varieties and offer memorable visitor experiences.

To conclude the day, the Platform had the chance to taste an incredible variety of delicious foods made by local food businesses at the Street Food initiative promoted by the Culinary Arts Commission as a brand-new event for the Aseer, World Region of Gastronomy title year.

24 April represented another amazing day of visits and learning, starting from Sadaf restaurant, a small business in Abha offering both traditional and innovative dishes based on locally sourced ingredients. From the owner, the Platform discovered the challenges of creating a new business model inspired by Aseer’s traditional spirit of hospitality, but at the same time apt to welcome national and international visitors through an enticing menu and a contemporary setting.

The group visited then the Rejal Almaa Honey Cottage, a family-run visitor centre devoted to beekeeping and honey-making that successfully combines tradition, innovation, sustainability, education, and edutainment. With 3000 hives scattered around the Aseer region, the honey cottage produces several types of honey whose flavour and texture depend on the different plant varieties that their bees pollinate. The day ended with a traditional dinner served by chef Ali Al-Assas.

On the final day (25 April), while some of the Platform members joined the jury panel for IGCAT’s 5th World Food Gift Challenge at King Khalid University, the rest of the group visited the offices of the Aseer Development Authority. There, together with representatives from the Saudi Tourism Authority and Saudi Arabia’s Heritage Commission, they attended a best practices session chaired by Head of Research and Preservation of Culinary Assets at the Culinary Arts Commission, Ir. Majed Almuhanna and including presentations on:

  • the Master Plan of Aseer Development Authority;
  • the Soudah Development conservation programme to sustain the local juniper tree;
  • Azka Food’s documentation of wild plants use in gastronomy in collaboration with Slow Food and the Culinary Arts Commission.

The 27th World Regions of Gastronomy Platform meeting concluded with the 5th World Food Gift Challenge award ceremony held at King Khalid University. The ceremony was an occasion for the Culinary Arts Commission to present trophies in recognition of the work and contributions of King Khalid University, Aseer Development Authority, Bunyan and the many other NGOs and visitor experiences that opened their doors to the international guests during their stay in Aseer.

About the World/European Regions of Gastronomy

World/European Regions of Gastronomy, guided by IGCAT, are working together to strengthen food security through the celebration of distinctive food cultures; create employment by stimulating creativity and gastronomic innovation; nourish children and adults through culinary and cultural education; driving environmental sustainability in tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors; supporting balance and sustainable tourism practices; highlighting and supporting expertise from within rural and urban communities, creating connections and sharing good practices; and contributing to community health and well-being.

About IGCAT

IGCAT aims to empower local communities by raising awareness of the importance of protecting and promoting distinct regional food, culture, arts and natural assets as part of sustainable and balanced tourism and development strategies. This is essential to safeguarding our planet, health, wellness and local economies.

IGCAT is a non-profit institute established in 2012, working with regional stakeholder consortiums in the fields of gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism. It counts on the expertise of a worldwide network of experts and works in partnership with specialised intergovernmental organisations.

IGCAT founded the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award and is the official secretariat for the World/European Regions of Gastronomy Platforms. Furthermore, the Institute has developed the European Young Chef Award, the World Food Gift Challenge, the Top Websites for Foodie Travelers Award and the international Food Film Menu.