Editor’s note: I attended and loved last year’s Eat Retreat in eastern Pennsylvania. Immersive and playful experiences like it are rare, and I recommend it to anyone with a deep interest in food and drink. Over four days, I foraged, helped build an outdoor pizza oven, prepared a meal alongside professional chefs, tasted honeys from around the world and regularly stayed up until 3:00 a.m. while belting out Alanis Morissette around a campfire. If this sounds like your kind of happy place, I encourage you to apply.
Eat Retreat, the annual gathering of food makers and doers, began as a way for Kathryn Tomajan to bring together a network of food professionals to exchange ideas and share their projects. Inspired by her peers’ work, Tomajan—an olive miller and certified olive-oil taster—wanted to create a collaborative environment where a talented food and drink network could cross-pollinate.
Fast forward to this September 17–20, when Eat Retreat will convene in Lake Delavan, Wisconsin, for its sixth iteration. Like the past five, the event will take place over three days on the grounds of a summer camp. Eat Retreat has bounced back and forth from coast to coast until now, attracting a bevy of New Yorkers, Californians and a few folks in between. By setting up camp in the Midwest, the hope is that its national presence will grow as a different audience will have easier access to the program.
Tomajan relied on the power of social media and word of mouth for the first Eat Retreat in Sonoma County in 2011. She accepted 30 of 100 applicants, and although Tomajan calls the first Eat Retreat “100 percent experimental,” it was clear that something special had happened. “There is a deep hunger for people to have face-to-face interactions and relationship building time in the age of smart phones and technology,” she says. “The idea of spending three to four days in the woods really enables that intense summer-camp-style bonding.”
Heather Thomason, Tomajan’s now producing partner and collaborator, says that they spend over a year scouting a new location. Requirements include a summer campgrounds complete with cabins and a commercial kitchen space, as well as an area that is rich with local food and drink producers (yes, there will be a lots of cheese in Wisconsin this year). Tomajan and Thomason have spent considerable time meeting with the makers of the area and familiarizing themselves with the region. “We spend so much time getting to know the area and all the people so it’s a really exciting thing to bring people in and share,” says Thomason. “It’s been a year, so we’re pretty attached.”
When the gathering finally takes place, picklers, butchers, chefs, food writers, farmers, foragers and more will meet for a few days of intense skill sharing, networking, idea exchanging and a lot of cooking and eating.
If you are a food professional and would like to attend Eat Retreat, you have until Friday, June 3, to apply. It costs $15 to submit your form, and if you’re selected, you’ll have to pay $675 (they do offer scholarships). Thomason says she looks for a candidate who possesses “a curiosity and a collaborative spirit,” as well as a desire to both share and learn from others.