“Elegant Island Living” Article by Rhonda Geraci
There are several guided tours to help visitors discover what stole the hearts of those who live in the Golden Isles. Cristy Lenz is ready to immerse them in what warms their bellies with a spectacular St. Simons food tour. Food Tours Golden Isles is a new feature on St. Simons Island and comes at heels of Cristy’s highly acclaimed Food Tour launch in Atlanta. Cristy grew up around here near the old iron pot that commemorates its claim to Brunswick stew. She attended Glynn Academy and St. Francis. We met at Wake Up in Redfern Village for a latte and shared some of Aunt Dee’s pound cake from Sweet Mama’s.
Sitting on the porch over a vast landscape of sea grass, the marsh birds whistled their morning tune, an alligator snorted his breakfast down, and an eagle circled above us. When I asked Cristy what made her decide to bring her food tour home, her face lit up, “When I think about my childhood or what made food important for me, it was the food from this island. It was shrimp boats and riding on the shrimp boats. Growing up on St. Simons and in Brunswick, you get to know the food in a way that most people don’t, so introducing people to locally owned restaurants on St. Simons Island is sentimental to me, and it just seemed like such an awesome thing to do.”
Cristy has always been a foodie, but she was a journalist for 20 years with Fox News Network and CNN before she became a food tour guide. Her idea for a food tour came after her dream trip to Paris. “One thing that is really important to me is well-prepared food. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just must be well prepared and delicious. Finding those places when you travel is always hard because I like to eat like a local. I like to eat the things that the people who live there eat.”
She admitted she didn’t even know what a food tour was until a friend recommended she do one during her solo trip. “Instead of doing a traditional food tour, I did a cheese and wine tasting, because why wouldn’t you want to just taste cheese and wine in Paris,” I remember looking at this tour guide, and she was talking about cheese and wine and having a blast. She told us how she left her corporate job because she loved cheese and wine and it was so awesome, and she lives in Paris, and I was like what am I doing? Why am I in this corporate job when all I want to do is teach people about how to eat wine and cheese? I came back home and did the only logical thing, which was to decide to quit my job, sell my house and move to Paris to start a food tour until I realized I don’t speak French and I don’t know Paris. I did realize I do know my own backyard, which was Inman Park in Atlanta. So, I started a food tour in Inman Park.”
Her Inman Park tour expanded to several other tours in Atlanta. It launched only a year and a half ago, and already it is so popular it has five-star reviews on Trip Advisor. She explained why she believes the tours have been so successful, “I think eating is one thing, but what I also like to do is I like to showcase the community and give people an intimate experience in the neighborhood. I like people to walk around the neighborhood. I didn’t want it to be just food. I wanted to tell the people about the history of the neighborhood, about the history of the homes and the street art, about the culture of the city – because the neighborhood is more than the food. We eat, then we walk around, and we hear the history, and we talk about the architecture of the homes, and at the end, you feel like you are a local. You feel a connection to the neighborhood that makes you want to come back.”
Her favorite part of the tour is how it connects people to the community and to each other. “When you are on my tour, food brings people together in a way nothing else you do does. In the beginning, at the tasting, people are still a little nervous, they are introducing themselves they’re starting to talk, but food has a way of bringing people together, so at the end, you’ll be friends with everyone on the tour.”
Even children enjoy it. Eleven-year-old, Kaci Phillips has gone on two different Atlanta tours with Cristy and says, “You have to do the tour because if you love food, you are automatically going to love this; and what makes it better is Cristy is so much fun. She knows so much and loves food just like everybody else.” As they say, “from the mouths of babes.” There’s no denying a food tour designed by Cristy Lenz will prove to be a delight for tourists and Golden Isles residents alike.”