Story by Dulcy B. Hooper

Atticus Lyon and Roberta Marcenaro-Lyon collect extraordinary experiences the way some people collect stamps. The pair have traveled the globe, meeting and mingling with world-class chefs, hoteliers and restaurateurs. Their background was perfect training for founding Forever Gourmet, the couple’s culinary experience business, headquartered in Middleburg.

While Forever Gourmet has years of experience staging exclusive culinary events in the U.S. and Europe, it had never done so on a mass, commoditized scale. That, however, changed when Lyon realized that an opportunity existed for a company to take unique experiences and make them broadly accessible.

“There are a lot of experience platforms out there, but they all suffer from the same problem,” he said.  “The inventory is largely identical. Because most of these sites are aggregators, they list the same uninspired mass-market experiences – foodie walking tours, pasta-making classes or trips to overcrowded tourist landmarks.”

Lyon said while that may have moved the needle five years ago, today’s consumers are much too discerning for watered-down experiences.

(Above: Dishes prepared by Chef Cerea.)

“It’s the ‘Instagram effect,’” he said. “When you’ve already seen your friends share a similar experience, it loses part of its impact. Travel and culinary experiences are social currency now, and routine, touristy events are devalued. Think of it as experiential inflation – what was unique and compelling yesterday may not resonate as much today.”

So how did one small Middleburg company crack the code to creating truly memorable experiences at scale? “We’re not a group of software developers who built a marketplace to aggregate listings,” Lyon said. “We are deeply steeped in the culinary world. My wife, Roberta, was practically born in her mother’s restaurant in Liguria, Italy. We’ve been staging events with great chefs for years.” Lyon said this history is critical not only in terms of designing exclusive experiences, but in executing them. 

“We know the kinds of experiences people want, because we’ve created so many of them. Now, through our global marketplace, we are able to do it at scale. We’re working with some of the leading names in the food, hospitality, and travel industries to create extraordinary experiences that people can book directly through Forever Gourmet.”

One of their extraordinary experiences happening at Salamander Resort & Spa, a regular partner with Forever Gourmet. This event, held March 6-8, will feature fashion icon Anna Fendi and Chef Enrico (Chicco) Cerea of three-starred Da Vittorio. (Original plans had included Chef Bobo Cerea, Chicco’s younger brother who is also with Da Vittorio.) Chef Cerea will cook two six-course gourmet meals, host a cooking class, and prepare a gourmet brunch. All meals are designed to be perfectly paired with wines from Anna Fendi’s new wine collection. 

(Above left: Chef Chicco Cerea. Right: Anna Fendi.)

“Meeting, cooking and eating with Chef Cerea is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Lyon said. “Da Vittorio is one of only 11 restaurants in Italy with three Michelin stars, and the brothers are among Italy’s most celebrated culinary personalities. And Anna Fendi – while she’s best known for building the House of Fendi, she’s also a world-class wine-maker. Her wine collection has been extremely well received, and the opportunity to enjoy these wines with a perfectly paired meal from one of the world’s most talented chefs is bound to be nothing short of incredible.”

For Atticus and Roberta Marcenaro-Lyon, however, it’s just one more in a long line of unique experiences they are delighted to share. ML

This article first appeared in the March 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.