Any trip that begins with finagling a country ham through customs and ends with a concert in the street is bound to produce colorful stories.
But the voyage Paducah delegates recently took to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, provided more than anecdotes to tell the folks back home.
The artists, musicians and culinary specialists who participated in the Sabores y Saberes festival there said they returned to Kentucky with a new perspective on culture, both foreign and local.
"I walked away with a different mentality of what it is my city has to offer," said Sara Bradley, chef proprietor at Freight House restaurant. "We (in Paducah) are this perfect meld of hospitality and culture, class and good food, art and music. We have everything."
San Cristobal, a UNESCO City of Craft and Folk Art, invited Paducah to celebrate its inaugural artisanal and gastronomic festival, which translates to "Flavors and Knowledge," from Feb. 2-5.
"The goal of the event was … to bring together cities of gastronomy and cities of craft and folk art to celebrate and contemplate the connection between those two creative fields," said Laura Oswald, marketing director for the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Those (arts) are universal. There's not so much of a language barrier when you're working with your hands or tasting food," Oswald said.
The festival also drew representatives from Icheon, South Korea; Ensenada, Baja California; and Popayan, Colombia, to the mountainous city in Chiapas, Mexico.
Paducah delegates included Mayor Brandi Harless; musicians Nathan Brown, Todd Anderson, Josh Coffey and Nathan Lynn; Bradley and her sous-chef; Paducah School of Art & Design's fiber artist in residence, Lexie Millikan; Maiden Alley Cinema Executive Director Landee Bryant-Greene, and representatives from the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Harless noted the trip marked the first time "creatives" outnumbered administrative staff at a Creative Cities event.
"People from around the globe experienced Paducah's unique food, music and art. 'Elevate the importance of the artist' turned out to be a theme of the festival and a commitment participants made," Harless said in an email to The Sun.
She added that she plans to release a document that explains funding for the Creative Cities trip soon.
Oswald said the CVB's tourism development fund covered some of the costs of the trip, while a local host provided free accommodations. Many participants took off work from hourly jobs and paid for some or all of their own expenses. Funds for the mayor's flights and some travel-related expenses came from the city budget, Oswald added.
The festival included four core "sections" -- tastings, an expo-fair, plenary sessions and discussions, and cultural exchange opportunities, Oswald said.
For Bradley, Saberes y Sabores provided a chance both to showcase Kentucky cuisine -- including the ham that Oswald said required special paperwork, and Bradley's own family recipe for "Fancy Pants" banana pudding -- and to learn more about cooking in San Cristobal.
Bradley discovered new cuts of meat, new colors of chicken and a variety of herbs native to the region and said menu changes will be coming to Freight House.
Others took the opportunity to craft pottery with South Korean artisans, play songs with mariachi musicians and share folk traditions.
"Hopefully (we) did what we were supposed to do: Go down there and show Paducah is where you want to come and travel," Bradley added.
"What we've been able to do is bring back what we've learned. … It gives you new insight into everything, and that's what the experience is about."