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FOOD

Boston tourism officials want visitors to put their money where their mouth is

Meet Boston launches a new initiative to elevate the area as a dining destination.

Nia Grace runs Grace by Nia in the Seaport and is part of Meet Boston's new culinary initiative.Brian Samuels Photography

A few years ago, writer Lucy Huber shared a Tweet mocking our fair city’s weather, personality, cost of living, and food scene. (Full disclosure: We’ve worked together.) It went viral. Somehow, a few weeks ago, the missive resurfaced again. Maybe people were mad that it’s dark at 3 p.m. or angry about the recent drama at the Kowloon. Who knows? Regardless, the bad-food tweet was back in our feed.

Meet Boston president Martha Sheridan wants to change the cynics’ minds. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, the tourism organization introduced a culinary initiative aimed to reposition the Boston area as a dining destination. The meeting included a panel discussion moderated by restaurateur Nia Grace, with Oleana’s Ana Sortun, Nathálie and Haley.Henry’s Haley Fortier, and Soleil’s Cheryl Straughter, all part of Boston’s new gastronomic guard.

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The plan is to frame Boston as a culinary hub with a micro-site for tourists that spotlights chefs and neighborhoods; food stories and events; chef journals; videos; and more. A promising lineup was enlisted for the initial rollout, with chef-ambassadors familiar to our dining cognoscenti. They include Alcove’s Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli; Scampo’s Lydia Shire; Mida’s Douglass Williams; and Sarma’s Cassie Piuma.

There are some things that a convention bureau cannot do alone, such as push for more flexible liquor licenses or more affordable rents. But image control? That’s doable.

“I’ve always felt that Boston doesn’t get the proper respect it deserves for its extraordinary culinary scene. I don’t think people appreciate the diversity on every level. We’re pigeonholed into lobster rolls and clam chowder. That’s OK. I love lobster rolls and clam chowder. But we’re more than that,” says Sheridan, who counts Bar Mezzana and Black Lamb in the South End among her favorites.

Sheridan is accustomed to remaking culinary reputations. She joined the organization — formerly known as the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau — in 2019. Before that, she led the Providence/Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, helping to put that area on the culinary map.

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“I travel a lot, and I do think Boston’s restaurant personalities shine. I feel like there’s a lot of individualism,” says Oleana’s Sortun. “There might be a lot more options in other cities as far as more volume. But they don’t have the individuality we do. That’s what I’m trying to push: People are able to be themselves here.”

Grace refers to our historic metropolis as “seasoned,” not stodgy. Her Seaport supper club, Grace by Nia, brings an indie touch to the neighborhood, with soul food and live music.

“When you think about Boston, [you think about] sports teams, historic monuments and areas, a seafaring town. But you may not think about us as culinary stewards. You think about New York for that. But we’re right around the corner, and we’re getting it done,” she says.

Ana Sortun on the patio of Oleana in Cambridge.Matthew J. Lee



Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.