Lesbian-owned food travel company celebrates 20 years

Tour de Forks guests prepping shrimp.
Tour de Forks guests Aimee Stokes, left, and her sister, Ashlee Goodman, center, prepping shrimp during one of the cooking classes on the Sicily tour in May 2022.
Tour de Forks

Before food travel was a “thing,” two lesbian New Yorkers seized an opportunity when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s. Out of work and sitting in their apartment, Lisa Goldman and Melissa Joachim turned to each other and decided to start a company.

Two decades later, the women have taken culinary adventures with guests to 12 countries and more than 35 destinations with Tour de Forks. There are guests of different ages, genders, and sexual orientations. Tour de Forks survived 9/11, the Great Recession, and the pandemic — and now they’re celebrating a 20-year anniversary.

“We’re thrilled,” said Joachim, president of Tour de Forks. Goldman, the vice president, added that the company “been such a gift.”

The women’s favorite destinations are Sicily, Italy, and Mexico, in the Yucatan capital, Merida. The couple is celebrating Tour de Forks’ 20th anniversary at five of its top destinations (mostly in Italy), four of which are with out lesbian Michelin-starred chef Anita Lo.

The trips are gifts that continue giving long after they have ended.

“People get to keep sharing stories and recipes with their friends and families when they go home,” Goldman said.

The Yucatan is already sold out. Spots on the Sicily and Pantelleria, Italy trips are going quickly. Liguria and the Langhe and East Long Island, slated for later in the year, are still open.

“The [trips] energized me to travel again, especially after the pandemic,”said Aimee Stokes, who has gone on three Tour de Forks trips: Portugal, Sicily, and the Yucatan. “They made it feel comfortable and safe.”

Sicily was Stokes’ favorite trip so far, she said. She went on the trip with her sister, Ashlee Goodman, for her 50th birthday in May 2022.

“I have nothing but love for those ladies,” said Stokes, who has become friends with Goldman, Joachim, and Lo. “I just adore them as people too.”

Tour de Forks founders and owners Melissa Joachim, left, and Lisa Goldman, right, at Mount Etna
Tour de Forks founders and owners Melissa Joachim, left, and Lisa Goldman, right, at Mount Etna during one of their tours to Sicily, Italy.Tour de Forks

The Anita factor

That first Australian trip in 2003 was also when the couple and travel company owners met Lo, who won a trip with Tour de Forks through a contest run by Meat and Livestock Australia in the now-defunct Food Arts, a magazine for chefs and restaurant industry professionals. The women became friends.

Lo, a celebrity chef, won the top prize on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and Food Network’s “Iron Chef,” among other shows. The 56-year-old second-generation Malaysian American lesbian garnered Michelin stars for nine consecutive years and accolades at her now-shuttered Greenwich Village restaurant, Annisa. Lo closed Annisa in 2017.

That same year, Lo joined the Tour de Forks team on a part-time basis to lead and sell group tours and consult for the company.

Lo teaches hands-on cooking classes based on her take on the regional cuisine.

“It’s so much fun,” Lo said. “I would do like my take on that sort of thing and then we eat it, which is great,” she said.

Love for eating and traveling

Considering starting a business after the dot-com fallout, Goldman and Joachim started to make a list based on one small piece of advice they were given about starting a business: “Do what you love to do.”

Joachim, a graphic and web designer, visited New York during a trip to the United States in 1990 and never went back to Australia. Six years later, she met and fell in love with Goldman and they’ve been together 26 years.

“Melissa has friends who are chefs there,” Goldman said. “We would always have these amazing experiences.”

Tour de Forks was born in 2003. The pioneering culinary travel company launched its first tour to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. Culinary travel wasn’t “being done or common at that time at all,” Goldman said.

Another uncommon feature of the company at the time was it ran small group tours as well as bespoke vacations. The company caps group trips at 12 guests.

“Everybody wants to eat well on their vacation, even if you don’t want to do any culinary activities,” Goldman said. “But all the better if you do.”

Stokes can’t wait for her next Tour de Forks trip.

“I keep getting the [Tour de Forks] newsletter,” Stokes said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, well, where can we go next?’”

While she would like to return to Sicily with her fellow travelers on the next Tour de Forks trip, she’s eyeing Greece, Japan, or Thailand as her next destination with the company.