NEW YORK—Vipin Goyal and his wife left their jobs, sold almost all of their belongings, and bought two plane tickets. For six months they traveled around the world.
Yet after having many remarkable experiences, the pair yearned to keep the adventures coming after arriving back in New York.
“I felt like we were three-year-old kids, always curious about everything and wide-eyed, and so we got back to New York, and I didn’t want to go back to the same five bars or the same ten restaurants with the same 20 people,” said Goyal.
“We’re surrounded by all of these fascinating people who are doing crazy, interesting, remarkable things every single day,” said Goyal, “and if we could step into their shoes for an hour or two, how much would that enrich our experiences?”
So Goyal started SideTour, a website that lists different experiences experts are offering to people in the New York metro region looking for new things to do.
Offerings include dinner with the casting director of HBO’s Homeland, learning how to de-shell a live lobster with a Japanese chef, and hanging out with former rock star photographer Michael Halsband. Recent SideTour experiences have included an afternoon on a nearby farm and a night of learning about and tasting high-end chocolate.
Experiencing Something Different
The goal when traipsing through Hartshorne Park? Find mushrooms.
“They’ll grow in old oak trees, or at the base of oak trees, or in oak leaf litters, so sometimes you’ll find them actually sprouted out of the ground,” said Megan Paska. “They usually like old hardwoods, so that’s usually what you want to be on the lookout for.”
Paska and her partner Neil Despres recently started farming on a yoga retreat in Highlands, N.J., overlooking the Navesink River, a 10-minute car ride after 45 minutes on a ferry from East 34th Street.
Paska taught SideTour beekeeping classes in Brooklyn prior to moving to New Jersey, as well as instructed at venues including the New York Botanical Gardens.
Paska and Despres have a range of animals, from three dairy goats to 60 egg-laying chickens.
After showing the group of four the animals, and incorporating a late arrival, we were in the forest looking for dinner.
“It’s something different,” said Stephani Zuckman who lives with her husband near Columbus Circle. The two-hour tour (it ran a little long) felt like a good block of time, “not too much of a commitment,” said Zuckman.
“I think we could find these things on our own, it’s just easy,” she added. “The whole thing is easy.”
After finding pounds of mushrooms the group headed back to the farm to cook them. After snacking on some fresh goat cheese, the meal was served with a salad of greens and tomatoes, freshly picked from the garden.
A Night With a Maître Chocolatier
“This is so beautiful,” said Christine Battagila, watching chocolate become tempered.
At Neuhaus on Madison Avenue, Mehdi Chellaoui told a dozen people about the history of chocolate and helped the group temper warm chocolate, or stir a liquid and solid chocolate combination into a smooth crystallization.
“Start with warm chocolate. You cool it down until the cocoa butter starts crystallizing, and the cooler it gets the faster it crystallizes, the more it crystallizes, and then the next step would be to heat it back up,” instructed Chellaoui while adding warm chocolate from a faucet into a bowl where the chocolate had hardened too much.
Bringing to life the art of chocolate making, Chellaoui taught about how the Aztecs and Mayans reverently gave chocolate to their soldiers and royalty. He also explained the three main varieties of cocoa beans.
After the groups had tempered the chocolate, the bowls were combined in a larger bowl, which Chellaou then dumped onto a slab and began swiftly tempering until it was ready to dip small pastries in.
Experiences begin at $30 and are typically not above $60
Battagila of Staten Island brought her two daughters along, one is in high school and the other a student at Fordham University. She had seen SideTour advertised at her one daughter’s internship and was already signed up for two other tours. Joining them was Laine and Barbara Cialdella.
After the pastries were dipped in chocolate they were added to a box with four chocolates and wrapped up as a gift.
Who would Laine be giving the gift to?
“No one,” she said, laughing. “I’m eating them myself.”
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