How an international development consultant started a culinary tourism business in Romania
Thorsten Kirschner is born in Germany. He travelled around the world – Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe – working as an export consultant for the private sector and later on as a development consultant for international donor organisations, like the German development cooperation GIZ or the European Union. His job brought him to Romania in 2009. His wife Juranda, who was born in Bucharest, returned to her home country with him having left at the age of 18. The couple originally met in Paris, where Juranda had been living for many years.
Investing in Slow Food
After visiting the Dealu Mare wine area, where Juranda’s family comes from, Thorsten decided to start a new chapter in his life. “I saw the immense unexploited tourism potential in the area and realised that I could do something different”, explains Thorsten.
In 2011, Thorsten and Juranda founded the tourism development association TravelBuzau and moved to Rătești, a small village in the Buzău valley, where they bought the abandoned Grigorescu mansion that was built in 1930. ”Travelling around Romania, I saw so many beautiful but empty buildings, so I decided to buy one and to renovate it,” said Thorsten. The Grigorescu mansion became the family home, office space, head office of the tourism development association and, a bit later, head office of Terra Carpatica – a new company that Thorsten and Juranda do not refer to as a business, but as a “sustainable lifestyle concept built around culinary topics.”
Juranda is an economist, but she has always had a great passion for cooking. And Thorsten is now finally following in his family’s footsteps, his grandparents were owners of a country restaurant and his father had a local delicatessen shop in Germany.
Terra Carpatica aims to promote the unspoiled culinary treasures of the Carpathian Mountains. Thorsten and Juranda are addicted to the slow food concept. “The French call it ‘terroir’ – environmental conditions, especially soil and climate – that give a unique flavour and aroma to high quality products that grow in a particular regional area,” explains Thorsten. “Buzău valley is blessed with an extraordinary climate: 2,000 hours of sunshine and wind-protected hills offer perfect conditions for the growth of vegetables and fruits.”
Truffles and Cooking Classes
Thorsten and Juranda share their culinary passion with their guests. They offer private dining, culinary events and team building for smaller groups at the mansion. For those who want to learn more about local products and Romanian fusion cuisine, Juranda is offering cooking classes. Truffles can be found in the surrounding area. One of Thorsten’s leisure time pursuits is to go to the forests with his own specially trained truffle dog. Two years ago, Thorsten and Juranda started producing small batches of high quality artisanal food (i.e. Truffle Zacuscă or jams), that can be bought as a souvenir at Otopeni airport or in specialized groceries.
The garden and orchard of Grigorescu mansion provides the majority of the products used for the private events, the cooking classes and the artisanal food production: herbs, spices, tomatoes, aubergines, plums and many more. Everything is grown organically and without artificial fertilisers. Other products including meat, come directly from local producers.
Thorsten cannot hide his background as a development consultant in his new role in rural Romania: “There is a huge potential for rural tourism if people come to understand the value of using the natural treasures their country has in abundance. Tourists love local Romanian produce and if we manage to market this country abroad properly to include the wonderful local farmers and their delicious produce and all the other service providers along the tourism value chain, we can significantly boost the regional development and that would be good for everyone.”