TRAVERSE CITY -- Nancy Muha and Sue Denio sat at a snug corner table in The Cooks' House ready to dine on a lunch composed of fresh northern Michigan products.
It was the Traverse City sisters' first visit to the downtown restaurant known for its selection of local, sustainable cuisine. But they've been to several other restaurants in the area, and they believe the region can hold its own with the nation's finest culinary destinations.
"We find that Traverse City is as good as any place we go," Muha said. "If anything, it's better."
A new state-wide initiative is underway to increase the amount of Michigan-made products offered at restaurants through the state. The Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance will bring the state's restaurant, food production and tourism interests together to promote the sale of locally produced goods ranging from wines and hand-crafted beers to specialty fruits and vegetables.
"If we can highlight our culinary offerings ... it's a good contributor to economic activity," said Linda Jones of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, an organization in the state Department of Agriculture that will spearhead the effort.
Eric Patterson, co-owner of The Cooks' House, said the Grand Traverse region is a "gold mine" of local food and drink and it makes sense to promote it as such.
"The things that are being offered up here are as good as anything you're going to find anywhere else in the world, I'm convinced of that," he said. "If you look at what's being grown, and the quality of what's being grown, it's world class."
Ted Cizma, executive chef at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, said a surge in national media attention to all things culinary helped spur interest in culinary tourism. The region already has a strong reputation for good local food, he said.