Discovering the cuisine unique to your destination is one of the most enjoyable parts of a vacation. After all, we all have to eat when we’re traveling!
It’s difficult enough to explain that unforgettable dining experience, but it’s even harder to reproduce it once you get home.
The good news is that a new trend in travel is inviting travelers to learn about the culture and lifestyle of regions through hands-on, immersive culinary classes.
It’s called culinary tourism, and involves visits to a region’s local markets, small classes and lessons from the experts … often inside their own home!
Cooking schools that cater to curious travelers are springing up around the world. You’ve probably heard of those fabulous cooking programs at the Ritz Paris or the Oriental Bangkok, but North America is no slouch when it comes to culinary expertise.
Here are a few to get you started:
Mexican cooking goes far beyond the burritos and quesadillas familiar to most of us. In fact, much of Mexican food is surprisingly healthy, even low fat. Just south of the U.S. border, Rancho La Puerta‘s new cooking school capitalizes on the health benefits of a “Mexican-Mediterranean” diet.
Called La Cocina Que Canta, or “The Kitchen That Sings,” the spa’s school is set in the heart of their famous six-acre organic farm that supplies the vegetables to the ranch. Top-of-the-line culinary equipment combined with hands-on demonstrations and cooking sessions allow travelers to learn how to produce an unforgettable Mexican-Mediterranean meal.
In October, guests have the option of taking one or more cooking classes, or a four-class package. Individual cooking classes run $125 each, a four-class package is offered for $425, and the demonstration classes are $60 each. When you’re not cooking or eating, be sure to take advantage of the arts and crafts classes, fitness classes, and spa services. 800-443-7565, www.rancholapuerta.com
If you’d like a more authentic taste of Mexico, visit Tlaxcala, a colonial style city founded by Cortez in 1520 that has developed a sophisticated fusion of pre-Hispanic, Spanish and French cuisines. You won’t find this particular style of gourmet cooking in your average Mexican restaurant — these recipes were kept in households for special occasions. However, the techniques are simple enough for a new student, and the flavors are complex enough to impress your friends back home.
Señora Estela Salas Silva shares recipes handed down by her grandmother over a five day course in her home, where you‘ll also be staying. The daily two hour class incorporates demonstrations, native ingredients and techniques, and hands-on participation is a must. Classes are usually limited to four to six people to ensure personal attention, which sometimes results in there being only one student!
All recipes emphasize healthy eating, and fresh ingredients are gathered on trips to the public market or straight from the garden when possible. Along with lesser-known Mexican dishes, you will learn traditional favorites such as mole poblano and chiles en nogada. Enjoy a comfortable family home atmosphere during your stay in the hacienda-style house of your instructor, which offers double rooms with private baths and fireplaces. Rates for seven days are $1,200 per person. 52-246-46-809-78, MexicanHomeCooking@yahoo.com
What’s cooking in Canada? Lots!
While Canada isn’t known for its wine or its cuisine, it soon will be. With the French influences, fresh seafood, and increasingly sought after wine (especially ice wine, a dessert wine made from grapes frozen naturally on the vine), Canada is becoming a top destination for a culinary vacation.
The Wine Country Cooking School is part of a winery at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. Canadian cuisine is a one-of-a-kind mix with British, German, and even Mennonite influences. In their hands-on cooking classes, groups of two (bring a friend!) are assisted by capable staff for slicing, dicing and cooking up a multi-course lunch using seasonal ingredients. Lunch is served in the school’s private dining room, hosted by owner Jane Langdon and her winemaker husband Joe Will. Single-day classes are available for $195 per person, and couples’ classes start $340 for two people. Two-day culinary experiences are offered the fourth weekend of each month and include overnight accommodations for $630 – $1,044 per person. 905-468-8304, www.winecountrycooking.com
The Trout Point Lodge hosts the Nova Scotia Seafood Cooking School in the summer and fall, combining luxury accommodations with hands-on culinary instruction and excursions to Nova Scotia seafood destinations. The instructors specialize in seafood and wild foods in the tradition of the French New World (Acadian, Creole and Cajun styles), and teach fundamentals such as choosing, storing and cooking seafood.
Cheesemaking is also among the variety of themes available. If you’re going with a group of six to 10 people, they are often able to customize topics and dates to fit your preference. The Trout Point Lodge is situated on the edge of the Tobeatic Wilderness and has full facilities for outdoor recreation including canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, mountain bikes, outdoor hot tubs and hiking trails. Rates start at $675 for a three-night program. 902-761-2142, www.troutpoint.com
Don’t forget that there are plenty of options for culinary vacations practically in your own backyard.
In New Orleans, Creole cooking schools abound and locals welcome visitors with open arms. The lively spices of New Orleans cooking reflects the city’s multicultural heritage that brings together French, Spanish, and Creole French sensibilities in a setting of Southern charm and romance.
At the Mardi Gras Cooking School, you may not get any beads or topless girls, but you will get to learn the history of Louisiana’s world-famous cuisine, professional techniques to create 100-year-old recipes, and the secrets of Creole seasonings. Classes are small, between two and 12 participants. A cooking school holiday for two invites guests to stay at a guest house for four days, with two full days of cooking lessons for $795. Expect to pay more if you’re aiming for a Mardi-Gras, Jazzfest, Super Bowl or New Year’s Sugar Bowl vacation. 504-945-9104, www.gumbos.net
The historic House on Bayou Road Inn is just minutes from New Orleans’ French quarter and offers not only cooking classes, but also shares the experience of West Indies Creole culture. The Inn is a two-acre “petite plantation,” with rooms filled with antiques, a pool and hot tub, screened porches, and a cooking school specializing in authentic Creole and Cajun cuisine. The classes are personalized and hands-on, taught by some of New Orleans’ top chefs.
A full New Orleans breakfast is served plantation-style at the B&B every morning, after which you can roam the Big Easy, and then take a food history walking tour of the city. Cooking classes are in the evenings, focusing on dishes such as seafood gumbo, shrimp bisque, shrimp etouffee, trout meuniere, eggs Sardou, bread pudding, pecan pie, and café au lait crème brulee. Now that you can prepare it and pronounce it– you get to eat it! Prices range from $945 to $1,045, depending on the season, including accommodation and meals. 504-945-0992, www.houseonbayouroad.com
The first step in any good recipe is to “marinate the chef” — so how about incorporating wine into your menu through a culinary vacation in Napa, California?
Not only will you be able to learn and savor incredible gourmet food, but Cooking with Julie classes feature local wines that are often poured by the vintners themselves. The ingredients come from local family farms that provide organic fruit, vegetables, herbs, artisan cheeses, wine vinegars and olive oils. Classes are taught by Julie and guest chefs who offer personalized instruction tailored to your skill level. Rates start at $1,480 per person, and include two hands-on cooking classes, a private tour of several of Napa Valley’s wineries, wine and cheese tastings every evening, and accommodations.
By Lauren VanMullem for PeterGreenberg.com
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