Tired of hitting up famous restaurants and local food markets on your vacation? On your next trip, why not learn how to make the regional cuisine you love to eat? You can do it at any number of terrific regional cooking schools located in your favorite destinations. The programs we’ve listed below are taught in small groups of six to ten and cater to every level of home chef, from novice to expert.
Villa San Michele of Cookery, Florence, Italy
Situated in a 15th-century monastery on the outskirts of Florence, this school (photo, right) teaches students about Tuscan cuisine in eight different classes ranging from two to six days. You might go for “A Symphony of Pasta,” a three-day class on the art of pasta, or the “Single is Beautiful and Tasty Too” package, in which participants learn to prepare Italian dishes for one person. Classes are usually five-and-a-half hours each day. Guests stay in the villa itself, which has 46 rooms overlooking the surrounding Chianti vineyards. Wine-tasting trips and excursions into Florence can be arranged.
Courses start at $1,300 and include accommodations and cooking classes. Visit www.villasanmichele.com for more information.
Gourmet Retreats, Calistoga, California
It’s hard not to get into the spirit of cooking at this one-acre property in California’s beguiling Wine Country. The one- to five-day classes change focus seasonally: winter courses emphasize braising and slow cooking, summer is more about grilling. Courses are typically six hours in length and often include excursions to local olive-oil makers or beef producers. Students enjoy their meal with wine and also receive a manual with everything covered in class. There are two guest rooms on site and several bed and breakfasts within walking distance.
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Classes start at $160 ($175 with accommodations). Visit www.gourmetretreats.com for more information.
La Villa Bonita, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Located just outside of Mexico City in a traditional 16th-century hacienda, this school offers four- and seven-day classes on Mexican cuisine. The six participants start each morning by visiting the local markets with their instructor to select the ingredients for the day’s lessons, which focus on making tortillas, salsas, mole dishes, empanadas, or flan. Guests stay in the villa in spacious, light-filled rooms and can enjoy the property’s pool during their downtime.
Classes start at $1,150 and include accommodations, airport pickup, classes, breakfast, lunch, all tours and one-on-one time with the chef. Visit www.lavillabonita.com for more information.
The Conscious Gourmet, the Catskills and Sedona
You won’t pack on the pounds at this healthy culinary academy which has three- and five-day retreats in various U.S. locations, including Santa Fe, the Catskills, and Sedona. Courses are taught by Diane Carlson, the former co-president and chef of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health in New York City. The emphasis is on fresh, unprocessed, high-quality food. Students prepare multi-course meals starting with a soup and ending with dessert (all sweets are made using natural sweeteners). Haddock with kalamata olives, tomatoes and basil, and chocolate mousse cake with fudge frosting are just some of the recipes participants will learn. Mornings start with yoga classes or hikes, and evenings consist of lectures on the relationship between food and mood. The classes are typically held at retreat centers.
Classes start at $795 and include yoga, breakfast, lunch, classes, lectures, hiking trips and, in most cases, accommodations. Visit www.theconsciousgourmet.com for more information.
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, Chiang Mai, Thailand
This famous school in northern Thailand offers one- to five-day courses on Thai cooking. Students get an introduction to Thai ingredients and make pastes and noodle dishes and learn how to carve fruits and vegetables. Each recipe is demonstrated by an English-speaking chef, and after preparing four dishes students sit down to enjoy their food while surrounded by miles of lush green rice paddies. Accommodations are at the nearby 15-room Jasmine Rice Village resort.
Classes start at $130 and include accommodations, cooking classes, dinner, and a tour of the local handicraft village. Visit www.thaicookeryschool.com for more information.