“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one hasn’t eaten well.” That Virginia Woolf quotation is the mantra driving a new breed of hotel cooking classes. After all, it’s much easier to eat well if you cook well. They’re going far above and beyond the basic demos and hour-long classes that many hotels offer, with highly trained chefs, state-of-the-art facilities and hours (if not days) of hands-on instruction.
Now that food is a primary motivation for travel decisions, it’s only logical that culinary skills would be a prime souvenir. Which would you rather take home: a few tchotchkes and photographs or the ability to replicate that delicious homemade pasta you enjoyed on a balcony overlooking the Tuscan countryside?
Here are seven hotels whose intensive, immersive culinary schools are raising the bar on culinary programs. (Disclosure: I’ve tried a couple of these as a guest of the hotels. Miraculously, I did not sever any fingers.)
La Maison Arabe, Morocco
When this pioneering riad-hotel, the first in the medina of Marrakech, started its cooking workshops in 2001, they were the first in the entire kingdom—a place that’s celebrated for its subtly but richly spiced tagines, pastillas and couscous. The hotel’s food is good enough that it has published two cookbooks. Given in a high-tech facility in the owners’ organic garden outside the old city, the half-day sessions are led by the hotel’s dadas (traditional Moroccan women chefs), who learned their secrets from their grandmothers. Each of the 16 workstations has a video monitor so guests can watch the chef’s hands up-close as they follow along to prepare their own lunch. Two months ago, right down the street from the hotel, they added a second cooking studio for hour-long “express” sessions in cooking a tagine
Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, Italy
The classroom in this small resort, which feels like a gussied-up medieval village, embodies the dream of having a Tuscan farmhouse kitchen. On the first floor of the resort’s Osteria La Canonica, the workspace is spacious and light-filled, with checkered curtains billowing in the breeze and copper cookware hanging from a ceiling rack. Lessons start in the organic garden, where guests collect tomatoes of several varieties, along with other produce. Then the resort’s chef gives hands-on instruction in kneading, slicing and forming fresh pasta into cannelloni and alchemically turning those tomatoes into a delicate sauce. Other two-hour courses cover making pizza from scratch, preparing a three-course Tuscan meal, advanced preparation and storage techniques, vegetarian cooking, breadmaking and harnessing the “forgotten flavors” of Tuscany.
Tutka Bay Lodge, Alaska
Kirsten Dixon, the chef-owner of Tutka Bay Lodge, studied at Le Cordon Bleu, staged with top chefs, earned a master’s in gastronomy and brought it all back to the Alaskan wilderness. Along with publishing three cookbooks, she’s been named the best female chef in the US. So it’s little surprise that her culinary school at Tutka Bay is ambitious. Guests head out on the lodge’s nature trail to forage for massive mushrooms and sea vegetables, then return to a traditional long house for a tutorial in pickling vegetables, sautéing mushrooms and grilling fresh-caught salmon just so.
Four Seasons Chiang Mai, Thailand
This resort among the rice paddies, a pioneer in the region, has long had a reputation as having an outstanding culinary school. It raised its own bar with the opening of the new Rim Tai Kitchen in a Thai teak house two months ago, promising to give guests a more personalized “culinary adventures.” There’s a focus on local, organic products—the name refers to the sub-district where the resort is set, one of the greenest in Chiang Mai—and traditional Lanna Kingdom cooking. Classes start at a nearby greenmarket or in the resort’s garden; move on to hands-on instruction in curries, wok dishes and herbal drinks; and touch on traditional Thai fruit carvings. Afternoon sessions are health-minded, with a focus on juices, smoothies and teas.