Create some international “flava” and see the world at the same time. Feed your mind while learning great new ways to feed your face.
For me, a cooking vacation fills multiple bills at once.
I’m an expert on nothing and a student of everything, so I travel to learn. With the possible exception of electric eel wrangling, I’m a fan of almost any kind of hands-on travel.
Also, I love to cook. (Didn’t say I was good at it, just that I enjoy doing it!)
For some of us, some culinary training is needed. Between our penchant for fast food and food just done fast, we seem to be un-learning our way around a kitchen.
Think about it. If you moved your family to a place with no McDonald’s/KFC/Domino’s et al, could your kids survive?
For that matter, could you survive?
Without the invention of the microwave oven, a lot of Americans under the age of 40 would probably starve.
There’s something just plain cool about being able to combine some of “this” with a little of “that” and turn it into something people want to eat. Why would I want to give that up for pushing buttons on an irradiated box?
Also, food has a story to tell. You learn a lot about the world, including your own world, through that history.
You learn, for example, that things like fried chicken, barbecue and other “soul food” originated with American slave families learning to make do with the least of everything, and that Native Americans and their foods played a major role in creating African-American dishes.
You learn too that it was Europe’s craving for spices from Asia and Africa that sent waves of sea-faring explorers like Columbus and Magellan across the world’s ocean — and ultimately led to the rise of imperial Europe — and a hell of a lot of drama thereafter.
Remember the last time you went out with family or friends for dinner at some ethnic restaurant, and you all left raving about the meal you just had? Learning the backstory on some of those cuisines might lend some spice of its own to your next night out.
But why stop there?
France and Italy have long offered cooking classes to visitors, not only in Paris and Rome, but in some of the world’s most beautiful countrysides.
The Italian region of Tuscany has practically made an industry of this, using farm stays and cooking classes to keep family-owned farms going — with the blessing of the Italian government, no less.
The same is true across France, as regions like Provence vie with Paris over which represents the soul of French cooking.
In nearly every case, the teaching focuses on using fresh ingredients, bought at fair prices from local growers and prepared with “old school” methods. Nothing artificial, nothing processed.
“Genetically modified?” Don’t even think about it.
All of this has contributed to the rise of something that calls itself the Slow Food Movement.
Don’t want to go to a class? If you’ve got access to a kitchen, a chef-instructor will come to you.
I did this a few years ago with an American-born chef living in Paris, who “apprenticed” in the kitchens of his French in-laws. He leads you first to the market streets like Paris’ Rue Cler, where he teaches you how to spot what’s good, then takes you back to your own kitchen and shows you what you can do with it.
Next stop: lunch.
At the other end of the scale are full-fledged cooking tours, either escorted or self-guided, which put you in kitchens with like-minded fellow Gordon Ramsay-Tony Bourdain wannabes. Airfare will usually be separate, but almost everything else generally is included.
A miniscule example of cooking tour companies include:
- CookingVacations.com and Epitourean.com
One company, two sites. Cooking Vacations focuses of cooking tours in Europe, the Caribbean, South America and South Africa. They also do a 10-day cruise between Athens and Rome aboard the cruise ship Marina, with several cooking classes along the way. This one includes airfare. Epitourean offers shorter cooking tours in all 50 United States for us vacation-challenged Americans.
What a difference a hyphen makes. This outfit focuses strictly on Italy. Not to be confused with the hyphen-less Cooking Vacations site above, okay? They also other cultural offerings, including food market tours in which you learn how to shop for what’s good. After one of these, you may never go near plastic-wrapped produce again.
- The International Kitchen
These guys include Morocco as part of their culinary schooling.
- Culinary Vacations
these guys put their own spin — on the whole cooking class thing. One of their Italian culinary tours is run as a bike tour. Learn Italian cooking techniques, consume serious amounts of your own Italian dishes — and burn it all off every day. Guilt-free foodie? Yeah, I could do that!