Hottest Culinary School Vacations

Novice cooks head to cooking schools around the world.
By: Meghann Foye
Anyone who’s ever watched the scene from Julie & Julia where Meryl Streep takes her very first buttery bite of sole meuniere understands how instantly gratifying it can be to discover a new culture by way of its cuisine. Thanks to the rise in popularity of culinary tourism, there are now thousands of cooking schools around the world that not only provide that first delectable bite but also help raise your culinary cred by the end. Here's a list of the best recreational culinary schools in some of the world’s hottest food cities.

Photo by: Courtesy of Institute of Culinary Education

Courtesy of Institute of Culinary Education

Though serious chefs-in-training flock to New York’s Institute of Culinary Education hoping to become the world’s next Daniel Boulud, you can still take part in one of the hundreds of recreational cooking classes that the award-winning school has to offer. Bust out your Crocs, because you’ll want to sign up for everything from “Techniques of Italian Cooking” to “Supper Downstairs at Downton Abbey” and “Vegan Donut Workshop,” all taught by instructors whose résumés list top New York restaurants like Le Cirque.

First-timers to NYC will love the institute’s market tours of Chinatown and Union Square Greenmarket. And those looking to up their cooking game can take multisession immersion courses, such as the art of bread making or a butchering workshop. Once class ends, ICE offers plenty of containers to wrap up all the goodies you’ve made -- so you can enjoy a nice afternoon of freshly cooked (or baked) items in nearby Madison Square Park.


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

On a culinary tour of southern Maine, you could spend days researching the perfect roadside lobster roll or -- for the ultimate insider’s guide -- you can sign up for Willing Foot’s Coastal Maine: Food and Wine excursion. Starting with the cobblestone streets of Old Port, Portland, you’ll spend the afternoon savoring the unique grassy flavors of artisan cheeses, detecting the sweetness of scones slathered in blueberry preserves and sipping artisan ales at bars with the locals.

Another recreational cooking school in Maine worth trying is Salt Water Farm. Here, you’ll learn classic garden-inspired meals and sample wine at Cellardoor Vineyard in nearby Linconville. No visit to Maine would be complete without the slap of salty, wet air; you’ll experience just that on a guided schooner tour of Camden Harbor offered by the school.


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

A food truck staple, Mexican food is often viewed as one-note, but nothing could be further from the truth for David Sterling, a chef trained in classic French cuisine who came to Mérida, in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and fell in love with the richly varied cuisine of the area. Sterling opened Los Dos Cooking School in 2003 in a magnificent colonial mansion.

With the fragrant and colorful Merida as their inspiration, students tour the huge and colorful Lucas de Gálvez market, where they see unusual spices and condiments, piles of recados (the "curries of Yucatán") and seasonal fruits like guanábana (soursop) and marañon (cashew apple). Students also learn classic Mayan dishes, such as sikil pak (a dip of ground squash seeds and tomatoes) and sopa de lima (chicken soup with limetta, a local variety of lime.)

By the end of the week, you’ll be charring chilis and tomatoes on an open flame, rolling your own tamales like a pro and grinding spices in a molcajete, a volcanic stone mortar and pestle.


Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

Duck confit and foie gras are staples of any French menu, but what you might not know is that these dishes actually derive from the Gascony region, an area in the southwestern part of France known for its robust, lively and daring spirit, made famous by those Gascon rascals, the Three Musketeers. American professional chef and cookbook author Kate Hill found herself head over heels in love with this area after years of traveling around Europe; she’s been teaching the basics of the region’s bold, rustic cooking style ever since at the culinary school she established here in 1991.

Under Kate’s careful guidance, you’ll learn about French cuisine in situ, breaking down a whole 400-lbs. charcuterie pig, canning your own foie gras and cassoulet, and going on day trips to a nearby market for a glass of rosé. You’ll take home the ability to determine your menu by what’s at the market that day; you’ll also be left with an indelible picture of “the generous Cascon cooks who create an edible landscape at each and every meal.”


Photo by: Thinkstock


Hotelier and cookbook author Aurora Baccheschi Berti offers a fully personalized culinary experience at her beloved Castello di Vicarello in the Tuscan countryside. Typically, Berti determines what to make based on the season and preferences of her guests. One day might contain an excursion to a nearby market. Another day might focus on teaching the basic tenets of making pasta and red sauce in Berti’s 11th-century stone kitchen.

The program’s main focus is on central and southern Italy’s “cucina povera,” literally meaning “poor kitchen,” but don’t let the “poor” fool you -- another key focus at Berti’s school is on making great food with simple, high-quality ingredients. “Acqua cotta”--literally water cooked with onions, basil and parsley, celery leaves, tomatoes and olive oil -- typifies this style. End the day with a meal served around a farm table, rich in cucina povera … and great conversation.


Photo by: Thinkstock


Thanks to comfortable exchange rates, the salty, sweet, pungent flavors of Southeast Asia have become easily accessible to backpackers with more wanderlust than dollars. And luckily, the various dishes of this region are also without end -- the components in just one bowl of steaming pho can be as rich and varied as a Vietnamese night market.

At Gioan Family Cookery School, instructor Vi, who should have her own Food Network show, makes learning the ins and outs of green papaya salad, fried spring rolls and fish in banana leaf foolproof, with slow-paced instructions and encouraging jabs (“You strong, you like Tiger!”). Steady stream of Tiger beers make the process even more fun. But book ahead -- just like the chili paste condiment you’ll learn to prepare in class, this place is hot!

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