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COOKING VACATIONS – The New Worldwide Adventure?
Would you like to learn how to make gumbo in New Orleans or chile rellanos in New Mexico? Does bouillabaisse in France or tapas in Spain tempt you?
Tuscany, Provence, the Costa Del Sol. Nova Scotia, Paris and Napa Valley, CA.
Each of these has at least one thing in common. They are all valid destinations for one of the hottest new trends in vacation travel – booking a cooking vacation.
No longer content to relax and be served your meal while avoiding the kitchen chores, today’s energetic vacationers are getting into the kitchen and preparing the meal themselves, often in a historic setting or a country bed & breakfast ….and usually in a foreign country.
Cooking vacations are rapidly growing in popularity. Some liken it to an art form, satisfying their interest in things art. Others see it as a cultural experience, linking the food of a region to the culture of that region, to the people of that region. There are those who view it as a way to meet like-minded folks in a casual, social experience, while still others mark it down as adventure travel…..ready for the unexpected, and usually well satisfied.
Cooking has also found its devotees in the dating game. The romantic aspect of cooking a very special meal for someone else, especially a meal learned on-site in a romantic vacation spot. It’s a much more giving, thoughtful gift than another meal at your local restaurant.
Consider: You might book a trip to Tuscany. You gain exposure to the Italian countryside while learning a bit about Italian history and culture, culminating in the preparation of foods native to that area. You may stay in a charming stone farmhouse, shop for the necessary ingredients in the local markets, meet new fellow travelers and have a great time doing so. All of this can be found a mere 15 miles outside of Florence, offering many opportunities to include a cultural tour for the ages.
And, you can return home with a new appreciation (and knowledge) of handmade pasta. Or, dazzle your friends with a quick Italian dinner featuring Pollo Ruspante alla Cacciatora (free range chicken, hunter style, cooked in a red wine, garlic and tomato paste). Recipe here.
Is your mouth watering yet?
Sure beats spending another week at Aunt Margie’s beach bungalow, doesn’t it?
Hotels and cruise lines are also heavily involved, leading the way by offering their locations and facilities to the expanding choice of cooking vacations.
Don’t, however, overlook the prospect of an equally exciting cooking vacation without leaving the homeland. There are as many cooking vacation destinations here as there are abroad. And most of them are great bargains – whether offered at an Inn, a ranch, a cooking school or a Bed & Breakfast. Most are located in places where you can combine sight-seeing with the culinary experience for a “two-fer” vacation.
Staying at home in the US doesn’t mean giving up learning the exotic, however. You could easily choose Far Eastern cooking in San Francisco, or Cajun/Creole cooking in New Orleans, or Mexican style as taught in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The number of choices is limited only by your imagination.
What should you consider before heading for the vacation kitchen?
1. LENGTH: Vacations range from long weekends to a week or more. They often set aside time for leisure exploration of the local sites and culture.
2. ACTIVITIES: You should ask for an itinerary, which should indicate how much “free time” you will have and what your daily schedule will be. It may also include “associated” excursions – to local supplier’s farms, or markets, or retail food establishments. And, if traveling with a partner or friend whose interests lie in other directions, explore what options are available for that person during your time in the kitchen.
3. DEMONSTRATION or HANDS ON? Demonstration lesson or hands-on? Investigate whether you will actually cook, or simply observe. A cooking school might offer lessons on how to cook something while you watch and learn, but you don’t get to sling those pots and pans (think of a TV cooking show). On the other hand, your cooking vacation may start with your selection of the ingredients for that day’s meal…it all depends upon your desires. Many programs combine the two, so look into it.
4. COST: Don’t get carried away with the romantic aspect and neglect to learn the price! In most cases, you must pay for your airfare, and the cost of the school is inclusive of lodging, ground transport to and from airport, daily planned group excursions, and the necessary cooking equipment (cooking workstation, utensils, etc.). It should also include the food and wines associated with the preparation and enjoyment of the meals. Don’t be surprised to have to pay a deposit to secure your place, and you may well have to complete payment before departure date. Ask the company for the Terms & Conditions for their vacation tours.
5. RELIABILITY. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for references. Get a list of previous customers and call one or two of them. Ask them if they felt that it lived up to their expectations and whether they would recommend it.
Finally comes the toughest part: making your choice. You can literally go anywhere in the world on a cooking vacation, so let your mind wander. Think about what foods you are most interested in and most likely to serve once back home. Choose where you might like to go on an exotic vacation. Stir together into a blend that gets your taste buds started, and pursue with gusto.
Here are some websites to get you started.
Shaw Guides: A comprehensive clearinghouse site for culinary vacations. Go to:
www.cookforfun.shawguides/com This is an excellent starting point for your research. Offers a taste (pun intended) of the variety of programs and trips available.
www.epiculinary.com – bills itself as the leading provider of culinary vacations throughout the world, offering unique cooking vacations for all tastes and budgets.
Culinary Vacations, Inc. can be found at http://www.culinaryvacationsinc.com/ - features a vacation with a renowned US chef leading the lessons in various spots here in the US or in exotic locations abroad.
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