Spas used to be the place where you went to stop thinking about food. Now spas emphasize the pleasures of good food -- flavorful ingredients that are well prepared -- and many have opened beautiful cooking schools where you can learn new dishes or hone your skills. Here are some of the best spas for cooking schools.
Rancho La Puerta in Mexico
Rancho La Puerta serves some of the spa world's best food, much of it sourced from their own 6-acre, organic garden. Right in the center of that lush garden is a beautiful cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta, ("The Kitchen That Sings"), a 4,500-square-foot, hands-on classroom/kitchen, cookbook library, and culinary gift shop. La Cocina regularly hosts internationally renowned guest chefs and cookbook authors such as Deborah Madison, John Ash, Patricia Wells, and Anne Willan. There are hands-on cooking classes for lunch and dinner for an extra fee and an organic garden breakfast hike that leaves at 6:10 am.
The Lake Austin Culinary Experience takes place the second week of every month with guest chefs and food experts offering up their own secret techniques and favorite dishes. This is in addition to the healthy, five-course dinner menus that change seasonally and cooking classes with Stephane Beaucamp, the French-born executive chef of Lake Austin Spa Resort.
This hotel is so serious about food it calls itself "Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa.” The Essex's cooking classes offer a low-pressure, hands-on culinary experience to enjoy learning new techniques or hone the skills you already have. Classes range from "A Taste of Mexico" to "Cake Decorating Basics" and often have a waiting list. Food-themed treatments in the spa include the "Body Brew," in which guests choose a local beer as the basis for a body scrub with salt, malted barley, honey, and lemon.
Greenwood is the unlikely home of the Viking Range Corporation, which has restored much of the southern city's historic downtown. (Hint: the company founder was a Greenwood native.) Good works include the radical renovation of a 1917 building to house the high-end Alluvian Hotel. Right across the street is a 7,000-square-foot spa and The Viking Cooking School, with classes like "Culinary Basics," "Date Night," and "Dough and Desserts." Get a few spa treatments, learn to cook, and check out restaurants Giardina's in the hotel and Lusco's, which dates from 1933.
The Osthoff is a lakeside resort spa that gives you plenty to do, including a French culinary school, "L’ecole de la Maison," for the recreational chef. The classes range from two-hour workshops to two-day immersion classes and cover hors d'oeuvres, desserts, pasta and sauces, truffles and chocolates, and sourdough bread. The spa is excellent and has an emphasis on healing services.
Cal-a-Vie is a luxury destination spa that emphasizes mindful eating and a connection with real food. Always artfully presented and served with genuine hospitality, its cuisine features nutrient-packed dishes inspired by the garden. Executive Chef Curtis Cooke believes that the foundation for a healthy, happy life begins with food and that we love what is good for us by paying attention to the shapes, colors, textures, and tastes of nature.
Travaasa Austin sources most of its food from within a fifty-mile radius (including eggs, honey, and vegetables from its own farm). And as an "experiential resort" it has farm tours, wine tasting, and cooking classes every day. Some are free ("Fundamentals of Flavorful Soup" or "Juicing 2.0") and some have an extra fee ("Champagne Tasting" and "Homemade Pasta"), but all are fun and delicious.