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Culinary vacations

Travelers with an appetite for cooking and cooks who hunger to travel can answer their cravings within just a few hours' drive from home.

Culinary tourism, which Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism Association, defines as "travel involving the pursuit of unique, memorable food experiences of all kinds" needn't require a trip to far-off lands.

HOW TO CHOOSE

"Culinary tourism opportunities are closer than you think," he says, "because they can happen in places that may never have occurred to you." A new world of cuisine may await you in Vermont or the Hudson Valley - it all depends on what you're looking for. The International Culinary Tourism Association divides food trekkers according to 13 "psycho-culinary" profiles, and suggests you choose your destination accordingly.

Or, just go with your gut.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

Do you want to attend cooking class for two hours - or two days? Learn a topic in depth or have fun in the kitchen and eat a fabulous meal? Are you going to cooking class because you can't eat 24 hours a day - but are happiest when you're around food? Perhaps you're a truly devoted culinary enthusiast, formerly known as someone who loves to cook, for whom a week at culinary boot camp is a dream come true.

There is a cooking vacation for everyone. We found programs of all kinds that are just far enough from home to make them a real vacation - and close enough that they're an easy drive.

CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA , 1946 Campus Dr., Hyde Park, N.Y., 800-888-7850, ciachef.edu

Think you've got what it takes? Put it to the test in CIA's five-day Basic Training Boot Camp program, which runs from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes about five hours of hands-on cooking each day. CIA instructors will teach you knife skills, dry- and moist-heat cooking techniques, kitchen terminology, taste physiology, wine pairings and more. You'll go home with two CIA chef uniforms, a whole lot of knowledge and - very possibly - sore feet.

ACTIVITIES: There is much to see and do in the area - Franklin D. Roosevelt's home, Val-Kill cottage; Vanderbilt mansion; wonderful restaurants, including those owned by the school and staffed by CIA students; farmers' markets; and antiquing.

COST: $2,095 for the five-day program does not include lodging, but some local hotels offer discounts to students. There are four-day boot camp programs ($1,695) in baking, bistro, Italian and healthy cooking, as well as two-day boot camps ($850) in BBQ, holiday, hors d'oeuvres and skill development. One-session classes cost $225-$250.

DEBORAH KRASNER'S VERMONT CULINARY VACATIONS . 192 Taylor Rd., Putney, Vt., 888-917-8224, culinaryvermont.com

Deborah Krasner, an award-winning cookbook author and kitchen designer, offers allinclusive Friday-to-Wednesday programs or custom-designed three-day getaways in picturesque Putney, Vt. It all takes place in a beautifully renovated 18th century "barn" nested atop a hill with bucolic views in every direction. Local, seasonal and organic ingredients - including some from Krasner's garden on the property - are used in both the five-day Italian-themed programs and the shorter customized "getaways." In all her programs, says Krasner, she "teaches to the level of the students," even when her small group includes both "someone who doesn't know how to hold a knife and a culinary school graduate."

ACTIVITIES: There are both indoor and outdoor kitchens, and the 6 acres include numerous gardens and livestock (laying hens, lambs, ducks, geese, turkey, chicken and guinea fowl). The programs include excursions to local artisanal food producers, such as a cheese-maker and wood-fired bread-baker, as well as visits to craftsmen, a notable restaurant and some shopping, depending on participants' interests.

COST: Three-day custom getaways (for groups of four), which include lodging in the well-appointed bedrooms in the barn as well as all excursions, cost $1,325 a person. The July 3-8 Cooking Italian Summer Food Program, also all-inclusive, is $2,650 a person.

SILO COOKING , 44 Upland Rd., New Milford, Conn., 860-355-0300, hunthillfarmtrust.org

For a relaxing country weekend, head to the hills of Litchfield, Conn., where you'll find a friendly, casual cooking environment in a renovated farm silo, thanks to school founders Skitch and Ruth Henderson. The famed musician and his wife renovated the 18th and 19th century buildings and established the cooking school in 1972. Three-hour classes are offered most weekend days, and often are taught by visiting celebrity chefs, including Arthur Schwartz and Rick Rodgers. (Past guests have included Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart, Betty Rosbottom and Rachael Ray).

ACTIVITIES: The Hunt Hill Farm Trust, which now runs the school, is on 147 acres of what is now a cultural legacy and land preserve. It's home to the Skitch Henderson Museum (with musical archives, vintage instruments and more), two art galleries, the Silo Cooking School and shop, and numerous musical and art events throughout the year. In addition to cooking classes, it is easy to immerse oneself in the food culture here: Dine at numerous critically acclaimed restaurants, wander through specialty and organic food markets, and visit the many farms that grow and raise organic and heirloom foodstuffs.

COST: Classes cost $80-$85. Stay at the nearby Litchfield Inn, the Mayflower Inn (a Relais and Châteaux property) or any one of many surrounding bed-and-breakfasts.

THE ESSEX VERMONT'S CULINARY RESORT AND SPA , 70 Essex Way, Essex, Vt., 800-727-4295, vtculinaryresort.com

This full-service resort offers cooking classes as one of many activities, which makes it ideal for families or groups with varied interests - or cooks who like to end their day with, say, a massage. The specially designed "culinary theater" proves this is no incidental activity, though: The resort places special emphasis on the culinary classes and demos, which are taught by chefinstructors from the nearby New England Culinary Institute. There never are more than eight students in the class, and, says Cathy Williams, director of culinary programs, "There is a real emphasis on keeping it approachable and intimate."

ACTIVITIES: The resort also offers other classes of interest to foodies, including excursions to farmers' markets, berry picking, a visit to a farm-to-table organic food store and more. For the non-foodies in the group, there's an on-site trout-fishing pond, rock- and ice-climbing, golf, tennis, hot-air ballooning and more. Nearby Burlington offers cultural activities and shopping.

COST: The Chef Inn Training program ($334 and up, depending on the room) includes a one-night stay and Continental breakfast for two, a tour of the New England Culinary Institute and participation for one in a class in which students prepare a three-course meal and eat in the private kitchen. One to three classes are offered every day except Monday, which gives Chef Inn Training participants as many as five classes to choose from over the course of a weekend. Other programs this summer include "Culinary Boot Camp" ($800 plus lodging, Aug. 11-13), which teaches the basics - knife skills, sauces, braising, custards, cakes and more - in a combination of demonstration and participation classes and a four-day "Kids Culinary Camp" in July ($300 plus lodging).

VINTAGE HUDSON VALLEY INN-TO-INN COOKING VACATION , Irvington, N.Y., 914-591-4503, vintagehudsonvalley.com

This three-day cooking and food experience includes the crème de la crème of Hudson Valley inns and producers. Each day begins with a tour - a winery, a cheese-maker or the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture - followed by a two- to 21/2-hour cooking lesson in the kitchen of one of three historic inns: the Rhinecliff (in the town for which it is named), a small Queen Ann inn listed in the National Register of Historic Places; an 1863 Georgian Colonial, Le Chambord, in Hopewell Junction; and the breathtaking medieval-style Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown. Participants then enjoy the fruits of their labor in the dining room for lunch and conversation with the chef.

COST: $380 for the course only. For lodging, Vintage Hudson Valley president Maren Rudolph arranges deep discounts at both participating inns and other area accommodations, and will help plan other activities (such as antiquing or golf).

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