Forget about a bottle of maple syrup or a couple of lobsters on ice: For many food-focused travelers, the best souvenir is a recipe or technique learned in a local kitchen. If you love food and yearn to become a better cook, a cooking school weekend might be your perfect getaway. Check out the following destinations, which feature top-notch culinary classes along with spas, museums, outdoor activities, and scenery galore.
Peru, New York
The Carriage House Cooking School (carriagehousecookingschool.com), in the foothills of the Adirondacks, is helmed by Curtiss Hemm, a former dean at the prestigious New England Culinary Institute. In a renovated barn on his picturesque farm, he offers a la carte classes (starting at $75) on subjects including fall soups, Mexican street food, and artisanal pizza. “People think cooking is innate, but it’s not. It’s a skill,” says the chef. Classes are small, so Hemm can quickly assess the areas where his students need help. His goal is to make sure that every student leaves his kitchen a better cook.
Hands-on classes are limited to 6 students, demonstrations to 15, and dinner classes to 8. The space is also available for custom private and private group classes by arrangement. Stay a few minutes away at the Point au Roche Lodge (pointaurochelodge.com), a large log structure with a soaring great room and 8 guest rooms (starting at $139/night), most with balconies and fireplaces. Hiking and cross-country skiing trails are at your doorstep. Or drive along the Champlain Valley Cuisine Trail, a scenic route dotted with orchards, farms, wineries, and breweries.
Hemm also partners with the nearby Mirror Lake Inn (mirrorlakeinn.com) for three-day culinary weekends with cooking classes held in the inn’s kitchen. Rooms (starting at $259/night) have mountain and lake views, décor is classically Adirondack, with stone fireplaces and Mission-style furniture. In the winter, skate at the resort’s private rink or use snow shoes to explore the property. Ski Whiteface Mountain, just like past Olympians did, and visit the Olympic Village in Lake Placid, where you can take a bobsled ride.
Good Stock Farm (goodstockfarm.com), run by a James Beard Award-winning chef Sanford D’Amato and his wife Angela (they owned the lauded Milwaukee restaurant Sanford before retiring to the Pioneer Valley) offers hands-on and demonstration classes in a variety of cuisines, all ending in a grand food and wine dinner. They also offer three-day culinary getaways, which include field trips to local markets and vineyards. The school is in their home, a renovated farmhouse with a professional-grade kitchen on Main Street in tiny Hatfield.
The Sanfords’ own garden provides produce for the school. Classes, which included explorations of Indian, Sicilian, and Asian dishes as well as Julia Child favorites and pizza making, start at $110. Stay a mile down the road at the Old Mill Inn (oldmillinn.ma), a former mill/gun factory/newspaper office (rooms from$159/night with a 10% discount for Good Stock Farm students).
Another option is the Hotel Northampton (hotelnorthampton.com), the place visiting celebrities—Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Dylan, Stephen King, and John Mayer among them—like to stay. Local attractions include Smith College (Julia Child’s alma mater), the Emily Dickinson Museum, and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Food landmarks include the classic railcar-style Bluebonnet Diner (bluebonnetdiner.net) and Local Burger (localnorthampton.com), famous for its Cap’n Crunch-coated, deep-fried hotdogs.
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
The luxury Ocean House Resort (oceanhouseri.com) has amenities galore: screening room, saltwater lap pool, a resident curator to explain the extensive art collection, sunset cruises on the hotel’s classic boat, use of a fleet of Mercedes-Benz sedans, convertibles, and SUVs for exploring the area. It is also home to the Center for Wine and Culinary Arts, and offers guests twice-daily classes ($95) in a Gaggenau demonstration kitchen. Offerings range from the Geography and Geometry of Pasta, to Modern Crudo, to Sourdough Pizza.
Ocean House boasts an 8,000-bottle wine cellar, and a wine education program ($75-$200/class) that includes vintage flight tastings, food and wine pairing, and exploring the hidden gems of the cellar. The resort has an extravagant dining program to complement its cooking school, including a chef’s table with set small plates menu in the kitchen, a jazz brunch with raw bar and crepes made to order, and a seasonal Fondue Village consisting of three vintage ski gondolas arranged around a fire pit and outfitted with Alpine textiles and chandeliers, where private lunches and dinners for 4 to 6, including Champagne, are served. Rooms from $415/night
The Essex Resort and Spa (essexresort.com) is a hotel with a culinary focus. Décor is inspired by the colors and textures of food. Room accessories include vintage whisks and wooden spoons. The on-site café, tavern, and interactive restaurant (where chefs working in an open kitchen explain what they are doing to diners) turn dining into entertainment. At the heart of the experience is the resort’s Cook Academy, where guests can take private and small group cooking classes in various subjects including knife skills, Austrian cuisine, and cooking with Vermont beer.
A full-service spa, fitness center, indoor lap pool and outdoor year-round hot tub offer opportunities to decompress after a tough day in the kitchen. There is also an 18-hole golf course and a warm-weather tennis academy. Burlington offers great restaurants (try Eastern Mediterranean Honey Road (honeyroadrestaurant.com), a vibrant farmer’s market, Lake Champlain Chocolates (lakechamplainchocolates.com), and countless microbreweries. Nearby ski slopes, hiking trails, and a lovely bike path along Lake Champlain provide opportunities to burn some calories. Rooms starting at $103/night.
New England stalwart Stonewall Kitchen (www.stonewallkitchen.com ) is well known for its jams, condiments, and sauces. Its cooking school in York, Maine, is a magnet for home cooks. Watch as instructors transform Maine culinary staples into Asian classics (“Down East, Far East”). Or sign up for a class with a visiting chef like Dorie Greenspan and pick up a copy of her signed cookbook.
In nearby Ogunquit, the reasonably priced Meadowmere Resort (meadowmere.com) offers a “Make Me a Chef” package, which includes a 10% discount on classes at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, dinner at nearby Bintliff’s Restaurant, and a half-hour Swedish massage in the hotel spa. The hotel is within walking distance of the beach and the adorable town of Ogunquit.
The southern Maine dining scene is booming these days. Right in Ogunquit are the sophisticated wine and cocktail bar/restaurant Northern Union (northern-union.me) and the romantic waterside MC Perkins Cove (markandclarkrestaurants.com), overseen by two James Beard Award nominees. Craft brewing in the area is equally lively, with Cornerstone in Ogunquit, Tributary in Kittery, and SOME brewers in York. Rooms starting at $129/night.
Students travel from around the country, and sometimes from around the world, to cook at Salt Water Farm (saltwaterfarm.com), a rustic farm- and sea-to-table cooking school led by owner and restaurateur Annemarie Ahearn. Hands-on classes from May through November in a barn overlooking the Penobscot Bay focus on seasonal and local ingredients. The farm’s vegetable garden provides ingredients, and advice on how to maintain a culinary garden and cook from your backyard are always on the agenda.
In classes on topics ranging from Sicilian cuisine to saucing and spicing vegetables, students work together to create a multi-course meal, which is then eaten around the farmhouse table. The 2020 schedule will be posted in early December. Book early because classes (starting at $95) do sell out. Midcoast Maine boasts some of the country’s loveliest B&Bs. T
The stately Hawthorn Inn (camdenhoawthorn.com) in nearby Camden offers a 15% offseason discount on the night before and/or after your class at Salt Water Farm class (rooms start at $139/night). The Queen Anne mansion, in the High Street Historic District, has 10 tastefully decorated rooms, and a full breakfast every morning. Camden is a culinary destination in and of itself: Try Long Grain (longgraincamden.com) for locovore Asian, or Natalie’s (nataliesrestaurant.com) for a four-, five-, or six-course lobster tasting menu. In between meals, hike in Camden Hills State Park, or enjoy a concert at the Camden Opera House (camdenoperahouse.com).