There’s no shortage of yoga classes and exfoliating massages featured in spa menus at hotels around the globe. But thanks to the emerging popularity of epicurean travel and the rise of adventurous dining (who said globalization was all bad?), destination spas and resorts from Chiang Mai to Cariboo are offering culinary programs where you’ll be slicing, dicing and learning to make killer dishes that are sure to impress friends back home. Bowl of tom kha kai, anybody?
THE EXPERIENCE You’ll kick off this weeklong culinary program with an overview of must-have kitchen gadgets and learn to use the right knife for its ideal purpose. After defining healthy food and grasping the fundamentals (soups, stocks and sauces), you’ll get down to serious business: identifying and substituting food allergens, cooking fast meals and the basics of wine pairing. The wild west meets the exotic far east at this resort and during a one-on-one consultation, you can learn to adapt meals for special diets, how to start a kitchen garden and even take cues from a guest Thai chef on making the best pad thai you’ve ever had.
LOCAL FLAVOR This is a ranch, so collecting eggs, feeding the horses and roping are all par for the course. You’ll also gain insight on the medicinal attributes of Asian herbs and spices and receive a lesson on ruesri dat ton, an ancient Thai stretching practice.
THE KITCHEN Chef Kim Madsen, who has cooked for Danish royalty and received the Medaille Cordon Bleu from France, presides over an open-concept kitchen wherein up to 10 students get a real hands-on experience on cooking as a team.
CHECK IN The Learn to Cook Like a Pro package at Echo Valley Ranch & Spa includes accommodations, all meals and three treatments at the Thai-themed spa. www.evranch.com
THE EXPERIENCE You won’t actually get to cook at this resort. Instead you’ll partake in an invigorating paddle to a remote island where chef Steven Ewing and his team welcome you with appetizers and champagne flutes in hand. While you relax at the beach or by candlelit in the safari-style tent, the chef prepares a three-course gourmet dinner (the smoked Alaskan black cod rolled with baby bok choi and grilled shitake mushrooms is to die for) paired with local BC wines.
LOCAL FLAVOR As the sun goes down, you will paddle among seals, porpoises and otters as your guide explains the secret underwater life of the surrounding marine park. The next day, book a rejuvenating deep tissue massage at the open-air Spa Without Walls, situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean, or in the privacy of your tent.
CHECK IN The tenthouse suites at Rockwater Secret Cove Resort are nestled among the Arbutus trees on a rocky peninsula. The Gourmet Moonlight Kayaking package is available from May to September. rockwatersecretcoveresort.com
THE EXPERIENCE During a guided meal, called Mindful Eating, a nutritionist will ask you to eat in silence for 10 minutes and to try setting your fork down after every bite. The idea is to carefully taste the foods you’ve selected from the buffet, paying attention to the textures, the flavors and the aromas. You might discover that, even though every day for breakfast you eat a yogurt, you don’t actually like the taste of it—you just eat it out of habit. Without distractions you might also notice the point at which you become full. And stop eating. The modus operandi at Miraval is balance and the goal is to learn to live in the present.
LOCAL FLAVOR During a desert walk with a naturalist, you will encounter a variety of butterfly species and other insects that visit the Sonoran’s native plants. At the spa, don’t miss a full body exfoliation using a natural and fragrant prickly pear sugar scrub.
THE KITCHEN Surrounded by acres of flowering succulents, prairies of wild flowers, and gushing rivulets, cooking demonstrations at Miraval focus on making healthy favorites like tiramisu and wild mushroom and barley risotto.
CHECK IN Miraval offers various programs that focus on nutrition and mindful eating. All meals, activities and a daily spa treatment are included. www.miravalresort.com
THE EXPERIENCE Students gather around the resort’s native Thai chef, who enlightens on the medicinal qualities and historical facts of certain dishes while he introduces the many types of Thai noodles and divulges the secrets of creating killer curries from scratch. Take plenty of notes because soon you will attempt to recreate it all at an individual cooking station. Class ends as the group sits down at a large teak table to enjoy the dishes they prepared.
LOCAL FLAVOR During a visit to the herb garden to collect ginger, lemongrass, Thai chilies and other ingredients for the tom kha kai, a chicken and coconut milk soup, you might notice the water buffalos toiling in the nearby rice paddies. Some of the garden’s herbs and spices are also used at the spa; try the ylang-ylang and pink lotus mask or a pandan leaf wrap.
THE KITCHEN Set amid soaring banyan and bamboo trees and overlooking the jungle covered hills of the Mae Rim Valley just outside of Chiang Mai, the open air kitchen pavilion is decked out in rich timber floors, zinc exhaust fans and glass jars filled with exotic ingredients.
CHECK IN Four Seasons Chiang Mai offers daily cooking classes that focus on appetizers, spa cuisine, spicy salads and other traditional specialties. www.fourseasons.com
THE EXPERIENCE Chilaquiles, huitlacoche, pastel tres leches. Mexican ingredients and dishes are nothing if not exotic and, might we add, difficult to pronounce. But the chef at this cooking school, set in the picturesque colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, makes it all look easy. By the end of class you will have learned how to make the iconic Latin cake soaked in three milks (fresh, evaporated and condensed); how to utilize indigenous ingredients like cactus, chiles and corn fungus; and how to prepare staples like mole and chipotle sauce.
LOCAL FLAVOR During a field trip to the neighbourhood mercado, the chef gives tips on stocking a pantry and guides students on selecting the best herbs.
THE KITCHEN San Miguel native Chef Gonzalo Martinez heads the Sazon Cooking School, which is set inside an 18th-century hacienda and features antique potteries, colorful tiles and hanging copper pots.
CHECK IN The luxury boutique hotel Casa de Sierra Nevada offers one-hour cooking classes and week-long culinary packages at Sazon. www.casadesierranevada.com