One of the best souvenirs from my travels is a recipe for tiramisu. I learned it during a weeklong culinary vacation in Positano, Italy. It was a vacation where I spent mornings in the kitchen with local chefs, learning by doing, and afternoons exploring the Amalfi Coast. The beauty of that travel experience was rooted in what I learned within the walls of the kitchen from those talented chefs and bakers, something that deepened my affinity and appreciation for the destination itself. Those chefs and bakers gifted me lifelong souvenirs that are still applicable today, in the kitchen, and life in general.
If this sort of vacation awakens your wanderlust (and palate), then do an Internet search for “culinary vacation” and your desired destination to see what options emerge. The good news is you needn’t travel halfway around the world to enjoy a cooking vacation. Exciting opportunities in our own country beckon, as there are many places where innovations in cuisine are continually taking place.
Consider one of these hands-on cooking vacations in the U.S. that blend practical skills and regional recipes with an intimate immersion into the region's culture. Like me, you might also walk away with the best travel souvenir of your life: a treasured recipe that not only tastes amazing but carries memories of a wonderful vacation.
Boiling crawfish. Photo courtesy of Cesa Pelican B&B and Cooking School
CASA PELICAN B&B AND COOKING SCHOOL
New Orleans, LA
Impress friends back home with your mastery of jambalaya, gumbo roux, and beignets. Learn the art of Louisiana cuisine by pairing a stay and onsite lessons at Casa Pelican B&B and Cooking School. Chef and Sommelier Karen Duncan describes the experience as a “dinner party” atmosphere that makes Cajun and Creole cooking accessible to all home chefs, regardless of ability level. You’ll learn four dishes during her 3-1/2 hour, hands-on classes, which include themed options such as Cajun & Creole Basics, Louisiana Seafood, Jazz Brunch, and Famous NOLA Restaurant Dishes. Because the classes sizes are no larger than eight people, you’ll get an intimate lesson in not only the recipes themselves, but an education in how to use all the senses to make sure each dish is prepared correctly. In 2023, Casa Pelican B&B and Cooking School plans to add shorter hands-on courses and workshops (think wild game and desserts) to its selections.
The Essex resort. Photo courtesy of Essex Resort and Spa
THE ESSEX RESORT AND SPA
Essex Junction, VT
Sharpen your culinary skills at the Essex Resort and Spa, also known as “Vermont’s Culinary Resort.” Nestled on 18 sprawling acres between the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, it’s an inspiring setting in which to vacation as a cooking enthusiast. The onsite Cook Academy offers a wide variety of daily cooking and baking classes—from workshops on knife skills to curated dinner preparations to cake decorating classes, and much more. The daily class menu allows you to pick and choose when you want to be in the kitchen versus when you’d prefer to be indulging in the resort’s onsite spa and two restaurants. One of those restaurants, Junction, allows the culinary enthusiast to continue the learning while letting the pros do the work. The interactive, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant features an open kitchen, offering diners a behind-the-scenes view of the artistry that goes into each plate. Some dishes are even prepared tableside, for an even more immersive experience.
CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
Napa, CA; Hyde Park, NY; San Antonio, TX
Learn from the pros at one of the country’s premier culinary colleges: the Culinary Institute of America, better known as CIA. With locations in swoon-worthy, foodie-friendly destinations such as Napa and San Antonio, CIA has helped to shape the culinary careers of notable alums Amanda Freitag, Grant Achatz, Michael Symon, and Cat Cora. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned at-home chef, you can step into the same state-of-the-art kitchens as these renowned chefs once did, by weaving your vacation around the college's hands-on “CIA Foodies” courses. These are single-day workshops or multi-day culinary boot camps designed specifically for at-home chefs. The offerings range from culinary basic training or baking basic training, to specific options, such as Farm-to-Table, Grilling and BBQ, or Wine Country Cuisine. Check the CIA class calendar to see which classes tickle your tastebuds, then plan to stay at a nearby hotel or resort (CIA does not have onsite accommodations).
Hands on class making chiles at the Santa Fe School of Cooking; Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe School of Cooking
SANTA FE SCHOOL OF COOKING
Santa Fe, NM
Discover the secrets behind creating signature southwestern cuisine. The Santa Fe School of Cooking offers hands-on workshops on traditional fare such as green chiles, tamales, moles, and southwestern soups. The recipes originate from New Mexican villages and pueblos, and from contemporary southwest menus. The experience will help you: understand the unique regional cuisine, order food from the local restaurants, and learn how to re-create the dishes back home. Classes cap at 16 guests maximum, and in 2023, the school plans to offer its 3-day and 5-day intensive culinary programs, which include visits to farms and tours of local restaurants. Like the Culinary Institute of America, there are no onsite accommodations at the school.
THE INNS OF AURORA
Head to the Finger Lakes wine region of New York for a culinary getaway in the storybook town of Aurora. The Inns of Aurora website boasts five charming inns that partner with Aurora Cooks!, an onsite kitchen that features culinary classes. Guests can learn a diverse array of skills to take back home, from making risotto to cooking with cast iron to preparing Ayurvedic dishes. The kitchen also hosts weekly oyster and champagne tastings, charcuterie board classes, “Ice Cream & Whiskey” workshops, and “Grill & Chill” demonstrations, which teach the distinct style of American barbecue. You might even opt to take a morning tea-blending class with the resort’s Director of Serenity. All classes and tastings are limited to 12 guests, which fosters an intimate environment and one-on-one assistance from the chefs.
The Wynn Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Barbra Kraft
WYNN LAS VEGAS
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas is a well-established foodie metropolis, with some of the biggest names in the culinary world anchoring restaurants along the bright lights of the Strip. The Wynn Las Vegas invites its guests to rub shoulders with its talented collection of chefs, bakers, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists through its Master Class Series. It’s a unique opportunity to meet and learn from the pros in working kitchens and bakeries at the 5-star resort. You can work alongside the master dim sum chef who produces 85,000 dumplings each week, or the mixologist who curates the cocktails for 18 restaurants and bars across Sin City. Among the most popular offerings is “Cooking, Frank’s Way,” which is a tutorial in cooking the legendary entertainer’s favorite Italian-American dishes, under the guidance of Sinatra Restaurant chef, Theo Schoenegger. Check the online calendar for classes (spots book quickly) and schedule your trip around this ultimate culinary experience.