Spa Cooking Schools: A travel foodie’s dream

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BY JENNIFER EVANS GARDNER

The history of spas goes way back to ancient times, when people “took the waters” for their health.  In the seventies, when destination spas began popping up in the U.S., they were largely (pun intended) known as “Fat Farms,” places where lucky rich women went to lose weight.  Rigorous exercise was key, as was starvation, with minimal calories per day doled out in the form of plain broiled chicken breasts and soggy broccoli.  Oh sure, you could get a massage or body scrub as a reward for your suffering and growling tummy, but let’s face it — food wasn’t exactly the focus.

Over the years, that has all changed with the introduction of gourmet spa cuisine.  Today, spas usually offer delicious meals prepared from the healthiest organic produce, the goal being to get you on the right track in terms of your diet.   Which is all fine and good while you’re at the spa.  But what happens when you get home and you have no idea how to prepare all that gorgeous, gourmet spa cuisine?  Will you go back to cooking the same old fattening meals for yourself and your family?  After all, you don’t get to take the spa chef home with you… or do you?

Enter the spa cooking school.  Nowadays, spas aren’t just leading their guests to healthy cuisine – they appear to be taking it one step further by teaching them how to COOK healthy – so they can continue to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle at home.

At spas such as Canyon Ranch, chefs work with nutritionists to develop recipes, which they both serve in their restaurants, and share with their guests/students.  Other spas, such as Rancho La Puerta and Lake Austin Spa, get their guests involved in picking out fresh organic produce; at Rancho La Puerta, this means going to the on-site farm; at Lake Austin, guests are driven to the local flagship Whole Foods Market for a demonstration.

Classes offered may be hands-on, demonstration only, or both.  At Canyon Ranch, instructing chef Sean Brisby even hands out parting gifts, such as top quality measuring cups and spoons, along with copies of healthy recipes.  In general, spa cooking classes range from those focusing on low calorie entrees or desserts, to seasonal (holiday cooking), to multi-cultural cuisine; for example, Rancho La Puerta’s La Cocina Que Canta, (the kitchen that sings) will honor its Mexican heritage with a focus on Mexican/Mediterranean cooking, while classes at the Inn at Coyote Mountain in Costa Rica focuses on Latin and Creole fare.  Ultimately, while spas have always been where people have gone for pampering, health, and peace of mind, now they have given us another delicious dimension.

The following are some of the many spa cooking schools/classes cropping up:

Cooking classes are offered at Canyon Ranch. Photo: Canyon Ranch

Cooking classes are offered at Canyon Ranch. Photo: Canyon Ranch

CANYON RANCH 8600 Rockcliff Road.Tucson, AZ; 165 Kemble Street Lenox, MassachusettsReservations: (800) 742-9000
www.canyonranch.com

All inclusive stays at Tucson property begin at $3,280 (double occupancy) for a 4-night stay, including accommodations, gourmet meals, spa treatments, fitness classes, wellness services, all gratuities, and transportation from airport.

All inclusive stays at the Lenox, Mass. Property begin at $2,470 (double occupancy) for a 3-night stay.

Since 1979, Canyon Ranch has been committed to changing the lifestyles of its guests through healthy nutrition and fitness programs.  Now, in addition to 7 hands-on cooking classes a week run by Exec Chef Shawn Brisby (under the tutelage of Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein), they also have daily “lunch and learn” demos as well in the cooking school.  About 1500 guests a year participate in the hands-on cooking classes, and the “lunch and learn” demos are attended by approximately 7000 guests a year.  Canyon Ranch is also known for their cookbooks, the latest one (Canyon Ranch Cooks, October 2003) co-authored by Scott Uehlein.

Hands on cooking classes cost $110 (can be part of spa credit); “lunch and learn” demos are included in all-inclusive rate.

Lake Austin Spa Resort

Lake Austin Spa Resort

LAKE AUSTIN SPA RESORT 1705 South Quinlan Park Road Austin, Texas (512) 372-7300 (800) 847-5637 www.lakeaustin.com

3-night packages begin at $1,455 (double occupancy) and include accommodations, gourmet meals, fitness classes and all programs (including culinary program).

Three days a week, cooking lessons are given at this spa on Lake Austin, then on the second Sunday of every month, the Culinary Experience Program is offered — a popular week-long experience dedicated to healthy cooking and living.  Each month, executive chef Terry Conlan is joined by renowned restaurateurs and cookbooks authors, James Beard award-winners and nationally known celebrity chefs such as Dave Lieberman and Sara Moulton from the Food Network.  The program features special guests chefs daily cooking demos and more than 20 other activities that celebrate all things culinary.

Guests are treated to an organic garden tour and tea party, remodeled recipes classes, wine seminars and cheese tastings. Guests aren’t just taught how to cook, though – they are also taken on a private tour of Austin’s flagship Whole Foods Store to learn about organic produce.

Mansion on Forsyth Park

Mansion on Forsyth Park

MANSION ON FORSYTH PARK 700 Drayton Street Savannah, GA  (912) 238-5158 (888) 711-5114 www.mansiononforsythpark.com

Overlooking historic Forsyth Park, this 126-room luxury hotel is an 18,000 sq. foot Victorian Georgian Mansion with a restaurant, cocktail lounge, wine cellar and state-of-the-art cooking school.  The 700 Kitchen Cooking School offers a variety of hands-on classes 5 days a week with Chef Darin Sehnert, 3 hours in length each, for individuals or groups.  All classes feature hands-on participation, and focus on ethnic and regional cuisine, in addition to seasonal holiday classes. Reservations required.  Fee is $90-$95 per person.

RANCHO LA PUERTA, Tecate Baja California, Mexico (800) 443-7565 or (858) 764-5500 U.S. Mailing Address1155 Camino

Fresh produce at Rancho La Puerta

Fresh produce at Rancho La Puerta

Del Mar, Number 777,  Del Mar, CA 92014 www.rancholapuerta.com

One week all-inclusive stays begin at $2,535, including accommodations, fitness classes, gourmet organic meals, activities and special presentations.

Founded in 1940 by Deborah Szekely and her late husband Edmond Szekely, Rancho La Puerta was the world’s first fitness spa.  (they later established the world’s first premiere spa, The Golden Door in 1958).

The Spanish name “La Cocina Que Canta” (the kitchen that sings) honors its Mexican heritage w/local ingredients and a Mexican/Mediterranean focus at this spa cooking school.   The 4,500 square foot hands-on classroom/kitchen, cookbook library, and culinary gift shop in the midst of the spa’s famous 6 acre organic farm is set to open in May of 2007.  Guests will not only learn to cook, but they will be taken to the organic farm to pick their own produce.

Walking the labrynth at Red Mountain Spa  Photo: George Frey

Walking the labrynth at Red Mountain Spa Photo: George Frey

RED MOUNTAIN SPA Mailing Address P.O. Box 2149 St. George, Utah 84771-21491275 E. Red Mountain Circle
Ivins, UT www.redmountainspa.com

Rates start at $1,695 per person based on double occupancy for a five-night program, including accommodations, gourmet meals, 8 hours of private cooking school instruction; healthy living classes, fitness classes and guided hikes, and the use of spa facilities.
Graduates of the School for Adventure Cuisine receive a diploma; culinary tools that support the spa style of cooking such as a micro plane, silpat and olive oil mister, as well as a Red Mountain Adventure Cuisine Cookbook. The program is limited to just 12 guests per month.

Luxury bath at Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa

Luxury bath at Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa

SEDONA ROUGE HOTEL & SPA 2250 West Hwy 89A Sedona, AZ  (866) 312-4111 www.sedonarouge.com

The Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa provides private and group cooking demonstrations in hopes of teaching cooking techniques that compliment a healthier lifestyle.

Classes are approximately one and a half hours long and take place outdoors, at either the observation deck overlooking the Red Rocks, or in the chef’s garden next to our Spa and pool area.  Three-course demonstrations focus on sustainable ingredients that are seasonally driven, but chef Kyle Evans tries to incorporate some unusual ingredients as well.

Cooking demonstrations, $95 per person, including food tasting, recipes and instruction.  Advance reservations required.

THE FOLLOWING ARE HOTELS THAT ARE NOT DESTINATION SPAS, BUT OFFER COOKING CLASSES IN ADDITION TO SPA TREATMENTS:

POST RANCH INN Mailing address: Highway 1, PO Box 219 Big Sur, CA  (831) 667-2200 Reservations: 800-527-2200 www.postranchinn.com

Cooking classes are offered once every other Saturday and are included in resort fee; demos hold from 12-18 guests.  Hands-on cooking classes can be prearranged ahead of time.

Chef Craig von Foerster, chef of Post Ranch Inn’s award winning Sierra Mar Restaurant and author of the Sierra Mar Cookbook, teaches unstructured cooking classes to guests and a few lucky locals – classes last anywhere from one to two hours.  The menu varies with the season with Chef von Foerster teaching various techniques such as braising.  Discussion follows about menu options and von Foerster often creates recipes during the class.

In addition, Brad Williams does a dessert demo once a month as well. Sierra Mar Cookbook – www.sierramarcookbook.com

TROUT POINT LODGE Nova Scotia www.foodvacation.com 902-482-8360

$675/U.S. per person, 2 nights, including accommodations, all meals and cooking classes.

They have a seafood cooking school and offer field trips to oyster farms or lobster pounds in addition to their hands on cooking classes.  It may not be a full blown spa, but they offer spa treatments.

INN AT COYOTE MOUNTAIN, Costa Rica (sister property of Trout Point Lodge) www.foodvacation.com (902) 482-8360

$750/per person, including 3 nights accommodations, all meals, and daily cooking classes or field trips (Dec through May).Located in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, The Inn at Coyote Mountain offers cooking classes in which guests learn how to make healthy Latin and Creole fare.

RITZ HOTEL Ecole Ritz Escoffier, 15, Place Vendome Paris, France (33) (0) 1 43 16 30 30
www.ritz.com

Now the Ritz might not be considered a spa, but it has a spa and a world class cooking school, Ecole Ritz Escoffier.  They offer a variety of classes, including professional pastry making courses, for beginners to masters, along with group and children’s courses. Prices range from 85 euros per class to 960 euros for more private groups of 1-4.  (Be sure to check in advance as to what language your course will be in, as many of them are given in French only).

Jennifer Evans Gardner is a food and travel writer, cookbook author, and owner of the Little Feet in the Kitchen cooking school.  Formerly Editor-in-Chief for PeterGreenberg.com, Jennifer has also written for ePregnancy, Eating, Santa Barbara, and Kiwi, among other publications. www.jenevansgardner.com

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.