America's Best Cooking Schools
The latest hot travel trend: cooking school vacations
While serious foodies may think the Food Network's dueling Iron Chefs and Emeril's incessant exhortations ("Let's kick it up a notch!") will have a lot to answer for in that great six-burner kitchen in the sky, cooking school administrators acknowledge that these shows have sparked unprecedented interest in learning how to cook. If you add to that development a dollop of post-9/11 hankering to stay close to home and get back to old-fashioned nurturing, you've got a recipe for the latest hot travel trend: cooking school vacations.
"This will be our biggest year yet for attendance in amateur classes," says Richard Smilow, president of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE, formerly Peter Kump's Cooking School) in its 27th year in New York City. Cooking, once something only your mother did (well, some mothers did), now suddenly seems to have, dare we say it, sex appeal.
"Cooking is a part of the new dating ritual," observes Larry Kaplan, a radiologist from Reading, Pennsylvania, who says that he hopes taking a five-day Asian cooking course at ICE will boost his post-divorce dating prospects. "It's a sensual experience of tastes," Kaplan says, "and it's a way to show caring that's a more intimate gift than taking a date to a restaurant."
And best of all, the growing number of weekend and weeklong cooking vacation packages at inns, B&Bs, and cooking schools are great bargains. The ethnic cooking classes, especially, provide an exotic adventure to foreign lands--without the expense or bother of leaving the United States.
We've picked the highest-quality cooking classes in America that also have the lowest prices available--and better still, are located in places where there's plenty more to do when you take off your apron. Whether for the weekend or the whole week, courses usually follow a similar routine: The chef goes over the recipes the students will tackle that day, offering insight and background on the cuisine, the ingredients, or the techniques required. At the end of class, the students sit down and dine on the fruits of their labor in a luscious multicourse meal, with lots of wine--and no cleaning up. It's one of the most soul-satisfying ways you'll find for getting your hands dirty since mud pies and finger paint--and this time, eating your creations tastes a whole lot better.
New York City: The Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York cooking school)
"We offer the widest range of three-, four-, and five-day cooking courses anywhere--we have nine teaching kitchens, open seven days a week, with technique classes in fine cooking, pastry, bread-baking, cake-decorating, and every ethnic cuisine from Italian and Japanese to Thai and Vietnamese," says Richard Smilow, president of ICE, which caters to professionals and amateurs alike.
And a variety of people are attracted to the classes for equally wide-ranging reasons. "We had one woman who used to work in the World Trade Center--and our bread-baking class was the thing that helped her come back to Manhattan without being afraid," Smilow says. Others come for the adventure. The adventure? "I see this cooking class as part of my adventure travel and adult education," says Larry Kaplan (who also hopes it will help his dating odds). "I've done motorcycle racing for a week, hang gliding, just found a bullfighting school. Cooking is not as suicidal--except when we get to the hot chili recipe," Kaplan says at the end of his Asian cooking class.
And the prices are very reasonable, especially for the quality of the instruction. Classes run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the school also offers a wide range of single-day workshops ranging in price from $85 to $100. Though the school has no arrangement with local hotels, there are many bargains to be had in New York City, especially in B&Bs, which few people know anything about (see Budget Travel's "New York Rooms Under $100" from the September/October 2001 issue).
Cost: Three-day classes, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., $275-$415; five-day classes, $495; tuition includes snacks, a huge lunch, and wine each day; hotels near the school: Chelsea Hotel, Chelsea Inn, Gramercy Park Hotel. For B&Bs under $100 per night, contact: Affordable New York City, 212/533-4001; City Lights, 212/737-7049; CitySonnet.com, 212/614-3034; Manhattan Getaways, 212/956-2010; New York Habitat, 212/255-8018.
Contact: The Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), 50 W. 23 St., New York, NY 10011, 212/847-0700, iceculinary.com/.
Boulder, Colorado: Cooking School of the Rockies