Cooking schools are popular because they are so rewarding. They allow you to have an intimate, hands-on experience in a new destination, and they send you home with invaluable souvenirs: skills you can put to work in your own kitchen and recipes that will transport you back to the place you learned them. They’re also convivial settings in which to meet new people with similar interests. Even after it’s concluded, a cooking class keeps on giving.
Over the past few years, a culinary evolution has taken place. Propelled by travel and immigration, tastes have changed and once-obscure ingredients are now easy to find at the neighborhood grocer. Cooking schools have fed on that gastronomic curiosity and helped further it, making Americans more sophisticated and knowledgeable when they sit down at the table or head into their own kitchens.
As we’ve traveled around the world, we’ve made it a point to make cooking schools a part of our experiences. As much as anything, they enhance our trips and tell us more about a destination than any guidebook ever could. This is a list of some of our favorite cooking schools, each of which has been vetted by an Andrew Harper editor. All classes are taught in English unless otherwise noted.
A native of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, chef and writer Rosa Jackson has lived in Nice for more than 20 years. She has a well-equipped dedicated kitchen atelier near the famous Cours Saleya market where she teaches Niçoise and southern French cooking. Fluent in French and on a first-name basis with many of the best vendors at one of the most lively, colorful and fragrant food markets in the south of France, Jackson offers a market-tour cooking class that is one of the best ways to spend half a day on the Riviera.
On a sunny May morning, we met up with the other students — a couple from Australia, two sisters from Connecticut, a woman from Berlin and a Brazilian brother and sister — at one of Jackson’s favorite cafés. She introduced the cooking of Nice by explaining that the seaport only became part of France in 1860, having previously been in the Duchy of Savoy. “This is why Niçoise cooking is so Italian-influenced and the Niçois love pasta so much,” she added, before detailing the dishes we’d cook during our four-hour-long lesson, which would conclude with lunch.
We would make pissaladière, a Niçoise specialty of olive-oil-enriched sheet bread topped with sauteéd onions, black olives and anchovies; semi-salted cod with garlic confit; olive oil mashed potatoes; fiadone (Corsican cheesecake); and a lemon tart with olive oil. In the busy market, Jackson bought freshly picked, locally grown mesclun and lemons from nearby Menton, explaining that their low acidity makes them perfect for desserts. Once the shopping was done, we stopped for some socca, a popular crêpe-like market snack made on the spot from a batter of chickpea flour, olive oil, water and sea salt.
Back at Jackson’s atelier, everyone donned an apron and we got to work on the pissaladière, which was surprisingly easy to make. We then rinsed the salad, salted the fresh cod and, finally, made the fiadone and the lemon tart. The most delicious dish of the day, though, was perhaps the simplest: the mashed potatoes. After peeling and cutting the spuds, Jackson put them in a pan with just enough cold water to cover them, brought it to a boil and added butter as they cooked slowly. When they were soft, we mashed them with olive oil to preserve the flavor of the potatoes. Delicious.
Good to know: Jackson also offers private classes and special lessons on making macarons or choux pastry.
Where to stay: For a seaside setting, the Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins and the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes have a lot of charm and are only 40 minutes from Nice. For a peaceful countryside setting, the Château Saint-Martin & Spa, a half-hour north of Nice near Saint-Paul de Vence, is blissfully relaxing.
For anyone who wants to learn to cook classic French bistro dishes like blanquette de veau (veal in a cream sauce with button mushrooms and tiny onions), it can be oddly difficult to find a cooking class in Paris. This is why chef Alain Ducasse’s extremely well-honed cooking school in the city’s plush 16th arrondissement is a great option for serious home cooks.
Most of the staff cooking at the school have had experience in one of Ducasse’s many restaurants, and what they contribute here is an impressive degree of professionalism leavened by French charm. This was our experience in a Bistro Cuisine class, where we learned to cook oeufs en meurette, a superb Burgundian dish of poached eggs in a ruddy red-wine sauce with bacon, onions and mushrooms, and sea scallops with braised endive in a daube de boeuf reduction.
The majority of classes here are taught in French, but ours was in English, with students from Dubai, Japan and Boston politely working together to accomplish the precise tasks the chef assigned. This wasn’t just busywork either, since the chef was hawk-eyed about our knife skills and insistent on teaching us the flavor-building brilliance of making the sauces that are the genius of French cooking. Most of them derive from deeply reduced stock, in this case a veal stock, which he showed us how to make, while availing himself of another large long-simmering pot that had been cooking for a day to concentrate its taste. That lesson alone was worth the entire class.
The morning passed quickly in a stream of invaluable nonstop cooking tips and advice. The grand finale was an excellent lunch where the main subject of conversation was the latest Paris restaurant recommendations. Alain Ducasse’s school is as flawless as the cooking at his many restaurants.
Good to know: The Kids & Teens in the Kitchen classes are a great family affair.
Where to stay: It’s a short cab ride to the Four Seasons George V, a grand hotel near the Champs-Élysées.
Though teacher Kate Hill, a good-humored American who was a barge captain before becoming a chef, cookbook author and cooking school instructor, is happy to take on beginners for intimate lessons in her 18th-century dovecote outside Agen, her recipes will appeal most to serious cooks and French food lovers. Hill, the daughter of a Navy captain posted to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, is exactly the type of person you might hope to meet during a French cooking holiday.
A hugely knowledgeable, exigent instructor, she’s also friendly and relaxed and knows that most of her students learn best when they’re having a good time. She divides her courses between those that are most accessible — where students make cassoulet and poule au pot — and those that are more challenging and teach a specific set of French culinary skills. For example, in her Camp Charcuterie, one of her most popular courses, students learn to break down a whole pig and make sausage, pâté and other foods from it. “It’s not for the squeamish,” says Hill with a chuckle, “but anyone doing this course will go off with a lot of delicious new French food knowledge and a different perspective on how we eat. Supermarkets asepticize things; this course puts students in touch with the reality of making food from an animal.”
Cost: $75 for the 90-minute live Zoom “cook-along”class.
Good to know: For carnivores only.
Where to stay: Hill lodges students in several pretty and comfortable bedrooms in her home, but for something more luxurious, Michelin one-star chef Michel Trama’s L’Aubergade hotel and restaurant is less than 20 minutes away.
Famous for the “Simply Delicious” cooking show that was on Irish television for nine seasons, Darina Allen is Ireland’s best-known chef and cookbook author. Quite possibly more than anyone else on the Emerald Isle, she is responsible for the transformation of the country’s food scene. Allen is a great promoter of Ireland’s produce, including everything from Galway Bay oysters to the country’s superb butter, beef and salmon.
Just outside Cork on a lovely organic farm with a charming hotel, Allen offers a variety of courses for amateur cooks, including several that specialize in Irish home cooking and an excellent half-day baking course called Afternoon Tea and Cakes, which will send you on your way to baking flawless scones and tea breads.
Costs: Prices vary according to duration (half-day to weeks-long courses are available).
Good to know: The school has an intriguing guest-chefs program, which offers the opportunity to cook with some of the world’s best-known chefs. Past VIPs include Chicago’s Rick Bayless, London’s Yotam Ottolenghi and New York Times cooking columnist David Tanis.
Where to stay: Homey, attractive and extremely comfortable, Allen’s Ballymaloe House hotel is a favorite Irish address. The restaurant, which has an outstanding wine list, is excellent, too.
Venetian countess Enrica Rocca is one of the warmest and most natural cooking-school teachers we’ve ever met, and she also has a wonderful sense of humor and a contagious joie de vivre. Rocca, who went to the famous Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, the internationally famous hospitality-management school in Switzerland, ran several successful Italian restaurants in Cape Town before returning to Italy and opening this intimate school in her family’s sumptuous palazzo in the Dorsoduro district in the heart of the city.
“My classes are serious, but we also have a very good time,” says Rocca of the full- and half-day classes she offers to a maximum of eight students. Both courses focus on authentic Venetian cooking, and each session covers five or six antipasti, a pasta or rice dish, and a meat or fish dish. The full-day course includes a tour of Venice’s Rialto food market, where Rocca focuses on teaching students the seafood of the Venetian Lagoon and nearby Adriatic. “The quality is so beautiful, sometimes it makes me cry,” she says.
On the October day we attended the course, we learned to cook a delicious risotto con zucca e radicchio (pumpkin and radicchio risotto) — “a wonderful combination because of the balance between the sweet pumpkin and the bitter radicchio” — veal shanks braised in Amarone wine seasoned with cinnamon, and sautéed baby artichokes with oranges. Along the way, Rocca shared the fascinating history of Venetian food. “Venetian cooking has a signature Oriental love of sweet-and-sour-toned flavors,” she told us as we tasted a classic example: sardines in saor (sardines marinated with onions, raisins and pine nuts).
Cost: $330 for a full-day course.
Good to know: Rocca shares a terrific selection of her favorite Venetian restaurants and wine bars on her website.
Where to stay: The sumptuous Aman Venice on the Grand Canal is within easy walking distance of the cooking school and the Rialto market.
Diane Kochilas, a Greek-American cook, television personality and author of more than 18 cookbooks, conducts weeklong cooking classes at her home on Ikaria, the Greek island in the Aegean Sea where the healthy Mediterranean diet was first codified. The three to four hours of daily hands-on cooking lessons are an invaluable experience for anyone wanting to learn a variety of Greek dishes, but what makes her courses really special is the way Kochilas orients her students to the landscape of the island by foraging for wild greens and visiting beekeepers, winemakers and goat herders.
“You can’t cook Greek food without knowing and understanding Greek produce,” says Kochilas, who works with her amiable husband, Vasilis Stenos. “And you won’t understand the remarkable longevity of people on Ikaria, which is known as the island where people forget to die, until you’ve learned why their food is both so healthy and so delicious.”
Discovering Ikaria with Kochilas, with its dense forests and craggy mountains, is like visiting a friend, such is her pleasure in sharing the island with her students. With any luck you’ll also be on the island during one of its many feast days, when violin music resonates in the valleys and everyone dances until dawn. It’s a friendly, unique experience that will send you home with plenty of knowledge about Greek food and wine and some excellent recipes to cook on your own.
Cost: $3,750 for a weeklong class (lodging, meals, excursions and transportation included).
Good to know: This cooking course is exceptionally vegetarian-friendly; Kochilas teaches many dishes involving vegetables and legumes, including eggplant with walnut-garlic sauce, stuffed zucchini with lemon sauce, braised chickpeas with spinach and sage, and wild-mushroom stew.
Where to Stay: If your flight to Athens gets in late, plan to spend a night or two at the renowned Hotel Grande Bretagne before continuing on to Ikaria.
Chef, writer, television star, restaurant owner and hotelier, Rick Stein is a giant of the British food world. Since he opened his first restaurant in the pretty Cornish port of Padstow in 1975, a bistro specializing in seafood, he's gone on to create a restaurant empire.
In 2000, Stein opened a seafood-oriented cooking school overlooking the beautiful Camel estuary in the heart of Padstow, where local fishing boats supply the school daily. One full-day session teaches five classic seafood dishes (fish soup, sole meunière, roast turbot with Hollandaise sauce, lobster Thermidor, and how to cook and prepare a shellfish platter), whereas a two-day course teaches some of Stein’s favorite fish and shellfish recipes (poached lobster risotto, mussels with tomato and basil, hake with green sauce, and deep-fried coconut prawns). Other courses cover Indian, Mediterranean and Mexican recipes, and shorter evening and half-day classes are also available.
Instruction takes place at individual workstations, where students learn a variety of basic but useful skills, from how to cook and dress a crab to how to make fish stock.
Cost: Classes start at $50, for a two-hour, one-dish workshop.
Good to know: Rick Stein courses sell out far in advance, so book early.
Where to stay: The best of the Rick Stein-owned accommodations in Padstow is St Edmunds House, where rooms come with sea views, king-size four-poster beds and oversize soaking tubs. Many people booking a Rick Stein course or two combine their stay with a few nights at the enchanting Hotel Tresanton in St. Mawes, one hour away.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Founded in 1980, the family-run New Orleans School of Cooking is the gold standard for Cajun- and Creole-style cooking classes in what is probably the most food-loving city in the United States.
The most famous dishes of New Orleans are a reflection of the Big Easy’s fascinating history, where the flavors of France, Spain, Acadia, Africa, the Caribbean and others come together in one pot. Immigration from Sicily, and more recently Vietnam and Mexico, has further enriched the city’s cooking.
The school is located in the French Quarter near Jackson Square and the famous Café du Monde, and courses are offered daily to a maximum of 10 students per class, making the experience intimate and engaging. Our three-hour hands-on course, which included a bloody mary bar, sent us home knowing how to cook crawfish pie, seafood-and-okra gumbo and bananas Foster. Our class was informative, professional and good-humored, which is why it wasn’t surprising that several students had already taken other classes here during their visit to New Orleans.
Cost: $145 (two-person minimum).
Good to know: Book early, since these classes fill up well in advance; the hands-on cooking classes are ultimately more satisfying than the demonstration lessons.
The languid coconut-palm-fringed backwaters of Kerala in southern India is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and a cooking holiday at the delightful Mathew family’s 50-acre organic farm on an island in Vembanad Lake offers a warm and fascinating way to experience the region. Taught by family members, the recipes feature Keralan specialties like delicate karimeen (pearl spot fish) marinated in a fresh spice paste and then grilled, Keralan fish curry, roast duck, chutneys, vegetable dishes and a variety of breads. The family’s lush farm grows spices, including nutmegs and cardamom, and the quality of the ingredients used for cooking lessons is impeccable.
The Mathews are Syrian Christians (that is, adherents to Syriac Christianity, practiced since the early days of Christianity in India, which began when St. Thomas landed in Kerala in A.D. 52 to preach the Gospel). This community has many dishes of its own, including a delicious chicken-and-vegetable stew made with coconut milk and almost a dozen spices (cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, black pepper and curry leaves among them).
Guests at the cooking school can learn how to make this remarkably good stew, along with other Syrian Christian and Keralan dishes. Lessons are offered once a day, and the suggested minimum stay here is three nights. The farm is a favorite destination of chefs from around the world.
Cost: Price upon request; suggested minimum stay of three days with one class per day.
Good to know: The coolest months in Kerala are from October to January. Meals are served communally to all guests at the farm. Alcohol is permitted but not served by the farm, so bring your own.
Where to stay: The farm has six very attractive air-conditioned waterfront villas that are comfortably furnished and come with screened windows. Meals are included in the price of the villas, as are most activities.