The best immersive cooking courses
Do more than scratch the surface of a destination’s food culture by signing up for an immersive cooking course, from al fresco organic cookouts in Morocco specialising in smoky aubergine zalouk with zesty lemon and coriander, to a crash course on doughnuts in San Francisco
Looking for immersive cooking classes? Want to learn to cook while you're travelling? Check out our expert guide to the best cooking classes and cooking schools around the world here...
NORWAY (LOFOTEN ISLANDS)
Riding the recent wave of immersive food experiences, Norway’s new four-night Kitchen On The Edge of the World packages are the freshest of the lot. A partnership between Holmen, a rustic-chic restaurant and hotel on one of the Lofoten islands, and the British chef Valentine Warner (a long-time advocate of cooking in Scandinavia’s wilder corners), three such retreats are planned for this year, with the first one kicking off in March. Guest chefs include Niklas Ekstedt and Angela Hartnett, brought in to lead events such as cooking demos, fishing trips and wild picnics, alongside a team of artists, filmmakers and naturalists.
MYANMAR (SHAN STATE)
Run by a not-for-profit organisation, Inle Heritage’s cookery classes help visitors unlock the culinary heritage of Inle’s lakeside communities via old family recipes like fermented tea leaf salad. Celebrated for its fresh water fish, fields of lotus flowers and vegetables grown on floating gardens, Inthar cuisine is built on fresh, seasonal produce that is considered medicinal and often sourced wild. With access only by long boat, it’s best to stay the night, which is no hardship given the property’s heavenly stilt houses, in-lake swimming pool and superb restaurant and cocktail list.
These trips are about more than just local cuisine, though; you’ll also be giving back by contributing to the funding of the initiative, which includes a facility for local students to learn the skills of the restaurant trade. In return they’ll teach you how to make fragrant bamboo shoot salad with black sesame, creamy Nyaungshwe chickpea-tofu salad and spicy, slurp-worthy snakehead fish soup with rice noodles.
Two-hour classes from £80 per person, including lunch or dinner (inleheritage.org)
Celebrity Danish cookery writer Trine Hahnemann, author of the Scandinavian Cookbook and Scandinavian Christmas, recently opened a deli and cooking school, Hahnemanns Kokken, on one of the prettiest squares in Copenhagen (read our weekend guide to Copenhagen here). Here she delves deep into traditional Danish baking – you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten proper Danish rye bread (Hahnemann teaches you how to make the starter, which you get to take away with you) and kardamomme snurrer (a Danish twist on the classic cinnamon bun); delectable smørrebrød – those elegant Danish open sandwiches that make anything else seem somewhat crude and clumsy in comparison (the secret, as you’ll learn, is getting the flavour combinations right) - to the hyggliest comfort food (think fried, marinated herrings and meatballs with dumplings).
Half-day classes from £80 per person including snacks, lunch or dinner (hahnemannskoekken.dk)
USA (SAN FRANCISCO)
Few places promise more self-indulgent food time than San Francisco. Once you’ve eaten your fill at hot spots like Tartine Bakery, Duna and Zuni Café you can ride the Muni – the cute, turn of the century tram that traverses the city – to the Mission District to flick through some culinary literature at specialist book store, Omnivore, before joining a Civic Kitchen cookery class.
Hosted by passionate Bay Area foodies Jen Nurse and Chris Bonomo these are perfect workshops for travellers looking to meet locals – most clients are residents – and are taught by the great and the good of the American food scene (think chef Greg Dunmore, writer Dianne Jacob and Lorraine Witte, whose memoir ‘A Pot of Rice’ extols the virtues of food as meditation). It’s all up for grabs here, from pork butchery to doughnuts to modern Chinese summer dumplings.
From £100pp for four hours, including snacks, lunch or dinner (civickitchensf.com)
Since moving to Ibiza, Tess Prince has become one of the hottest names on the island for vegan and vegetarian eating, especially among DJs who roll up at her legendary Beats and Eats Sunday brunch. Visitors can sign up for intimate Love Food Ibiza classes where island-grown treats like pink kohlrabi, chioggia beetroot, dragon carrots, peppermint celery, komatsuna mustard, black kale, red okra and yellow beans, Charlie Chaplin tomatoes and cucamelons are cooked up by the pool in Prince’s driftwood-inspired outdoor kitchen.
Expect to come away having mastered dishes like pink cauliflower falafel with vegan kefir labneh and pistachio dukkah, bookended by kombucha pitaya mocktails and carrot cake with macadamia orange crème and hemp crumbs. “Nowadays it’s not about nose-to-tail,” says Prince. “We are thinking more root-to-shoot.”
Half-day classes from £150pp, including lunch, depending on group size (lovefoodibiza.com)
If food is art then there can be few better places to cook than at the Roth Bar & Grill which is attached to contemporary art gallery, Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset outpost. Its A Day in the Kitchen course is hosted by chefs (and brothers) Steve and Paul Horrell, who’ll show you how to make the most of seasonal produce through pickling, preserving and fermenting your bounty into delectable year-round pantry goodies. “Making the most of seasonal products was key for us,” say the brothers, “but we also wanted guests to learn new skills and look at using seasonal items in a different way.” As a committedly sustainable restaurant all this goodness comes straight from the company’s farm and kitchen gardens, or from nearby producers. Classes kick off with a crash course on selecting good ingredients before teaching traditional skills our grandmothers would have known well, including a quintessentially British piccalilli and hedgerow blackberry jam, as well as continental classics like sauerkraut.
From £150 per person for five hours, including a two-course lunch. (rothbarandgrill.co.uk)
Amanda Belmamoun started the Ourika Organic Kitchen cooking school on her five-acre farm in Morocco’s Ourika Valley two years ago. Set amid an olive grove, with views of the Atlas mountains, the focus is on the age-old Moroccan tradition of charcoal cooking on a mijma (a terracotta barbecue). “It really brings out the full flavours of vegetables just plucked from the ground,” Belmamoun says, “and traditional Moroccan dishes are well suited to slow cooking.”
Guests start their day with a stroll among perfumed tea gardens before harvesting their own organic vegetables for an al fresco cookout of treats like chachouka (grilled capsicum and tomato with house-made harrissa), smoky aubergine zalouk with zesty lemon and coriander, and organic coquelet (baby chicken) marinated in charmoula made in a traditional mahriz mortar and pestle and garnished with pickled lemons and olives.
Founded by Sigridur Björk Bragadottir, former editor-in-chief of the country’s leading gastronomic publication, Gestgjafinn, Salt Eldhus is a state-of-the-art cooking school in the heart of Reykjavik. It offers a short cut into Icelandic culinary culture (including more challenging, but seriously tasty, traditional snacks like dried Atlantic wolf fish and dung-smoked Arctic char paired with some of the city’s excellent craft beers).
Once your tastebuds are sufficiently bamboozled and you’re dazzled by the views across the neighbouring icy bay, you’ll settle down to cook home-spun dishes with local ingredients like smoked lamb with red cabbage and raisins, grilled Arctic char with fennel and orange and skyr (the local yogurt) panna cotta topped with brown whey cheese cream and wild berries. You’ll also learn a fascinating amount about a country that still believes in fairies.
Four-hour classes from £170pp, including lunch or dinner (salteldhus.is)
A newly opened farmhouse restaurant and cooking school in the heart of the rolling countryside of the Dordogne, La Closerie de la Beyne also offers carefully crafted mid-week escapes for foodies. Vincent Bonnin got his passion for nose-to-tail eating and rare breed animal husbandry when working at The Chagford Inn on Dartmoor and brings his own brand of butchery wizardry to ‘Winter’s Cure’ – two nights of unadulterated feasting (and cooking) on a lavish array of cold (bacon, cod, cheese and garlic) and hot smokes (brisket, mackerel and duck), cures (saucisson, chorizo, bresaola) and confits (duck leg, pork rilletes, corned beef). All this takes place in a converted cattle barn around a roaring open fireplace, and until their own livestock is ready for the pot, all the meat comes from nearby farms.
From £525pp including transfers, two nights’ accommodation, farm visits, two cookery courses and all meals (lacloseriedelabeyne.com)
From its bucolic position, on a ridge high in the Axarquia, El Carligto runs week-long cooking holidays for groups of eight. A delicious exploration of the culinary heritage of this lesser known corner of Andalucia, each course makes the most of local ingredients such as chivo (a herbaceous-tasting wild mountain goat), quisquillas (a small shrimp native to that corner of the coast), farmhouse cheeses, sugar cane honey, mangoes and avocados (which grow in abundance through the valley), as well as excellent regional wines
The real highlight, however, is the chance to cook and eat with a different local chef every night, each one bringing his, or her, unique perspective to the table, whether that’s reimagining traditional dishes or appropriating Japanese techniques to local ingredients.
From €1190pp for seven nights, including accommodation, nightly chef service, two show cooking classes and one in-depth cooking course (carligto.com)
Mention of a beautiful Tuscan villa is enough to tempt most people but combine that with daily cooking courses taught by local home cooks and outings to celebrated food markets, award-winning wineries, olive oil mills, and cheese and charcuterie makers, and it becomes a little taste of heaven. At Organic Tuscany, seeking out local ingredients that are biodynamic or organically produced is key to the experience back in the kitchen, where hosts Ricardo and Shilpa keep you well supplied with delicious things to sip and nibble. By the time you’re headed home you’ll know how to hand-make your own pasta and gnocchi, serve impeccable anti-pasti and perfect a risotto. Above all you’ll have learned what it is to be part of one big, happy Italian family. Seven-night courses run from the end of April to mid-October and include four hands-on classes, lunch or dinner with every class, daily farmhouse breakfasts and several foodie tours and tastings.
From £1500pp, inclusive of everything except flights (organictuscany.org)
Words by Tara Stevens and Rhiannon Batten
Tara Stevens is a food writer based between Spain and Morocco with a tiny, home-based cooking school in Fez. Her courses last from a morning to a week and offer a modern take on Moroccan cuisine, big on flavour, low on fat and unforgiving when it comes to over-cooked veggies (darnamir.com)
Images by Tara Stevens, Columbus Leth, Kassie Borreson, Hákon Davíð Björnsson©