Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017
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Slice of Life

Burning questions, dicey situations and saucy repartee spice up a cooking vacation

Let's be honest: for some, slaving over a good meal may seem like a waste of effort -- after all, most worthwhile meals take more time to prepare than they do to eat. Yet those who appreciate the art of sumptuous food understand the intoxicating pleasure behind the smell of fresh herbs, or watching a soufflé or a Cornish hen roast turn out perfectly.

If your idea of a dream vacation involves travelling long distances and giving away your hard-earned cash to stand in someone else's kitchen all day, the following cooking schools offer gourmet retreats for the passionate home chef. Others need not apply.

A STERN LESSON
Toronto MDs who don't have time to leave town for the week but would still like to get their hands dirty can stand in a kitchen where cooking giants such as Giuliano Bugialli, Madhur Jaffrey, Jacques Pépin and Nick Malgieri have stood before.

Bonnie Stern, author of 11 national bestselling cookbooks, weekly columnist for the National Post and cooking-show host, established her Toronto cooking school in 1973. She offers mostly demonstration classes on an array of culinary topics.

If you're tired of being afraid of the kitchen you should consider taking Basics -- Relax and Start Cooking, a 12-hour course that runs over four Monday evenings. Recipes are quick, easy and healthy and feature a different topic each week: chicken, fish, pasta, soups or salads. Appetizers and drinks are served at the beginning of each class, and generous helpings of whatever's made are doled.

If you're the kind who learns from doing rather than watching, consider bringing the entire department or signing up everyone in your practice for a corporate lesson. Daylong classes offer hands-on experience in the kitchen. You'll be separated into teams and each will work on one course of a five-course meal, which will then be enjoyed with wine.

Price: approximately $375 for the four-week session; corporate lessons vary.

Info: (416) 484-4810; www.bonniestern.com.

NIAGARA ON THE BAKE
Don't get any ideas: the drinking doesn't start at 8:30am at the Strewn Winery in Niagara, even though the classes do. Canada's only winery cooking school, which focuses on pairing food and wine, Strewn offers two- and five-day classes that are so hands-on, you do everything except the dishes
(note: you can't bring the staff home).

If you're looking to spend three hours on a 16-step dessert, this isn't the place for you. But if you want to learn how to use local, seasonal ingredients and explore the relationship between food and wine in depth, then this is it.

Mornings are spent cooking a three-course meal. This spring's menu may include spiced carrot spread on homemade Melba toast, asparagus soup with a dollop of goat cheese, maple-soy glazed pork tenderloin with rhubarb chutney and golden-pepper risotto, and a platz-Russian Mennonite coffee cake with rhubarb-maple topping for dessert.

There aren't many cooking schools where the winemaker joins you for lunch to talk about the vintage. But you'll get to sit down in Strewn's private dining room to enjoy the fruits of your labour with the president, who will be pairing the meal with the winery's reds, whites, ice and dessert wines.

Guests can find their own accommodation or stay at the Harbour House (tel: 866-277-6677; www.harbourhousehotel.ca), a new 31-room boutique hotel.

Price: The two- or five-day courses run from $375 to $1550 without accommodation, and from $699 to $2450 with accommodation at Harbour House (per person, double occupancy).

Info: (905) 468-8304; www.winecountrycooking.com.

NAPA VALLEY NOSH
Lana Richardson's cooking classes are not for the faint of kitchen. Though a lot of cooking is packed into the three- and five-day courses and a fair bit of work is involved in making the meals, the atmosphere stays relaxed and friendly.

Classes are limited to eight people and everything is done as hands-on preparation. Menus are based on the season -- what's growing in Lana's garden -- and the skill levels of the students. Menu examples include mixed greens topped with Gorgonzola-polenta croutons, Mediterranean-style chicken roulade with smoked mozzarella-prosciutto stuffing, roasted garlic couscous with carrots and peppers, and a warm chocolate soufflé.

The first day is spent on foundations, such as stocks, that will be used throughout the rest of the course. Though some recipes are prepared as a group, most are completed individually or with a partner, with each group making a different element of a multi-course meal. The daytime sessions have you cooking all day, finishing with a meal that you and your new friends have painstakingly created, paired with complimentary wine from California's Sonoma or Napa valleys.

Chef Richardson taught cooking classes at various B&Bs throughout Northern California for several years before deciding to bring the students to her. Casa Lana opened in 1999 and has two rooms, which house about half the class. The rest of the students stay at a variety of inns and B&Bs, all within easy walking distance.

Though the courses are intensive and hard work, evenings are free to explore the valley's many wineries or enjoy some local cuisine.

Price: Up to $US875 for the five-day learning vacation, with accommodation ranging from $US155 to $US250 per night.

Info: (877) 968-2665; www.casalana.com.

 

HAIL TO THE CHEF
When you were contemplating life after high school, was it a toss up between medicine and becoming a chef? If you've always wondered what the other road would have led to, don't miss this chance to put to answer that "what if" once and for all. Epiculinary, a culinary tour company that offers cooking vacations in North America and Europe, presents École des Chefs, a unique cooking program that pairs passionate food enthusiasts with world-famous chefs for a two- to five-day internship.

The program, which is strictly for non-professional cooks, has you joining a real brigade in a Relais & Châteaux Relais Gourmands kitchen with culinary luminaries such as Charlie Trotter, Georges Blanc or Thomas Keller.

A typical day starts midmorning, depending on when the restaurant opens, and lasts eight to 10 hours. You'll move from station to station -- hot and cold appetizers, sauces, fish, meat, desserts -- and work the lunch service before the staff meal and afternoon break. Then you'll resume work for the dinner service, all the while learning cooking tips and secrets from your idol. It'll be just like working in a real restaurant, except that the boss can't yell at you for ruining the risotto since you're paying through the nose to be there.

Price: Approximately $US1200-1500, not including accommodation and airfare.

Info: (847) 295-5363; www.epiculinary.com.

GOLF BALLS AND PASTRY BAGS
Now you can have your cake and a hole-in-one, too. Epiculinary's Golf and Gastronomy tour takes you around the Loire Valley on a wine-tasting, cooking and golf vacation.

The cooking almost takes a back burner to the wine-tasting and guided tours of the area, with plenty of free time and visits to castles, as well as an afternoon on the 18-hole Château de Cheverny golf course. Winery sit-and-sip stops include Domaine de la Noblaine and Domaine de la Lande. You'll have two phenomenal cooking sessions during the four-night trip. The first is with Chef Philippe Martin in Pouilly-sur-Loire, where you'll be staying and cooking your dinner for the night. Menus vary but anticipate making something as delicious as foie gras with figs marinated in Sauvignon wine, crunchy quail with dried fruit, and chocolate soufflé.

The second culinary session is also hands-on, at Le Médicis restaurant in Blois. Spend the morning with Chef Christian Garange at the local outdoor market where you'll get to handpick the ingredients for the meal you'll be making that afternoon. Hot oysters with rillons and leeks, anyone?

The tour includes accommodations, classes, visits to wineries and the round of golf.

Price: Approximately $US2435 based on double occupancy

Info: www.epiculinary.com.

UNDER THE TUSCAN BUN
Vancouver-based Umberto Menghi -- known for a handful of restaurants in Vancouver and Whistler -- has set up shop in small-town Ripoli di Lari in the heart of rural Tuscany, just a 45-minute drive from Florence. In addition to facilities with the latest kitchen equipment, Villa Delia recently opened 10 rooms to sleep hotel guests as well as cooking students.

Your 10-day vacation will put you through your paces during seven morning cooking classes with resident chef Marietta Menghi, Umberto himself or other regional chefs. You'll learn the ins and outs of Tuscan cuisine, including bread making, pastry making, pasta, soups, sauces, seafood, always using what's available from Villa Delia's vegetable and herb garden. You'll want to make sure everyone's concentrating as they cook, because you'll then sit down and eat what you made for lunch. House wine and olive oil is served, made from the Villa's 32 hectares of vineyards and olive groves.

You'll have an opportunity to work off each day's calories with guided afternoon excursions to Florence, Lucca and the villages of Cinque Terre, where you can either shop, go for a walk or enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

All you have to do is get yourself to Pisa. The rest of your vacation is taken care of, including airport transfers, deluxe accommodations at Villa Delia, all meals, cooking classes and excursions.

Price: approximately $US4700.
Info: (604) 669-3732; www.umberto.com.

TRY THAI
The land of my favourite cuisine is replete with cooking schools for the lay chef. The odds are in your favour that the hotel you're staying at, if it has a Thai restaurant, can arrange a private class or two for you with the chef -- most of Chiang Mai's major hotels do. Some of the hotel-restaurant courses emphasize hands-on practice while others are only watch-and-nibble. If you've come across a delicious dish during your travels and you can't wait to make it at home for you friends -- "Oh, this darling recipe? I picked it up in Thailand when I was last there" -- mention it to the instructor; you're usually allowed to choose the recipes. As always, you'll get to enjoy the meal once it's done.

If you want more formal lessons, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School offers one- to five-day classes, taught in English. Menu examples include papaya salad, spicy minced-duck salad, tom yum koong (spicy prawn soup) and deep friend crispy catfish with green mango relish. Classes start in the morning and the hands-on lessons run five or six hours and end with the meal you've just prepared.

Price: Between $30 and $140, depending on length of class (accommodation and airfare not included obviously).

Info: 011-66-53-206-388; fax: 011-55-53-206-387; www.thaicookeryschool.com.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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