Credit Jamie Oliver, programs like MasterChef, the Food Network and a savvy tourism industry for fuelling the trend from about the early 2000s - nowadays cooking classes and culinary tourism claim a decent chunk of the market share within the tourism industry.
Watching the television travel and cookery lifestyle shows has made the idea of travelling for food accessible – yes, there’s more to Tuscany than sipping wine and lounging by a pool, the traveller thinks. Now, homestays on farms, a week of market hopping, visits to local producers and artisans and learning how to make the classic dishes from locals provide a lush, and meaningful alternative. Cooking provides a gateway to cultural exchange – the old adage of strengthening ties by breaking bread together, applies here.
Cooking classes are the new cool – it appeals to most age groups, skill levels and now that we are starting to shed the shackles of our “convenience culture”, it’s become a highly sought after activity. It’s also become a very popular gift suggestion for the urban male in my own circles, in Cape Town.
Research by the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) shows that 30% of American travelers will choose a destination based on the availability of a local food or drink festival or experience. They say that 51 % of travelers travel to learn or enjoy unique dining experiences. Of those who travel specifically for food, 81 % say they enjoy learning about the culture and cuisine of the places they visit with the same percentage stating that food and drink forms their largest expenditure when travelling.
Together with the desire for more authentic experiences and getting intimately acquainted with locals (standard tour packages only skim the surface of any destination), consumers are more aware than ever of the provenance of food. There is, a sometimes-romantic notion, that “other” destinations have a better understanding of what seasonal and real food entails – think the market cultures prevalent in France, Italy and across Asia. This has had a positive transfer effect on destinations that have grown up on supermarkets and mini- marts – farmers markets have sprung up all over America, the UK and South Africa, for example. We can also credit the food revolutionaries like Michael Pollen and the Slow Food Movement for much of the influence in our interest in good food.
The WFTA states, “Cuisine is the only attraction that is available year-round, in any weather, at any time of day, even on holidays.” This is a short list of cooking classes worth travelling for.
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1. LES PETITS FARCIS, Nice (France)
Pick from the bounty of sun-ripened Provençal fruit and vegetables at the Cours Saleya market, under the expert tutelage of Rosa Jackson and after a coffee, saunter to her nearby revamped 17th century apartment. Here, guests prepare and learn more about the history of Niçoise classics such as pissaladiere.
2. CASA ARTUSI, Forlimpopoli (Italy)
Named after the gastronomist Pellegrino Artusi, loved in Italy and around the world, this living culinary museum provides in-depth knowledge on Italian food culture and hands-on cooking classes too. Students have their own workstations and can learn how to make the perfect pasta and pasta shapes as well as local breads, for example.
3. HO CHI MINH COOKING CLASS, outside Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
With a rather eccentric cooking class instructor, this class outside Ho Chi Minh City provides you the opportunity to visit a village with a medicinal food garden. After a visit through the garden, with local farmers tilling the soil, you retreat to the shade of the veranda where you lean about mushroom cultivation, and a selection of Vietnamese dishes. You cook everything from scratch. The school also accommodates short-term exchange students and large corporate bookings – so make sure you enquire first if you’d prefer some privacy.
4. ENRICA ROCCA, Venice (Italy)
Flamboyant Enrica Rocca enlivens the Rialto market with her deep knowledge of the produce, and rapport with the bawdy vendors. Her classes are held in a modern apartment in her family’s palazzo, where guests enjoy an intimate glimpse of Venetian life. Up to six home-style dishes are prepared over wine and chatter.
5. GALILEAT, Israel
One of the most culinary diverse areas in Israel, Galilee, the land mentioned in the bible, comprises Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christians and others. Passionate ex-chef Paul Nirens guides cultural visits to the homes of Galilean Arab or Druze families to learn their cherished recipes.
6. COOK&TASTE, Barcelona (Spain)
Tucked in the side streets of the Barri Gòtic, local chefs unpack Spanish and Catalan classics like frittata and paella in a bright, funky space. The classes are suited to all ages, and kids take delight in blowtorching the sugar on crema Catalan. A tour of La Boqueria, one of the best European markets is also available.
7. PERUVIAN COOKING EXPERIENCE, Arequipa (Peru)
Peru is on an upward trajectory in the food world, and Arequipa is a city known to provide some of the most outstanding examples of the cuisine. Learn how to make chupe de camerones (langoustine/river prawn soup), rocoto relleno (cheese stuffed red peppers) and adobo (clay pot slow cooked pork) in a beautiful garden setting.
8. CASS ABRAHAMS, Cape Town (South Africa)
Cass Abrahams, a doyenne of South African cuisine who has enriched the body of knowledge on Cape Malay cookery, presents educational cooking classes in her home, tracing the history and geography of the ingredients used. She shares the stories acquired over 45 years, teaching recipes well over 300-years-old. Book via Pam.
9. AMITA'S COOKING SCHOOL, Khlong Lat Mayom (Thailand)
Outside the bustle of Bangkok, is the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market with far fewer tourists than the other markets. Shop at the market with a guide and then retreat to Amita’s house to learn how to make classic Thai dishes, including green curry and curry pastes from scratch, as well as rice pudding. Book via a boutique tour operator.
10. BITES & SITES, Stellenbosch (South Africa)
Despite being seen a town of wealthy students and wine farms, there is a rich and diverse cultural history in Stellenbosch. Close to the city centre is Kayamandi township where you can go on a walking tour within the informal settlement and eat Xhosa dishes or learn how to make traditional Cape Malay dishes in a nearby neighbourhood.