From Hawaii to Mexico and Closer to Home: The Top Destinations for Learning to Cook on Vacation

Our knife skills may have needed some work, but the backdrop for the first bowl of ahi poke my husband and I ever prepared was flawless: a villa at Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui, with Molokai playing peek-a-boo through swaying palm trees. And we had help: A Montage chef was there to talk us through the steps to making poke, while also “talking story” about the raw fish dish’s ancient origins among Polynesian ocean voyagers.

Montage Kapalua Bay - Chef Riko Bartolome
Chef Riko Bartolome. Courtesy of Montage Kapalua Bay.

New executive chef Riko Bartolome has now expanded the resort’s cooking classes to include poi, lomi salmon and “poke 4.0,” which shows how a few substitutions or additions to poke can create ceviche, poisson cru and kinilaw, a Filipino specialty. These Heritage Cooking classes (from $800 for a family of four) reflect a growing interest among guests in local cuisine, he says.

“A lot of people say, ‘I want to learn something Hawaiian,’” Bartolome notes. “They get a little bit nervous that it’s going to be so difficult, and then they’re really excited to realize how simple it is. And it helps that we’re here in this beautiful setting — it adds to the experience.”

Cooking classes that teach you how to concoct local flavors can not only sharpen culinary skills but also offer a more meaningful alternative to souvenir shopping. Here are five more of our favorite destinations for educational feasting.

Nobu Hotel Palo Alto, Palo Alto, California

Nobu Palo Alto
Photo courtesy of Nobu Palo Alto.

The setting:

One of a baker’s dozen of hotels cofounded by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, this Silicon Valley outpost offers ryokan-style rooms and suites on its seventh and eighth floors overlooking downtown Palo Alto, as well as a Nobu restaurant.

The class:

In sessions designed for eight to 10 guests, executive sushi chef Kihyun Seol teaches students how to roll sushi and prepare Nobu’s signature yellowtail jalapeño and black cod miso.

The cost:

$175 per person; includes keepsake, Nobu-branded chef’s apron, prepared dishes, hot tea and small sake; lodging is additional.

The Apple Farm, Philo, California

Photo courtesy of Lucille Lawrence
Photo courtesy of Lucille Lawrence.

The setting:

An apple farm with four guest rooms in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, The Apple Farm was purchased by the creators of the French Laundry in 1982 and is now operated by their children.

The class:

Under chef and co-owner Karen Bates’ “stay to cook” program, guests join the staff in preparing multicourse California farm-to-table meals inspired by the local bounty, served with local wines and ciders. A sample entrée: braised shoulder of goat with Meyer lemon and mint and roasted baby bok choy on orzo.

The cost:

A midweek dinner with one night’s lodging is $580 for a couple; a weekend stay with three cooking sessions and two nights’ lodging is $1,466. Both require a minimum of four people and are currently limited to private groups; email karen@philoapplefarm.com.

Rancho Valencia, Rancho Santa Fe, California

Photo courtesy of Rancho Valencia
Photo courtesy of Rancho Valencia.

The setting:

This residential-style luxury resort is perched in the sunny hills of northern San Diego County.

The class:

Rancho Valencia’s master gardener Norah Mitchell teams up with executive chef Joshua Holt once a month for Green Is Gold classes in the resort’s culinary garden and greenhouse. Guests learn how to grow herbs and make salsa with freshly harvested ingredients, and also have the opportunity to sample tequila and mezcal.

The cost:

The class is complimentary for overnight guests.

Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, Los Cabos, Mexico

Photo courtesy of Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
Photo courtesy of Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort.

The setting:

The airy, 268-room beachfront compound is located on the Los Cabos corridor.

The class:

Executive chef Mauricio Lopez concocts a two-hour cooking class and private dinner including dishes such as fish and clam ceviche, octopus grilled over a bonfire, guacamole, tacos and carne asada. Guests receive recipes, plus a follow-up Zoom class with Lopez to try them out at home.

The cost:

The class is available with a three-night minimum stay in a deluxe ocean view room, from $398 a night; use plan code P4 to book online or send an email.

Calamigos Guest Ranch, Malibu, California

Photo courtesy of Calamigos Guest Ranch
Photo courtesy of Calamigos Guest Ranch.

The setting:

The 250-acre ranch features 56 cottages and bungalows nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, and a beach club in Malibu.

The class:

A garden with two wood-burning pizza ovens, bar and seating provides the venue for executive chef Ricardo Morales’ hands-on class on making pizza from scratch, including tips on choosing locally sourced vegetables, the right wood and best temperature for the oven.

The cost:

The class costs $600 for a family of four, including beer and Calamigos wine for adults and chefs’ hats and personal pizzas for kids.


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Jeanne CooperTravel writer and guidebook author Jeanne Cooper lives in Hawaii, where she volunteers with the Hawaii Island Humane Society and St. James’ Community Meal.