Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Get IN the Kitchen on Vacation

Executive Chef Elijah Bowe's Cooking Class at Graycliff Hotel in Nassau

Most folks go on vacation to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking.

But, when Atlantan Lydia Connerty began planning a bicycle tour of Vietnam with several other girl friends she chose a group cooking experience as one of their activities, “The first thing I did was sign us up to take a hands-on class in Vietnamese cuisine. What a fun way to get introduced to the country and its culture. And then we’d know more about what to order from menus on our trip.”

From cruise ships to resort hotels, cooking classes are joining spa treatments and zip line adventures as popular vacation activities. Joe Carlin, Associate Editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, has sought out cooking classes on his world travels with wife Julie for years, “We I took a class in Bangkok on green and red curries back in 2008 and found it a very positive experience. The class served as a nice introduction to the foods of the country. The class was a success because the instructor was knowledgeable, knew her audience and did not try to overwhelm us with too many dishes.”

Chefs at hotels and restaurants also find that inviting guests into their kitchens to cook is a great way to promote their properties and build customer loyalty. Executive chef Elijah Bowe, of the historic Graycliff Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas welcomes his class with a flute of Champagne and then hands out the aprons and knives. After a review of culinary vocabulary associated with the evening’s recipes from “al dente” to “roux” he leads the group through a step-by-step lesson in how to clean a whole fish.

Then the group of six separates into duos to get dinner ready including blackened grouper with tomato compote. While his students slice and dice Bowe, a native of the Bahamas, shares stories of growing up in the islands and his enthusiasm for teaching, “Some people are very skilled and others are kitchen novices. It’s fun to see the teamwork develop. Eventually we do get dinner on the table!” Then the aprons come off and kitchen duties are left behind as guests take their places in the elegant colonial dining room and enjoy the courses they created with sommelier selected wine pairings.

The wine cellar deep beneath the floors of Graycliff Hotel with thousands of bottles of buried treasure! 

If you’re still craving time to cook on a trip to Nassau, the One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island has added cooking classes and mixology lessons to their menu of things to do at the beach.

Pretty Dune Restaurant at One and Only on Paradise Island, Bahamas
The evening I visited, executive chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune restaurant showed us how to make plantain crusted grouper and led us through a tasting of spices used in Bahamian cooking before sending us off to the ocean front dining room where the classroom experience really added to appreciation of the Caribbean spiced fresh seafood dishes. 

Fresh caught seafood of course! Chef Emmanuel Gibson of Dune speaks fluent fish.

Kitchen Clean Lessons

One of the things that impressed me is the attention to sanitation before, during and after these amateur hours in professional kitchens. Everyone is firmly instructed to properly wash their hands, avoid cross contamination between raw meats and fresh vegetables and to wash their hands again before entering the dining room. During the Chefs Plate Gourmet cooking class at the Royal Playa del Carmen resort in Mexico, the lesson in proper hand washing technique included nail brushing and scrubbing up to the elbows. Good moves considering you don’t really know the other guests in your group or whether they’ve just come off the golf course or shopping in town before helping to cook your lunch. It was apparent the food and beverage staff of the hotel, part of the Real Resorts of Mexico, were trying really hard to dispell any fears of Montezuma's Revenge. In fact, the kitchens were gleaming clean.  
So, whether you’re traveling to India or China or taking a cooking class at a restaurant in Atlanta, keep an eye on kitchen cleanliness as well as the cuisine to get the most out of the experience. The only souveniers you want are a few new recipes and new found appreciation for world cuisines.

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