Class Notes: A World of Great Cooking Schools

December 2006

The Thai House, Nontaburi, Thailand

For an experience that's as much about R&R as it is about learning to cook, head to this little guesthouse and restaurant nestled in the quiet town of Nontaburi. You'll be escorted in a sputtering motorboat to meet Pip Fargrajang, the diminutive master of the house—which, modeled in the Thai tradition, is all about silk bed linens and teak everywhere. (N.B. Bathrooms are shared, so pack a light robe.) In the cooking classes held in the open-air kitchen adjacent to the downstairs restaurant, Fargrajang goes way beyond the basics, integrating a galangal-cutting lesson into the soup-making session and requiring students to pound curry pastes by hand. At mealtime, Fargrajang's exquisite food demonstrates the best of what you've learned or introduces new themes for the next day's session. In the off hours, request a boat tour of Nontaburi's meandering canals, or just head for a chair on the upper veranda and listen to the unbelievable sounds of tropical bird calls and banana and coconut fronds flapping in the wind. $600 for a two-day, two-night package, including lodging, meals, and lessons. Asia Transpacific Journeys (800-642-2742).

A Question of Taste, Seville, Spain

We can't imagine a better bet in beautiful Andalusia than to team up with chef/instructor Willy Moya of Seville's acclaimed Poncio. A tour on any topic will take you straight to the most hard-to-get-into restaurants—those that are in demand not because they're in all the guidebooks but because they're so popular with the locals. We especially loved the tapas—and Sherry-themed tours, the latter including a particularly memorable pairing of a cool glass of the stuff with a few perfect pink slices of jamón ibérico. From $82 (+34 954713710;

Tante Marie's Cooking School, San Francisco

Founder Mary Risley is a known advocate for her students, getting them externships in the best kitchens in America. She brings this same zeal to every aspect of her school; she's a stickler for technique but always keeps the big picture in mind. In addition to professional chef-instructors, for example, Risley also invites farmers and fishmongers to broaden the minds of cooks-in-training. (We'll never question the superiority of line-caught to net-caught fish again.) Courses are all expertly run and equally engaging—take the San Francisco "Cooking Vacation," focusing on the foods of Chinatown, North Beach (Italian), and the Mission (Mexican), or learn food styling from seasoned professionals. From $50 (415-788-6699;

Città del Gusto, Rome

Located in a completely refurbished industrial-era warehouse on Rome's trendy south side is the "City of Taste" complex, the creation of Gambero Rosso, Italy's premier food-and-wine publishing house. Within the five stories are television studios, a dinner theater where celebrity chefs stage cooking shows, a restaurant, a wine bar, a gourmet shop, and state-of-the-art classrooms where some of Italy's most talented chefs teach their specialties. "Professione Cuoco" is a three-month full-immersion course in which Rome's up-and-coming chefs, like Il Convivio's Angelo Troiani and L'Altro Mastai's Fabio Baldassarre, reveal their techniques. Classes on pizza are taught by three-time world champion pizzaiolo Giuseppe Arleto. The cakes and crostata session by Milan's virtuoso pasticciere Maurizio Santin is always a sellout. Lessons are in Italian but Città del Gusto will provide a translator (or you can ask the chef to translate simultaneously if he speaks English). From $65. E-mail to request courses in English (011-39-06-55-11-22-1;

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena, California

Set in a former winery overlooking vineyards in Napa Valley, classes at Greystone emphasize fresh and local ingredients (even the cooking wine, you'll notice, is from surrounding vineyards), as well as exacting techniques. Though the teaching kitchen is cathedral-ceilinged and looks as if it's from another century, it is filled with up-to-the-minute technology, such as induction burners and 30,000-Btu woks. Brace yourself for serious professionalism: Even participants in short courses are required to wear chef's whites. But considering that you'll be learning from the best and improving your skills by the hour, you'll hardly mind. From $500 (800-888-7850;

Las Cosas, Santa Fe

The locally owned kitchen shop of the same name has taken over the surrounding mall through the years, but the casual classes, run by the gregarious John Vollertsen, are still held in the original store. Don't be fooled by the bar stools around the central island—you will participate and do a lot of cooking. Sessions are designed with imagination: A pasta class runs through Italian pastas but also pierogies and spaetzle, while a Cuban class pairs roast pork loin and rice and beans with Cuba libres, deliciously limey rum and cokes. From $35 (877-229-7184;

Refúgio Da Vila, Portel, Portugal

Portugal itself may be small, but its regional cuisines are distinctive, delicious, and surprisingly little known. The weeklong Portuguese food-and-wine cooking course at the elegant Hotel Refúgio da Vila offers a terrific opportunity to learn some of the country's best (and relatively simple) dishes, including canja (chicken, lemon, and mint soup) and açorda à alentejana (broth with bread, garlic, cilantro, and egg), along with succulent classics such as coelho à carvoeiro (rabbit and tomato stew), a great party dish. Located in the beautiful small town of Portel, not far from Evora, a site known for its Roman ruins, the Refúgio da Vila cooking school is an intimate, hands-on place directed by chef Miguel Amaral, a witty pro who communicates his passion for the ancient rural cooking of the Alentejo region. $2,538 for a seven-day, seven-night package, including lodging, meals, and lessons (011-351-266-619-010;

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