Forget Eat, Pray, Love. In Northern California wine country, people worship at the altar of Eat, Drink, Cook.
As well known for their food as for their wine, the farms, markets and restaurants of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lodi inspire visitors to cook with meaning, to feast with knowledge, to drink with skill.
The chefs, farmers, food purveyors and winemakers who reside here—or journey here to gain inspiration—make for ready teachers. Their expertise, combined with the local abundance, offers an ideal destination for a culinary vacation, a place to hone one’s cooking abilities in the midst of vineyard land.
Here, the locals love to source, cook and eat food. And the more wine to wash it down, the better.
Located in downtown Healdsburg, Relish is a nonstop source of cooking inspiration. Seasonally inspired classes and demos in its cool, modern kitchen space follow an ethos that marries the casual with the professional. Tapping local chefs, farmers and winemakers as instructors, wine is as much of a focus as food, making it a tempting stop on any trip to Sonoma County. Farmers markets serve as inspiration, as do area peach farms and dairies, and kids’ classes are also available. Relish also arranges private culinary day trips to mushroom forage or to pair food with wine, and custom, multiday Cook+Stay packages. Rates vary. 877.759.1004.
A bed-and-breakfast in the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga, CasaLana hosts hands-on cooking classes for up to eight participants. It also offers Gourmet Retreats, which vary from five hours to five days. Tools and materials are provided, as are recipes to take home. Learning Vacations include a three-day stint that takes guests from knife skills, stocks, soups, emulsions and baking to progressively more difficult techniques like pan-searing, roasting and working with yeast dough. The five-day Boot Camp for Cooks delves deeper, adding lessons on homemade cheese, menu planning and soufflés. There are also camps geared toward health and wellness, and most sessions include a culinary excursion. From $175/person. 877.968.2665.
Private chef/instructor Julie Logue-Riordan focuses on local ingredients and products, taking guests on tours of the Napa or St. Helena Farmers Markets to meet the artisans before teaching hands-on classes. Sojourns to Napa wineries for private tastings accentuate the wine country feasts. From May through October, classes are offered on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 am–4 pm, and include a three-course lunch, apron and recipes. You’re on your own to drive to the market, winery and back to Julie’s kitchen, with classes limited to nine people. Julie also conducts similar classes and tours in Italy, and she’ll put together private classes upon request, too. From $225/person. 707.227.5036.
Although geared toward educating prospective professional chefs, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), in the heart of California’s Napa Valley, also runs a Food Enthusiast program. At its grand, vineyard-surrounded campus, once the site of the Christian Brothers winery, the CIA has something for everyone. Demos and tastings are offered for the casual student, while boot camps and -classes of varying lengths focus on culinary regions, techniques, baking and even -parent-teen cooking experiences. For the ultimate -foodie vacation, join the CIA on a culinary adventure elsewhere in the world. Rates vary. 800.888.7850.
The idyllic Philo Apple Farm in Mendocino’s gorgeous Anderson Valley grows heirloom apples, herbs and greens along the banks of the Navarro River, amid the valley’s sea of grapes. It has recently added a Jersey cow to provide fresh milk for cream, butter and yogurt. From March through November, the farm offers Stay & Cook forays. Taking ingredients harvested from the garden, guests help prepare and later enjoy a delicious meal, followed by a luxurious sleep in one of the cabins. In December and January, guests are invited to sit by the fire and simply enjoy the quiet. During the months of February and March, the inn offers a 15-percent discount. From $700/person. 707.895.2333.
The mac daddy of wine country cooking schools, Ramekins offers a full array of hands-on classes, cooking demonstrations and custom culinary retreats. Classes are taught by locals and respected experts. Recent offerings have included a seminar derived from the book Bacon Nation, taught by co-author Maria Rama, to master classes, winemaker dinners and holiday sessions on traditional Christmas meals. John Ash will lead a January seminar. Inspired by the seasons and local producers, Ramekins can keep rabid foodies busy every day. It’s an amazing place to access nearby authorities, products and techniques. In addition to housing an inn, Ramekins leads overseas culinary retreats like the planned 2014 trip to southwest France. Rates vary. 707.933.0450.
Named Cooking School Teacher of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010, Hugh Carpenter offers culinary camps in Napa Valley and San Miguel, Mexico. Limited to 14 attendees, the weeklong Camp Napa Culinary visits small wineries, kitchens and homes, where Carpenter and others teach how to cook a myriad of meals, from appetizers to paella and multicourse dinners. Local authorities from Cakebread Cellars and Silver Oak help guide the way. Receptions at Carpenter’s home, stops at spas and time to leisurely wander around are built into the daily schedules. A final cooking class and graduation dinner closes the week’s festivities. $2,490/person. 707.252.9773.