There’s nothing like cooking to bring a group together.
Comradery, new skills and fun food are some of the many reasons to add a culinary class to your group’s next itinerary. Participants don’t have to be exceptionally skilled, just willing to follow directions and learn something new. And the reward after all the chopping and stirring? A flavor-filled meal or sampling, plus recipes that will wow family and friends back home.
Group culinary experiences include such wide-ranging choices as the Tutka Bay Lodge Cooking School, on a repurposed World War II boat in Alaska, and the Santa Fe School of Cooking, which focuses on Southwest cuisine. In the Midwest, the Culinary Center of Kansas City delves into the secrets of barbecue and more. At the Osthoff Resort, on charming Elkhart Lake, L’ecole de la Maison hosts team-building challenges and interactive instruction. And in the Finger Lakes, the New York Wine and Culinary Center features beverage education paired with innovative recipes. These all add up to delicious afternoons or days for those who love to cook — and dine.
Tutka Bay Lodge Cooking School
Most old ships are relegated to the salvage yard, but a World War II troop carrier that also served as an Alaskan crabber has found new life as the Tutka Bay Lodge Cooking School. The Widgeon II, moored in an Alaska lagoon and surrounded by towering evergreens on the Kenai Peninsula, has been repurposed into a cooking school by Cordon Bleu-trained chef Kirsten Dixon.
Dixon has been cooking in family-owned backcountry lodges for more than 30 years. Her three cookbooks are filled with mouth-watering recipes and stories about her home state. Day-trippers or overnight guests at the wilderness lodge can opt for hands-on cooking classes that can accommodate 20 to 25 people. For larger groups of up to 75 guests, dinners can feature a cooking demo or presentation by a local fisherman who will bring examples of Alaskan fish.
One popular class, A Seaside Garden, showcases seaweed, mushrooms, berries, salmon, oysters and crab. Greeting guests as they board the boat, Dixon and her daughter Mandy, also a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, are dressed in their white chef jackets. A high-top counter runs the length of one wall and is equipped with individual stations. Fresh vegetables lie ready for practicing knife skills. Ruggedly hewn tables are elaborately set for the meal and are graced by antler chandeliers that hang from the ceiling.
“Groups, who come for the day, leave at 10:30 a.m. from Homer by water taxi and return back by 3 p.m.,” said Graham Jones, the lodge’s reservation manager. “We’re extremely flexible and try our best to accommodate whatever a group wants. Many times, people want to learn about Alaska cuisine and how to cook fresh seafood, as well as what we forage on property and grow in our garden.”