Despite my hungarian grandmother’s efforts—in fact, in spite of everyone’s efforts—I have never been a good, or even knowledgeable, cook. Proof? Recently, when preparing a meal for my two-year-old, I had to search the Internet to figure out how to soft-boil an egg and steam asparagus. Over the years, friends have given me cookbooks to convince me to spend more time in my kitchen. "You like healthy food, and these recipes are both healthy and easy," they say, offering their books with carefully outstretched hands, as though handing me a cake. I accept each volume with optimism—this will be the one that converts me!—before I place it in the drawer where we keep candlesticks and other never-used items. I had resigned myself to a life without cooking, a life without understanding why people even enjoyed the labor that goes into preparing meals, until I visited Baja California’s Rancho La Puerta and its brand-new cooking school.
For those unfamiliar with Rancho La Puerta, the now-famous destination spa was founded in 1940 by a Hungarian scholar, Edmond Szekely, and his wife, Deborah. Americans would cross the border to meditate, exercise, follow a vegetarian diet and listen to Professor Szekely’s lectures, the topics of which ranged from the importance of eating healthy food to the proper amount of daily sun exposure (20 minutes, in his opinion). Over the years, Rancho La Puerta grew popular with Hollywood actors preparing for a role. To this day, Deborah Szekely, now 85, is actively involved in the ranch, and the 100-something guests who visit each week talk about her with the sort of reverence usually reserved for nuns.
I had agreed to an assignment to spend a few days at the Ranch and check out the new cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta ("The Kitchen That Sings"). I thought that taking a break from the novel I’d been working on would serve me (and the novel) well, but I was also curious about the classes. With a setting—and a name—like that, maybe this school could inspire me in a way no cookbook has.