Food & Wine
May 01, 2009

Whenever I venture out of town, I learn something new—whether it’s an insight into an unfamiliar culture or simply a cooking tip from a chef. I’ve just returned from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami (presented by Food & Wine), where I got an unexpected education on wagyu beef from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, heard from Rachael Ray about the best way to judge a burger during a contest (cut it into quarters, then eat the pointy part first—it has all the toppings!) and picked up a few tricks for a zucchini dish from Michael Symon of Cleveland’s Lola (an F&W Best New Chef 1998). In this travel issue, we offer other culinary lessons from the road.

One time-honored way to travel and learn is to check into a fantastic hotel with a cooking school. We found five new ones that are worth the trip. At Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, for example, guests can eat an incredible meal with produce from the big garden, then take classes in the magnificent teaching studio in an 18th-century barn. Joseph Lenn, one of Blackberry’s chefs, gave us a lesson in Southern flavors with his recipe for braised pork belly with collards.

Of course, you can also take cooking classes without leaving your hometown. In New York City, for example, instructor Lourdes Castro has a special love for the Cuban food she grew up with and shares 10 iconic Cuban recipes. I’m ready to make the perfect café cubano for my coffee-obsessed husband.

Lourdes herself never went to cooking school; she first learned about food by eating out. I heartily endorse this kind of experiential education. For the best restaurants around the globe right now, take a look at our Go List. Hop on a plane or just get in the car to try someplace new and amazing. And maybe, as I sometimes do, you’ll go home with a terrific cooking tip from the chef.

Where I’m Coming From

Notes from a Recent L.A. Trip:

The kitchen at Muse, in the brilliant Montage Beverly Hills hotel, is the best I’ve ever seen (I got a fabulous behind-the-scenes tour). Executive chef John Cuevas’s roasted halibut with burnt bread and hazelnuts is smart and delicious.

The Bazaar by José Andrés
The food at this restaurant in the stylish, chaotic SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills—foie gras lollipops, cauliflower “couscous,” liquid olives—showcases José’s ecstatic creativity.

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo did a star turn on TV, but I think the real star power at Animal is on the plate. I loved everything on the menu, from a leafy salad with sumac vinaigrette to fried chicken livers with jalapeño slaw.

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