Have you ever wanted to take a cooking class? Or improve your knife skills? Or get some basic cooking techniques you could apply to many meals? Wouldn’t it be great if you could enjoy a pleasant, low-key vacation and go to cooking school, too?
Well, you can!
I attended one of Casa Lana’s Gourmet Retreat days this fall. I’ve always cooked by the seat of my pants and followed the occasional recipe. That’s fine, I guess, but Lana gave me a taste of what a true chef can do in the kitchen in her cooking class.
I met Chef Lana at her Spanish style home on a beautiful fall day. She introduced me to her garden, with it’s fountain and apple and fig trees bursting with fruit. The raised beds were a bounty of greens, herbs, peppers and more, even in fall. The garden is a resource for her cooking classes, as she introduces guests to unusual tastes and flavors. Lana focuses on menus that use seasonal, local food. She is also building health and wellness into her curriculum.
Planters also adorn the patio outside the kitchen, where more herbs are available for trimming. From the patio, we stepped into a dining room of beautiful antiques. Beyond was a dream kitchen, with loads of counter space and professional equipment.
Lana has woven together a kitchen that feels like home, but has everything one needs to turn out chef quality cooking. She teaches from Master recipes that one can apply to every day cooking. She says she tries to teach cooking techniques that are simple, but don’t seem simple. I think she is a good teacher and knows how to break things down so they are easily understood. She’s also a patient and talented teacher.
I don’t want to teach you how to read, I want to teach you how to cook. ~Chef Lana Richardson
I stepped in on day two of a three day culinary learning vacation. It was a small class, only two other participants. Denise and Elaine harkened from North Carolina. They were in Calistoga for the spas and wine tasting, of course, but they were also indulging in Lana’s hospitable bed and breakfast and cooking classes.
Lana holds cooking class for her vacation experiences in the afternoons and evenings, leaving guests free to wander the luxuries of the valley during the day. The afternoon class starts about 3 p.m. You cook and learn, taste and try your hand at techniques. Then you sit down to enjoy the fruit of your labor, paired with and appropriate fruit of the vine. Best of all, you don't have to clean up the mess!
Denise and Elaine learned the basics making stock the day before and we used some of the stock in that day’s class for a Madiera Sauce, learning a reduction technique. We also made mayonnaise from scratch, learned the principles of brining meat, blanching and braising greens and making perfect pastry dough. These were the main ideas, but Lana packs her lessons with tips and tricks. Did you know that rinsing a pan with water before heating milk will make clean up easier? I sure didn’t.
The full menu was:
Artichokes with Aioli
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Madeira Sauce
Summer Fruit Gallette
Lavender Infused Honey Ice Cream
Tools You Can Use
You come away with recipes for each dish and written information about basic techniques learned. Each evening finishes with a review and the opportunity to take notes and ask questions. I have to say it was a real treat to take the class. I learned a lot, had a great time, and you could taste the difference in the cooking. It was so good!
Lana teaches cooking classes of 2-8 in private groups as well as corporate retreats for team building and more. Another option is a one time demo class, for which she can accommodate more participants. Four and five day bootcamps include an exertion to a local farm or winery or other culinary experience.
Lana welcomes participants from any of the area hotels or B&Bs, as well as local groups. Check out the opportunities on her website or give her a call and arrange something for yourself. You won't regret it.
Your Source in the Upper Napa Valley
Don't forget to check my calendar page for December events. This weekend is a very special time here in Calistoga. We have a full weekend of events, the highlight of which has to be our annual Lighted Tractor Parade. It's a real kick!
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Going gourmet in the Upper Napa Valley, this is Natalie Moon-Wainwright, The Calistoga Blogger.