It seems that the holidays are all but a distant memory now. For those of us who spend our 40+ hours a week in a mundane, unfulfilling job the only glimmer of hope is the occasional day off due to a random holiday popping up on the calendar and, of course, vacation! This is where our story beginsâ€¦
As I sat at the mahogany-colored desk situated squarely within the four walls of my dreary, beige-colored office adorned with posters of travel destinations – any of which I would rather be visiting than where I was at that time – I dreamed of a vacation that was different from any that I had ever experienced previously. I could return to Spain and venture onto tourist-infested beaches along the Costa Brava. Maybe it was time to explore a new continent – Africa or Antarctica anyone? While any of these would be better than being trapped within these four walls which seem to be closing in on me ever so slowly I decided to look for something vastly different than what most would do at home or on vacation – cook.
Over the past few years we have seen the allure of food, wine, and cooking continue to gain popularity (at least here in the U.S.). Not that these weren’t worthy endeavors in the past; it just so happens that the overwhelming ease of access to cooking shows on television, wine bars popping up on virtually every corner, and a desire to create your own food reality have them more accessible. The latter was what spurred me on to continue to explore an alternative vacation. As far back as I can remember I have always loved to be in the kitchen. I remember the dish I made for my family over and over again – Mostaccioli – because I had mastered the sole recipe in my possession. I am happy to say that my skills have made significant progress since those days and even contemplate what life would be like had I made the decision to walk through the doors of a culinary school rather than a bank. Could I have been the next, or first, Bobby Flay or Jose Andrés? Who knows, but we’ll save my dreams of chefdom for another day.
Armed with my passion for cooking and my ever-budding love for Spanish wine I figured that there had to be a place to hone both of these “skills.â€ I remember a client reminiscing with me about a cooking vacation he had taken in Tuscany and thought that this may be a worthy adversary for my wine and food obsessions. I get to cook, drink wine, and be in Spain all at the same time? Sign me up! But where?
Choosing the right culinary vacation takes time and one must consider any number of things.
- Where do you want to learn how to cook? Spanish food has taken its place at the forefront of global cuisine and provides gastronomic opportunities as diverse as Spain itself. You might look outside the Iberian Peninsula, but why?
- Once you have decided on the destination you need to decide how much time you want spend there. Is one day enough? For me, there was no question that I needed about a week to fulfill my craving – anything less would just whet my appetite and leave me wanting more.
- Finally, you need to decide what you want accomplish during your time there – hone your culinary skills; learn some new recipes; visit local attractions; explore the world of wine local to that area; or a little bit of each.
As I researched options for my vacation I had already decided that I wanted to spend about a week on this part of my trip – I honestly did not think that anything less would provide me the experience I was seeking. My passion for Spanish wine and learning the art of the winemaker helped to narrow my search to some of Spain’s phenomenal wine regions. The wines of Priorat and the lesser known Montsant had become some of my favorites and the since I am of Catalan blood the choice seemed all but obvious – choose a cooking vacation in Cataluña. I did, however, find that there are some great programs in other parts of Spain – Madrid, Sevilla, Granada – with a variety of offerings; but I wanted – well, needed – to be right in the middle of wine country. Fortunately, my choice offered a course not only in the middle of wine country but one right in the midst of the harvest!
My extensive research finally took me to Catacurian – a Catalan-Spanish Culinary Vacation set amidst the vineyards and mountains of the D.O. Montsant in El Priorat, Spain. The school is taught not by a professional chef, but by a wonderfully warm and extremely talented woman, Alicia, who grew up in the kitchen and spent her younger years as a child running through the hallways of the renovated family home which now houses the Catacurian school. The locale is somewhat remote (two hours outside Barcelona) and a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the everyday life that I was seeking to escape. They offer one-day courses in Barcelona and three- and six-day food and wine courses in the school in Montsant. I ultimately chose the six-day course which took place during the grape harvest (September).
My time in Spain at Catacurian was one of the best vacations I have ever taken. I am even considering going back again (as are a couple of friends of mine who joined me there last year). In addition to this amazing opportunity, I was able to spend some time on an extensive tapas (and Spanish wine, of course) crawl with Ryan in Barcelona as well as some rooftop time sharing paella and padrón peppers with Ryan and Gabriella at their home. If you are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary take the time to research a culinary vacation. Prepare to step outside your comfort zone and you will take part of your vacation home with you – the ability to tangibly share your food and wine experiences with your friends and family.
If you’ve taken a culinary vacation, what are the important questions someone should consider when deciding where to go?