Cuisine travel author, Joe David, is introduced to proper knife skills at the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia. Joe David
Joe David’s latest encouragement to pursuing culinary skills and cuisine interests is a must-have for foodies whether classifying yourself as a budding chef or a kitchen veteran. The author of Gourmet Getaways shares his progress from one classification to the other as he identifies 50 top spots in the U.S. where cooking and tasting make a perfect vacation.
Story copyright by Joe David
My mother had many noble qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. She was the only person I have ever known who, when in the “mood,” could turn a perfectly fine roast into something even our cocker spaniel would reject. I often believed she did this deliberately to make a point to Dad during one of their passive-aggressive disputes about some family issue.
If this was how she made her point, it proved to be very effective. My father, you see, was an old world gentleman who appreciated fine food and drink, and ruining his dinner was an excellent way of getting his attention. But he was too wise to allow her culinary misconduct to become an issue; instead, he used it as an excuse to introduce me to the flip side of the universe, where impoverished palates like mine could experience wondrous creations.
Owner Diane Carlson, center, overseas students at The Conscious Gourmet in Conneticut. The Conscious Gourmet
Sometimes he did this by nimbly rescuing her roasts from cremation and turning them into a delicious stew. Other times, when mother’s meals were unsalvageable, he would dress me smartly, leave mom behind, and take me downtown to one of his favorite restaurants. There, he would spoil me by introducing me to such heavenly delights as escalope de veau, canard à l’orange, crème brûlée and other such gastronomic perfections. This angelic act of mercy, bestowed upon me at some of Chicago’s smartest restaurants, made it possible for me to survive puberty without major trauma. But more importantly, it introduced me to the culinary possibilities of life.
Thanks to him, and my worldly sister (a long-time Pan American stewardess) who would return from trips with such extraordinary treats (chocolates from Brussels, bass from Chile, caviar from Iran, and much more), I learned at an early age to appreciate good cuisine. While many of my colleagues were following a sensible career path to glory and riches, I was traveling the world discovering new foods to eat. Although I don’t consider myself a noteworthy cook (nor do I ever care to become one), when I do prepare a meal for friends, it usually demonstrates my affinity for good stews (a left-over from my scarred childhood). My favorite three are lamb tagine, boeuf bourguignon, and Persian apricot lamb over rice. Of the three, my very favorite is the lamb tagine, my creation of what I once had in Marrakech some years ago.
Chef Frank Brigtsen conducts a Cajun cooking class at the New Orleans Cooking Experience in Louisiana. New Orleans Cooking Experience
When I first tried the stew, I was so impressed with it that I knew I had to learn to prepare it. For three months, after returning home from Morocco, I was in the kitchen reconstructing the recipe to my taste. My version, which has been published several times, is called “Tagine à la David.” Despite my lack of technical finesse in the kitchen, I have acquired some excellent recipes, which, when followed exactly, have always brought immediate pleasure to me and my friends. The wonderful thing about these three stews is that they age deliciously and can be prepared in advance. When accompanied by other foods purchased ready-to-serve from high-end delis, markets, and bakeries, they create what has become known to my circle as Joe’s easy-to-prepare home-cooked dinner.
It was inevitable that my love for food would one day lead me to my first cooking school. While searching the world like a bloodhound for fresh material for magazine articles, I met a fellow traveler in Bangkok who told me about a cooking program at the Oriental Hotel. My visit to the hotel proved so agreeable that I decided to repeat it by attending other cooking programs elsewhere in Thailand, as well as Hong Kong, France and Italy. This interest in cooking programs continued on and off throughout the 1990s.
At Cucina Casalinga in Conneticut, Chef Sally Maraventano addresses a class on Italian cuisine. Cucina Casalinga
In 2006 I returned to the subject and wrote an article for United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine entitled “World on a Plate,” which centered on one domestic and three international cooking programs. Shortly after publication I pitched the idea to my book editor. Although she loved the outline, she felt it worked better for her publishing house with a U.S., not international theme.
I liked her suggestions. The reason: The project would allow me the opportunity to devote some major time to learning about some of the rich culinary talent that exists across the United States. Without hesitation, I began writing my latest book, Gourmet Getaways. There may be other travel books on the subject, but none that I know that covers each program so comprehensively.
The Napa Valley Cooking School in California offers classes for evenings, weekends as well as multi-day options. Napa Valley Cooking School
Although I wrote the book to appeal to different tastes and budgets, it primarily focuses on culinary programs. To eliminate any doubt about what participants will learn, I spoke directly to the chefs and directors and learned from each about their cooking philosophy. I knew that once the chef’s cooking philosophy was clear, it would be easier to evaluate the program and decide if it suited a particular vacationer’s philosophy.
But I didn’t stop there. I went all the way with this idea.
I selected the chef’s recipes, included in the book, to support each chef’s point of view. For example, Nancy Krcek Allen’s recipes for Caramelized Onions and Maple Sweet and Sour Red Onion Jam were chosen because they could be used as building blocks for other recipes. Joanne Weir’s Roasted Game Hens with Toasted Bread Crumb Salsa was chosen because it provided a meal in itself, which could be modified to suit whatever foods were in season.
An excellent way to teach, I believe, is to illustrate points in multiple ways. By writing the book as a teaching tool without being didactic or boring, I felt it would have more value than just providing a list of schools and instructors.
Finally, as a long-time world traveler, I knew for Gourmet Getaways to have a practical usefulness, it had to offer something more than just cooking programs. For that reason, I included food-related and non-food-related outings that would enhance the pleasure of the getaway experience. By so doing, I hoped to offer the reader enough information for a complete culinary vacation to some easy-to-reach areas of the United States. To be certain I never strayed from achieving this goal, I traveled throughout the country and uncovered some fascinating, out-of-the-way surprises.
Jane Butel at her cooking school in New Mexico, is an authority on regional Southwest cooking. Jane Butel
The fun part of preparing this book was meeting all the talented chefs. Their love of food and the pleasure they derived from cooking it reminded me of my dad rescuing one of my mother’s “mistakes.” It became for me what Chef Sheelah Kaye Stepkin (Torte Knox Bistro and Cooking School, Hawley, Pennsylvania) called a memory-making moment in which food was associated with a very personal memory.
At Torte Knox, Sheelah Kaye-Stepkin presents her famous southern biscuits. Torte Knox
Gourmet Getaways by Joe David is an insider’s guide to America’s leading recreational cooking programs. It is considered the definitive resource for planning and getting the most out of your culinary vacation – a must-have for foodies of all tastes and levels of expertise.
The book was released in the Spring of 2009 by Globe Pequot Press and is available at most bookstores in Canada and the United States or through web-based bookstore outlets.
Joe David, an inexhaustible world traveler, is the author of five books, numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including many on food for such publications as Hemispheres, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Airways, Family, and more.