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Cooking Up Culture

Hotel cooking classes are sizzling with local flavor and history Hotels around the world are offering cooking classes to guests as a hot entree into local culture and flavors.

The Ritz-Carlton, Bali, in Indonesia debuted its "Rasa Bumbu" - meaning "taste" and "spice" - culinary program for hotel guests this summer, says Shelby Taylor, corporate manager of public relations for The Ritz Carlton Hotel Co., Atlanta.

Participants "start out by going to the market, which offers herbs and spices indigenous to Bali," she explains. They also go to the beach and watch fishing boats bring in the fresh catch that is used in Indonesian cuisine.

Roy Khoo, executive chef, teaches the course the first Friday and Saturday of each month. Classic dishes include ikan pepes (grilled fish in a banana leaf) and babi buling (suckling pig), which is roasted outdoors over a fire. The $150-per-day fee includes the cooking lesson and the ingredients used to prepare the meals.

Tourists want to create memories of their trips, Taylor says. "I think people who are traveling want to experience something on their vacation rather than just sitting on the beach and reading."

Taylor explains the hotel chain's strategy behind the class: "If they have this cultural experience in Bali, they might want to see what local cultural experiences they could have in another one of our locations, like Cancun, Mexico."

Food Lovers The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, in Florida offers The Cooking School as part of a package that includes two nights' accommodations, lunch with the chef, wine tastings and recipes.

Chefs and brothers Kenneth and Kirk Gilbert teach the class in The Grill Kitchen, the hotel's AAA Five Diamond restaurant known for its Southern-infused menu.

"Many of our guests are very interested in wine and fine foods," says Kathleen O'Brien, director of public relations. "They're interested in getting back into the kitchen and learning directly from the chef."

Students prepare a four-course luncheon, paired with fine wine.

The hotel has offered the school for four years. "It was our culinary team that came up with the idea," O'Brien says. "Our chefs saw there was a tremendous interest in meeting the chef" to ask about recipes and seasonings.

Child's Play Wyndham Resorts offers a cooking class for children as part of its Family Retreat package, which debuted in May. The focus is on providing activities that vacationing families can do together, says Darcie Brossart, manager of brand communications for Dallas-based Wyndham International.

"A lot of research shows that kids want to spend time with their parents on vacation," Brossart says. And parents "are finding they have to get away to spend time with their kids." She adds that the program is available at all of Wyndham's 15 resorts.

Cooking With the Chef is offered two nights a week. Donning aprons and hats, the kids collect select menus from their parents and then work with the chef to make the orders. "The chef will explain different sauces and marinades," Brossart says. "I think the kids enjoy it because they are doing something educational and fun."

As mementos, the kids get to keep the apron and hat.

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