If your travels take you (and they should) to the famous destination fitness resort and spa called Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, one of the unique experiences to sign up for is a hands-on cooking class at La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings”).
The kitchen’s festive name is appropriate because the place literally buzzes with energy and laughter as participants recreate recipes from visiting chefs and the Ranch’s own cookbook using organic ingredients from the onsite six-acre farm.
During your week at Rancho La Puerta, cooking classes happen several times per week. Visiting chefs usually stay for the week and theme each class a bit differently.
Our Rancho La Puerta Visiting Chef: Deborah Schneider
My most recent media visit coincided with frequent guest teacher Chef Deborah Schneider, who is also a San Diego resident. She’s the author of five cookbooks, including Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta: Recipes from the World-Famous Spa and an expert in Mexican cuisine. (I also picked up a copy of The Mexican Slow Cooker: Recipes for Mole, Enchiladas, Carnitas, Chile Verde Pork, and More Favorites.) Her long list of achievements includes time spent as Executive Chef at Hilton Torrey Pines and Executive Chef of the Turf Club at Del Mar. She recently opened SOL Cocina, an exciting new restaurant in Newport Beach.
We boarded a shuttle that took us from Rancho La Puerta’s main area up to La Cocina Que Canta for our 3.5-hour cooking class (from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.).
An Introduction and Garden Tour
First, we were seated in front of the kitchen’s large prep area for an introduction to the class, organic farm and kitchen. Rancho La Puerta’s Executive Chef Denise Roa introduced Chef Deborah Schneider and also mentioned that she’s personally tried (not just for a few days, but really tried) most diets out there. It’s a health spa after all and she needs to plan menus based on what works and what doesn’t.
After Chef Deborah explained the menu, we headed off into the organic garden with head gardener Salvador. His enthusiasm is infectious—we were constantly being encouraged to taste herbs, produce and edible flowers straight off the plants. What a treat. We picked enough lettuce and vegetables for our salad and even visited the chickens.
Our Incredible Cooking Class Menu
I’ve mentioned before that even though you’re at a famous destination spa, you will not go hungry. However, this is a heartier meal than you’d normally experience during regular meals at Rancho La Puerta. I was there for 5 days and lost 5 pounds even after a gigantic plate of:
Spinach Arugula Salad with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar
Flor de Calabasa Quesadillas, Ancho Masa and Nopales Salsa
Roasted Fish Pibil in Banana Leaves
Fresh Tomato Rice
Blackberry Cabernet Paleta
Ranch recipe for Almond Cookies
All of this goodness was paired with wine from Baja California. We even enjoyed a glass during preparations after everyone was more or less finished handling knives.
Who Cooks What
Don’t fret. You won’t personally cook every single dish. The way it works is that each person goes to a station of choice to contribute one item to the meal. Stations are already prepared with ingredients, recipes and equipment. Some stations had room for two people.
But, because everyone is in the same kitchen, you’re able to peek over shoulders and check out what the others are up to. It was very fun. La Cocina Que Canta staff and Chef Deborah circle the kitchen to give helpful prep tips and make sure everything is running according to plan.
I was responsible for the easy Blackberry Cabernet Paleta recipe (sort of like a fruit and wine sorbet) and I dare say it was good. Stay tuned for the recipe. Because it needed time to simmer, I had plenty of opportunites to check out what everyone else was doing and sip Baja wine.
Seated Dinner in La Cocina Que Canta
Dinner was served buffet style with plenty of food for seconds. Free-flowing wine, juice and water to accompanied full plates. Everything was good. The quesadillas were insane and I might add that the Blackberry Cabernet Paleta was the perfect light and refreshing finish to the meal.
Breakdown of the Evening
Time flew, but if I had to guess how the class was broken down, I would say that the first 60-90 minutes included the introduction and garden tour, the second 90 minutes involved meal preparation and the remainder was spent eating. Time flew. We all definitely could have stayed longer but rushed back to see the amazing Deborah Szekely speak about aging by choice at 8:00 p.m.
A Taste of Cooking School During Saturday’s at the Ranch
San Diego residents—or really anyone who can get to the San Diego Visitor Center at East Mission Bay by 7:30 a.m.—are invited to spend a full day at the Ranch including a cooking demonstration at La Cocina Que Canta.
The $300 fee includes three glorious and healthy meals, a 50-minute spa treatment and the cooking demonstration as well as transportation to and from the famous destination spa. In between meals and spa, take advantage of the numerous fitness class on offer, the pools, nature walks and more.
You’ll be on the property from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and it’s incredible value for money for what you get to experience. Saturdays at the Ranch happen once a month. Check the Rancho La Puerta Saturdays at the Ranch schedule for details.
Tips for Attending Rancho La Puerta Cooking School
Wear closed-toed shoes because you’ll be walking through the organic garden. This means dirt and ants. I’d also bring a hat if attending during warm weather. Because people forget, La Cocina Que Canta has a limited number of straw hats but you may want to bring your own to minimize risk of a hat blowing off. Of course, bring your camera and wear sunscreen. It’s still hot in the evening.
Attendees will receive an apron and a packet full of class recipes to take home. Do sign up in advance to avoid disappointment. The fee is $90 for lunch cooking classes and $95 for dinner cooking classes.
Have you been to cooking school at Rancho La Puerta? Remember, Rancho La Puerta family week is coming up in August.