Spa Cooking 101

Teaching healthy cooking techniques is the trend du jour at destination spas across the continent. Read on for our guide and exclusive cooking tips from the kitchens of the country's top spas.

Echo Valley Ranch and Spa
The Healthy Food & Wellbeing culinary experience held at this 21-room, rustic retreat is about as comprehensive as the genre gets. Five hours from Vancouver in the sparsely populated town of Clinton, British Columbia, the property lays claim to its own ranch-raised livestock, fresh eggs, and locally grown organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It even boasts an authentic, temple-like Baan Thai spa pavilion. Chef Kim Madsen's seven-day course covers everything from how to identify (and replace) food allergens, read labels, and decipher popular diets to wine pairing essentials, starting a kitchen garden, and the medicinal aspects of Asian herbs and spices. The program is held only twice a year -- in April and again in November -- to best take advantage of seasonal ingredients like high-mountain wild berries and mushrooms. But groups of 10 or more can always arrange an impromptu session. evranch.com

Spa Kitchen Tip
To create an appetizing dinner plate, think like a child. Use bright, contrasting colors freely on the same plate. This not only ensures you're getting a healthy, vitamin-packed meal but revs the appetite (and pleasure quotient) with its eye appeal.

Red Mountain Spa
If chef Chad Luethje had his way, guests would check their cookbooks at the door, along with any and all nasty eating habits. At Red Mountain's School for Adventure Cuisine in St. George, Utah, the classically trained Luethje teaches students the fundamentals of preparing healthy food without relying solely on recipes. Using a template-based approach, he provides basic training in various techniques --braising, roasting, chopping -- along with the more subtle art of layering flavors. Eight hours of classes span four days, allowing plenty of time for guided morning hikes, fitness classes, and treatments like the Pura Vida Nourishing Wrap (a head-to-toe exfoliation and body masque that uses peppermint, basil, and beets) in the new Sagestone Spa. Luethje, knowing how important the proper tools are to a healthy kitchen, sends guests home with a cache of cool cooking gadgets, like a handheld citrus reamer, a microplane, and -- despite their new improvisational cooking skills -- a copy of the Red Mountain Adventure Cuisine Cookbook. redmountainspa.com

Spa Kitchen Tip
Drain off excess water from fat-free yogurt for a low-calorie mayonnaise replacement. Add in just a touch of real mayo for the taste if needed.

Lake Austin Spa Resort
There's no doubt in Terry Conlan's mind that you should completely enjoy healthy food. And as the head chef at Lake Austin in Austin, Texas, he's on a mission to make spa goers into believers, as well. To do this he uses only the "cleanest," most-flavorful ingredients available (some of which come from the property's own small organic herb and vegetable garden). During the monthly weeklong Culinary Experience, Conlan, along with the help of some of the country's brightest culinary stars, teaches participants how to cook with more nuts, seeds, and whole grains, shop with the seasons, and plate food like a pro. The program also includes sessions with a nutritionist, visits to local farms and wineries, and lessons in cultivating your own organic garden. Despite the full days (classes last two hours each day, in between educational morning and evening field trips and seminars), late hours at the LakeHouse Spa allow budding chefs to digest the day's lessons, while indulging in a skin-smoothing Texas Pecan Scrub. lakeaustin.com

Spa Kitchen Tip
Enlist your local butcher in portion control and ask for your meats to be cut into four-ounce servings, an ideal amount of protein for one meal.

Rancho La Puerta
"It's a dream come true," beams Deborah Szekely, founder of Rancho La Puerta in Baja California, Mexico. She's talking about a project near and dear to her heart: La Cocina Que Canta (Spanish for "the kitchen that sings"), the hotly anticipated cooking school that will be housed in a million-dollar, 4,500-square-foot pavilion set amid the spa's six-acre organic farm. With the scent of lavender, thyme, lemon verbena, and wisteria wafting through the open hacienda-style windows of the state-of-the-art kitchen, up to 16 guests at a time will have the chance to learn the finer points of healthy Mexican cooking. Classes will be offered on an a la carte basis and as weeklong intensives dedicated to reconnecting with food and emphasizing the importance of a farm-to-table approach. rancholapuerta.com

Spa Kitchen Tip
When you treat cooking as something that allows you to give life to yourself and others, it's never a chore.

Text by Liz Mazurski

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