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Hands-on Culinary Experiences for Groups

Food seems to taste better when you’ve played a part in making it.

Travelers eat on every trip, but savvy tour planners take culinary experiences to the next level by bringing their groups to interactive cooking schools for hands-on application.

Sound tempting? Read on, but be warned — diving into these edible destinations on an empty stomach is not advised. Cheers! 

Spuddy’s Cajun Cooking

Vacherie, Louisiana

Oui, oui, mon cher! Deep in south Louisiana among alligators and andouille is Spuddy’s Cajun Cooking. Here chef Spuddy teaches groups big and small how to make spicy Cajun sausage by hand, colossal vats of jambalaya with a canoe paddle and piquant, satisfying gumbo. Each cooking class makes and eats delicious food while Spuddy shares stories about the state’s German coast, Cajun culture and, of course, the culinary heritage of southern Louisiana. The Cajun Cooking Experience can accommodate up to three tour buses at a time, and operators are encouraged to work with Spuddy’s Cajun Cooking to customize classes for their groups. The typical hands-on demonstration lasts an hour and 45 minutes. This allows operators to offer an interactive lunch between morning and afternoon tour stops.

Viking Cooking School 

Greenwood, Mississippi

Not all Southern food is battered and deep-fried in butter. For a more refined palate, there is distinguished Southern fare, and the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Mississippi, is on a mission to bring more refined cooking to more tables. Travelers who follow the epicurean lifestyle have probably heard of the designer kitchen appliance-maker Viking Ranges. Much less known is its Viking Cooking School, where travelers can wind down with a drink while learning to make the perfect filet mignon in a cast iron skillet. The Viking Cooking School brings novices and naturals together to grow in their culinary appreciation and skills. Classes will teach participants the keys to distinguished Southern cooking. Some program offerings are based on dishes characters would have enjoyed in the blockbuster movie “The Help.” Operators can customize experiences based on seasonal menus, ethnic foods, cooking basics, baking, vegetarian foods, cocktails and more. No matter what your group chooses, it’s sure to be delicious.

King Arthur Flour Baking School 

Norwich, Vermont

The smell of freshly baked bread can transform a cold, cramped apartment into a cozy home. That yeasty, salty aroma of ciabatta out of the oven simply can’t be beat — except by a bite with a good bit of butter. Combine aroma, taste and a hands-on feel, and you get hands-on, in-person classes at the King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich, Vermont, at its King Arthur Baking School. 

The King Arthur Baking Company traces its roots back to the American Revolution. The phrase “as American as apple pie” only works if there is enough flour to bake it, and King Arthur’s ancestor company began selling flour in 1790. 

With classes covering subjects like macarons, European tarts, flatbreads of Italy, and sticky fingers and breakfast buns, groups are sure to find something that will satisfy everyone. King Arthur Baking School’s teachers promise to make each topic accessible and fun so participants can master each technique with ease. For even more activities, travel planners will be happy to know the baking school connects to the King Arthur bakery and retail store.

Saltwater Farm

Lincolnville, Maine 

Lincolnville, Maine, is home to Saltwater Farm and its founder, Annemarie Ahearn. With an unmatched enthusiasm for local seasonal foods, Saltwater Farm celebrates the yields of each New England season, knowing each one swells anticipation for the next. With that philosophy, Ahearn rejects traditional recipes and instead teaches groups to embrace the foods produced right on the property. Participants harvest whatever the ground and bay happen to be producing at the time, from lovage, sorrel and chives to dandelion flowers and wild asparagus. 

While some class subjects depart from the typical theme, most topics celebrate the Saltwater Farm’s affection for Maine and the coast. During the farm’s lobster cooking class, participants first take a trek to the nearby harbor to learn about the lobster industry. Classes conclude with a communal feast around the Saltwater Farm’s farmhouse table, and participants leave with the confidence to create nourishing, tasty meals from nature’s bounty.

Santa Fe School of Cooking

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The entertaining and informative chefs at the Santa Fe School of Cooking love to teach, and their group participants love to eat. For more than 30 years, the Santa Fe School of Cooking has been equipping visitors with the hands-on skills they need to make unique Southwestern, Native American and Spanish foods in a warm, welcoming environment with a sense of place. Though the Santa Fe School of Cooking stays true to its New Mexican culinary roots, the team is always putting out new programs to satisfy new cravings; classes feature cocktails, oyster shucking, high-altitude baking and more, all with a glass of something sparkling, if desired. 

To get a taste of Santa Fe on foot, register your group for one of the School of Cooking’s restaurant tours. Chefs begin the tour at the School of Cooking and then lead groups to four different stops to discover the heart, soul and flavors of Santa Fe’s culinary scene.

Culinary Institute of America

Napa, California

A dream come true for serious foodies everywhere would be donning an apron to take cooking classes at the world’s leading culinary school: the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Get ready to check that dream off your bucket list because the CIA at Copia offers food demonstrations and hands-on experiences inspired by the wines and foods in and around wine country in California’s Napa Valley. 

The culinary institute’s branch in downtown Napa promises culinary adventures for food lovers. Groups can reserve space for demonstrations by leading culinary, wine-and-beverage experts or plan to get their hands dirty in the CIA at Copia’s stadium-size test kitchens. In addition to foundational cooking classes, participants can learn to taste, pour and pair sparkling wines, or train the palate to detect the subtlest nuance in artisanal cheeses, so they can dazzle their own dinner guests with what they’ve learned.

Salt Lake Culinary Education

Salt Lake City

At Salt Lake Culinary Education, or SLICE, in Salt Lake City, no genre of food is off the menu. If international fare gives your groups an appetite, SLICE has the hands-on classes you need. Take a bite out of some of these class titles: Dim Sum, Holi Celebrations: Indian Cooking, Mixology and Endless Pasta-Bilities. 

No matter which menu tempts your group, each is conducted in the same way. Upon arrival, instructors greet participants with a specially prepared appetizer. While participants are tasting their appetizers, the instructing chef walks them through their chosen menu. The chef divides participants into smaller groups, and then the fun part begins. Once the new skills are mastered and the creative meals completed, everyone sits down to enjoy the fruits of their labor together.

The Hershey Story

Hershey, Pennsylvania

Milton S. Hershey was more than a chocolatier — he was the heart and soul of an entire town. Driven by compelling moral beliefs, Hershey used his vast wealth to enrich the community around his chocolate company. Today, The Hershey Story’s mission is to share his life and legacy. 

Groups can learn about Hershey’s history through interactive displays, hands-on replicas from the original factory line, digital touch screen activities and special interactive exhibits for children or travelers looking to get in touch with their inner child. After exploring the museum, groups can roll up their sleeves in the Chocolate Lab. There, a 45-minute chocolate-pouring and decorating class awaits. Immediately following the Chocolate Lab experience, they can head to a tasting, where flights of chocolates from around the globe will inspire and indulge.