Calling All Culinary Artists!

Food, nutrition and cooking are a big deal in my house.  We spend what may amount to an inordinate amount of time pouring over cookbooks, fussing in the garden, and puttering around in the kitchen, searching for just the right combination of ingredients to create everyone’s favorite new dish.  Oftentimes, there’s a bit of a “mad scientist” vibe going on. Sometimes, we’re quite successful; other times… maybe not so much.

One thing we can agree on as a family, however, is that all of this research and experimentation is an interesting and entertaining way to spend our time.  So the idea of a culinary education on board a cruise intrigues me; what, exactly, do the lines offer in this arena?

I’ve been reading about Holland America’s Culinary Arts Center Program, and they’ve got some fantastic things happening, for anyone who loves to cook (or wants to learn). HAL’s Culinary Arts Center program is presented by Food & Wine magazine, and is designed to immerse travelers in the culinary traditions and tastes of the regions they visit.

Holland America’s state of the art kitchen has earned praise from top chefs and offers cooking demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes by HAL chefs, as well as special guest chefs.  Food Network’s Paula Deen was onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam in February 2011; she provided demonstrations, did photo sessions, and even dined with the guests.  (Side note: I would have loved to have been on that cruise.)  To ensure that would-be chefs can follow along closely, the venue is theatre-style, with multiple plasma video screens that show the up-close details of the demonstrations (for those not attending live, the details are also broadcast in the staterooms.)

Even better, HAL also offers Kids Culinary Workshops, where kids ages 3-7 and 8 and up can learn about basic cooking techniques, kitchen safety, new ingredients and how to follow recipe instructions. (Kids 15 and older can join the adult classes.)  The hands on classes last approximately one hour, and feature menus that range from simple to gourmet.  They’re generally limited to 15 students, and each child receives a copy of the recipes they prepared at the end of class.

This type of program is wonderful on so many levels.  Of course it’s fun; the kids will appreciate that, as will parents.  But aside from that, it encourages kids to think about numbers and measuring, nutrition, food safety and time management. And it fosters a common interest in families, one that promotes a healthy lifestyle and teaches the family to work as a team.

HAL’s offerings caught my eye on this particular topic, but many of the lines offer similar culinary programs, and/or theme cruises that focus on food, wine, chocolate and cooking. There’s a cruise out there that will match any age or level of expertise when it comes to the culinary arts… so enjoy your cruise, and Bon Appétit!

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