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Cuisine course is spicy way to cook up fun on vacation

SHARE Cuisine course is spicy way to cook up fun on vacation

Learn to make French pastries at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school near Paris' Eiffel Tower.

Master Italian cooking on a culinary tour through Tuscany sponsored by Etoile Institute.

Discover the intricacies of Indian spices at Julie Sahni's School of Indian Cooking near New York's Brooklyn Bridge.

Home ec was never like this. Neither is your typical vacation.

If the thought of taking classes at the Culinary Institute of America or traveling abroad to learn about a cuisine at its source makes your mouth water, consider a cooking school vacation.

There is a program for almost every cuisine, schedule and budget. Some programs even offer other activities. At Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, fishing and golf excursions are also available.

Prices range from as little as $50 for one class at the Depot Hotel Cooking School in Sonoma, Calif., to $3,500 for a weeklong course at Giuliano Bugialli's Cooking School in Florence, Italy (accommodations are included; air fare is not).

This form of travel has become so popular that even Disney has joined the party, offering cooking courses at the Disney Institute in Orlando.

ShawGuides' "The Guide to Cooking Schools" is one of the best sources for amateur cooks and those seeking professional training. The guide, which is updated annually, also includes wine courses taught by members of the American Wine Society and the Society of Wine Educators.

There are many weeklong and multiweek programs, but there is also a multitude of single courses for travelers on tight schedules or for cooks who don't want to spend their entire trip in the kitchen. Unlike professional programs for which students must meet varying requirements before being accepted, entry into vacation programs or single classes is limited only by space. In other words, if you have the money and they have the opening, you're in.

Going to San Francisco? Check out Tante Marie's Cooking School (271 Francisco St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-788-6699). The school is in a storefront on a charming street. If you can, grab the work station on the wooden counter at the front window. I took a pizza-making class there and was able to watch the fog roll in while working my dough. A delight.

Headed to New York City? Your cooking school choices are many in the Big Apple. One of the more popular is Peter Kump's New York Cooking School (50 W 23rd St., New York, N.Y.; 800-522-4610), which offers courses in spa cuisine, pastry and baking, cake decorating and cutlery skills, among others.

Make sure when selecting a class and school that you find out if the courses are hands-on or demonstration and that you get the one you want. A hands-on class lets you actually cook; participants in a demonstration course just watch.

If you are considering spending a lot of money for a weeklong program, try to contact recent participants. Would they recommend the school? How are the accommodations? Also, some schools listed in the ShawGuides book are clearly small schools or are in cooking stores, which might be fine for residents of the city but won't be that great for travelers looking for something special.