At Before Times, the classic three-course type of cooking class in an idyllic location was enough.
No longer. Courses that involve getting your hands dirty with ingredients are becoming more popular with travelers seeking culinary experiences that feel more primitive – less sauteeing and more grinder crap on the outskirts of Florence. Part of the attraction is the deeper connection. Food related: They seek transparency about where and when crops are harvested and how to source plastic-packaged foodstuffs of unknown origin so they consume less.
While there are no exact figures on the trend, Emily Fitzroy, owner of Bellini Travel, which specializes in Italy, has seen a spike in requests to learn cooking skills while on vacation. “Customers want to come home with newly discovered information,” she said. Among the excursions he has recently booked: a deep dive into the world of offal.
Another tour operator, Black Tomato, goes straight to the source and creates hands-on “culinary moments” that provide a better understanding of the origins of food. One possibility is to spend an afternoon on a traditional 40-metre sailboat on Norway’s Lofoten Islands, where participants catch, clean and prepare cod, a vital source of income for the region.
And Hank Shaw, a James Beard Award-winning chef, cookbook author, and naturalist, offers three-day food hunts in Oklahoma through his company Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook and in partnership with Larry Robinson of the Coastal Wings Guide Service. In addition to hunting, experience includes learning about skinning, plucking and other aspects of game preparation, including waterfowl, so that participants no longer need to rely on commercial processors. $2,000 catches (includes lodging, hunting, and chef-prepared meals) are announced on Mr. Shaw’s newsletter and these days sell out within 48 hours.
My search for a deeper dining experience led me to Nick Weston, whose cooking classes in England’s Sussex countryside included game butchery and other adventures in wild food.
Mr. Weston, a modern 41-year-old hunter-gatherer, studied Mesolithic cultures and archeology at university, worked as a freelance chef, spent three months in the South Pacific as a “survivalist” for the British reality show “Shipwrecked” (“Survivor” in the UK). repetition)” and then withdrew to his hometown of Sussex to live off the grid in a treehouse he built from recycled materials and survive on what he could hunt, fish and find food.
Mr. Weston’s brand of forestry (chronicized in his blog “The Treehouse Diaries: How to Live in the Woods”) has attracted a lot of attention from people who want to connect with nature. So, in 2011, he founded a culinary school called Hunter Gather Cook and began offering full-day courses in butchery, foraging, and fire-making in a new, desolate treehouse.
When my husband and I signed up for a course last summer (a private course as our schedule didn’t fit into the group offer), Mr. Weston’s headquarters had been relocated to a 19th-century threshing warehouse in an equally remote spot. “Hello?” on a gravel road in the morning. in search of signs of life beyond the running ferrets.
Crossing the threshold, we passed into the setting that mixed elements of Soho House hygge (exposed brick walls adorned with old signage, a potbelly stove, and cozy blankets) to the dinner club edge (leather apron-clad helpers; a dinner table tricked out by a wax-caked candelabra). and artichokes plucked from the ground) and a pinch of Grimm’s Tales (knives, axes, and taxidermy exhibits). The Metallica-rich playlist boosted the atmosphere.
English wood pigeons were the first line of business.
One of Mr. Weston’s crew, who introduces himself as Chops, stood by a prep table with essentials like cutting boards, knives, buckets, and told us where and when the birds were much more attractive than the Chicago specimens. my hometown, it’s hit and how to cook meat (fried thighs and stir-fry breast) because the preparation informs the style of butchery. “Bone structure will be your guide,” he explained, explaining that we will mostly use our hands to dismember the bird.
We removed the gray-blue feathers to understand the anatomy: wings, breasts, sternum, spine, legs and tail. All of that felt good. However, when the feathers started flying, I found a way out in case my guts rebelled.
Breaking off was easy. You pull it upwards (against the wound) like pulling a loose string from a T-shirt. We then made a small incision in the chest and “released the skin” with our fingers until the breasts were exposed. Still no nausea. I found the exercise fascinating. After ripping off the legs, cutting off the head and removing the wings, the remaining meat looked like something you’d see at the butcher shop.
Removing the intestines was a little more suffocating. But when it was done, we scrutinized our crafts by dipping clean birds onto new cutting boards and making sure there was no damage like broken bones or trauma from the gunshots that killed them. The meats were then handed over to the chefs.
Curiosity took precedence over disgust, and I felt my face turn red with excitement. Keep up the rabbits. Cutting off a rabbit’s limbs is not for the fainthearted. I pushed thoughts of Beatrix Potter out of my head as I made an incision in her abdomen and loosened and pulled the skin with my hands, removing the feet, tail, and head before skinning the animal. The area from the shoulders to the hind legs is the saddle and contains the most tender pieces of meat, so we have separated these fillets and the hind thigh meat from there, which will be part of our meal.
After the butchery was complete, we replaced the knives with straw sacks and went to forage for yarrow, nettle, wood sorrel, and meadowsweet, some of which would be grafted onto our meal as well. Southern England is a mushroom paradise, but unfortunately we were too early to score the region’s famous truffles and chanterelles.
About three hours had passed, and a pick-me-up was in line.
Back in the garden behind the threshing barn, snacks were brought along with a “wild” cocktail: stinging nettle gin balls that we sipped from a borage straw straw.
“This is where the magic happens,” said Mr. Weston, pointing to a straw-strewn fire pit with a large wood-fired oven and a homemade clay oven next to it.
We chatted about live-fire cooking methods (some courses involve frying whole animals on a wood skewer and “dirty cooking” in which the protein is placed directly over the coals) and how to achieve maximum flavor. Then sparks started flying. Literally.
Firing is a four-step process. You need fire steel to ignite a spark; you have to catch that spark with a material that can become embers with oxygen (your breath); you need a pack of kindling; and you need fuel or logs to turn the kindling into a proper fire. Of course, patience is very important.
In the midst of a day of enlightenments, it seemed particularly delightful to learn that a tuber-like woodland mushroom called King Alfred’s brownies (Daldinia concentrica) was Mr. Weston’s preferred “spark catcher”.
Initially, I was surprised that a course titled “Hunter Gather Cook” didn’t actually involve participants in cooking.
But as soon as I sat on the charred sourdough and begged to be dipped in gooey, baked, truffle-sprinkled Camembert (Mr. Weston’s dogs are truffle dogs), I got it. It had been a busy few hours, and leaving the kitchen duties to Mr. Weston’s team had added a touch of luxury to the fruits of our labor.
When the next two dishes arrived, the wine flowed: smoked fallow deer tartare with deep-fried pigeon legs alongside a speckled quail egg shell with crispy pork loin and sunny yolk. As the food kept coming, we joined Nelly and Travis Tritt: fresh gazpacho from the garden, cold-smoked oysters with fresh yarrow and sorrel scent, rabbit fillet on Caesar salad, grilled rabbit legs stuffed with pancetta-wrapped pigeon breast.
This was no rustic smorgasbord; it was a serious tasting menu about how the seasonal, local products of this special place became an elegant dinner plate in front of me.
(Group courses are one day and cost GBP 100, or approximately US$120 per person. In addition to the classic course, there are chef co-working days and special seasonal courses ranging from £85 to £180.)
Other butchery courses
These state spots also offer butchery courses:
Chicago Meat Collective’s hands-on pork butchery course includes shredding culled animals from a local farm that promotes humane and sustainable farming practices, then going home with 10 pounds of cookable meat and charcuterie ($250 for a three-hour course).
At the Chop Shop Butchery in Asheville, NC, you can cut up a whole pork or lamb, front quarter beef, or even fish (grades range from $80 to about $150) while enjoying local beer and cider.
At Farmstead Meatsmith, near Tulsa, Okla, skill development, multi-day courses include pork preservation, sausage making, evisceration, confiture making, and butchery. The “Family Pig” course will leave you with working knowledge of how to harvest two pigs ($ 1,390 for the three-day course).
Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook offers an entire animal butcher, a selection of butchery and sausage-making courses (lessons around $100) that operate exclusively on family-run farms in New York State.
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