So much of travel is about food. At least, it is for me. Delving into a country’s cuisine tells you an amazing amount about its history, people, and attitude to life. Eating out allows you to look at people’s behaviors and mindsets, be it the sharing and slow-eating approach more prevalent in southern countries, such as Italy, or the sweet tooth of other countries.
While I love learning about and tasting the cuisine of every country I visit while I am there, I also search for restaurants serving those cuisines when I’m back home. However, there really is nothing that brings back lovely memories like recreating dishes you discovered abroad back home, and sharing them with friends and family.
With Europe having so many distinctive dishes within those cuisines, I have picked some of my favorite things from some favorite countries, so that when you visit, you can learn how to cook those and share them in your kitchen afterward.
Here are some superb cooking — and baking — classes across Europe, most are suitable for beginners and a couple caters to those of you who already have some skills in the kitchen.
1. Alain Ducasse
Alain Ducasse is a well-known French chef, one whose restaurants have been awarded three Michelin stars, not just once, but three times. In his cooking school in the 16th arrondissement, he taught some world-class chefs during their careers, but the school is also open to “amateurs” in the French meaning of the word, i.e. those who love what they do. Classes range from fine dining and traditional dishes to macarons and dessert making, and everything in between. While a lot of classes are in French, there is a good selection taught in English including choux pastry making and a selection of classic bistro dishes. These classes are held regularly. On the website, you can search either under the days you will be in Paris, or for specific classes that interest you, and then plan your vacation accordingly.
Pro Tip: If there is a class that interests you but is taught in French, a translation service is available at an extra cost.
2. La Cuisine Paris Baking Classes
Is there anything better than welcoming the day with a cup of coffee in one hand and a warm, crumbly croissant in the other? Often you don’t have a decent bakery nearby and making your own is the best option. La Cuisine offers a variety of cooking and baking classes, even food and market tours, but the one I’d like to suggest is the croissant baking class. Even better is the location of this cooking school. It is on the banks of the Seine, steps away from the Hotel de Ville and the iconic Chez Julien restaurant. You are right in the heart of Paris for that truly heart-soaring feeling.
Pro Tip: The croissant-making classes book out fast, but as long as you book well in advance, there should not be a problem.
3. My First Paella
What’s more Spanish than paella? Learning how to make this amazing dish in the city it originates from — Valencia, is a very special treat — and a good excuse to go out and buy a huge paella pan. Just clear it with your airline first. My First Paella offers two daily paella cooking classes. The one in the morning starts at the local market, locating the fresh ingredients needed for a paella, whereas, if the morning is not good for you, the afternoon class skips the shopping, and launches straight into the preparation.
Pro Tip: For different tastes, there are different classes. You can join a seafood paella class or even a vegetarian class.
4. Primo Piatto, Pasta School
Often pasta is thought of as something easy to throw together in a rush, which is sort of true if you buy your pasta, dried or fresh. However, to enjoy the true Italian experience in Genoa on the Italian Riviera, you’ve got to learn to make your pasta first. There is a professional pasta-making school just for that. From theoretical to hands-on classes, you can pick and choose what it is you’d like to learn. There are also classes for beginners, advanced, and even masterclasses. If you can’t make it to Italy this year, there are online courses.
Pro Tip: Did you know that there are more than 400 different pasta shapes in Italy? At the top of my head, I could name 15 or so, but make them? No.
5. Pizza Workshop
A bit further south, but just as iconic Italian as pasta, lies the home of pizza: Napoli. While the Neapolitan pizza is different from the one you might sample in Rome, with the Roman one being thinner and crispier when compared to the thicker and softer Neapolitan, both are delicious. I hesitated about adding this cooking class because while it is great to learn how to make pizza, did you know that legally, you cannot call a pizza a pizza unless it was cooked in a wood-fired oven? How many of us have one of those? Still, in these classes, you’ll learn some tricks that will work in a normal oven, too.
Pro Tip: The one true Neapolitan pizza is the Margherita, which is topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
6. Bake Cinnamon Buns
I have a thing for cinnamon buns, especially kanelbullar, which are a Swedish specialty. Not as sweet as many buns found in the Americas, they are yeastier and have more of a cinnamon taste. This is a cooking class with a difference because you can stay in the Vaxholm Bed & Breakfast on an island just outside of Stockholm in beautiful surroundings and a perfect Swedish setting. While you are enjoying your vacation in Sweden, the proprietor of the bed and breakfast also holds baking classes, so you can learn how to make the wonderful buns she is serving up for breakfast.
Pro Tip: Explore the archipelago on a boat trip from Stockholm.
7. Pastel De Nata Workshop
When I first went to Lisbon, I nearly did not try a pastel de nata. I am not keen on custard, but, as it is the national, traditional thing to try, I did. Phew! It turned out to be one of the loveliest sweet things I have ever tried. I try to stay away from them as they are just too good, so once you learn how to make these little tarts either in online classes or preferably in Lisbon itself, you better get some friends to help you polish them off.
Pro Tip: Head to Belém, the home of the pastel de nata, just outside of Lisbon.
8. Authentic Greek Cuisine
There is something about Greek food that is loved all around the world, with the cuisine often ranking straight after Italian and French food. Whether it’s the fresh ingredients, the copious amounts of olive oil and garlic, or simply the usually scenic setting the food is eaten at, who knows? Learning a little more about cooking Greek dishes, from a Greek local, will add hugely to your repertoire. In the heart of Athens, my recommendation is for chef Michail, who can either suggest a menu of dishes for you to learn or personalize the class depending on what you would like to learn.
Pro Tip: This is a private class in a private home, making it truly authentic and flexible.
9. Chocolate Academy
What springs to mind when you think of Switzerland? Chocolate, of course. This is my suggestion for those of you who already are well-versed in cooking, baking, and chocolate making. If you’d like to further your skills, then where better than at the Swiss Chocolate Academy? Set right by the river Limmat in Zurich, the advanced courses tend to be over two days, with the next ones in December, but with others coming up regularly.
Pro Tip: The Chocolate Academy has worldwide sites. If you either can’t make it to Switzerland or are after a certain class, try some of the other locations.
10. Wiener Schnitzel Academy
When in Vienna, a wiener schnitzel is a must-try, and Figlmueller is repeatedly named one of the best places to eat this local dish. Figlmueller is a historic and authentic restaurant in the heart of old Vienna. If you like the taste, why not book yourself into a cooking class to learn how to recreate this back home right there and then?
Figlmueller holds regular classes at their Wiener Schnitzel Academy, where you learn about the best meat to use and how to prepare the crumb. You’ll also get to make a few side dishes to accompany the schnitzel. You even get given their cookbook and apron as a souvenir to take home.
Pro Tip: Maybe aim to visit in December? Vienna is particularly beautiful around Christmas time, with many lovely markets in the squares.