Why you need to take a cooking class when you travel

The paella class I took in Valencia made me regret every trip I’ve ever taken. After spending one day at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana I wished I’d taken pasta-making class in Italy or cassoulet class in France. I learned so much more than just how to make a delicious dish. Don’t be like me: Take a cooking class wherever you go!

There are no steadfast rules for picking the right cooking class. For me, it came down to cost and reviews on TripAdvisor. While searching for paella cooking classes in Valencia, I came across a blog post describing the cooking classes at the Escuela. I was impressed with their five-star reviews so I booked it!

Why you should take a cooking class when you travel

You learn about local culture

More often than not, cooking classes will include a trip to the local market. You will learn about the ingredients native to the area and history of the market which is usually central to the city’s history. Most markets have been a meeting place for centuries. During our tour in Valencia, Ivan spent a lot of time talking about the history of Mercado Central and its intricate history.  In addition to learning culinary techniques, you learn eating traditions. In Spain, you always make paella for one more person than the number you’re cooking for, just in case someone drops by for dinner!

Valencia Market Exterior

You meet cool people

People from all over the world do cooking classes when they travel, so chances are you will cook alongside some cool people! Our class in Valencia had a pair of honeymooners from the United States and a mom and two daughters from New Zealand who were celebrating mom’s big 50th birthday. It was fun getting to know them while cooking, and it’s always fun to eat and drink with new people.

Cooking classes are fun

A word of advice: embrace the cheesiness. Wearing the hat and jumping around when I got my paella certificate made it much more fun. From the market to dancing around bubbling paella pans, I learned more about Valencia’s culture, history and food in six hours than I could have in a week wandering around the city. I was also surprised how many techniques I took home with me. We were able to reproduce the paella at home with relative ease and I learned tips I’ve transferred to other dishes (my risotto game is phenomenal).

Gabby and Maggie pre-paella cooking class

You get to eat lots of delicious food

I’m stating the obvious, but you get to eat amazing food! Spend a couple hours cooking and the fresh local flavours are a fruitful reward. Take a day and spend some time with a local to learn how to make a dish that will not only impress your friends, but will make the world seem smaller and bigger at the same time.

Paella at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana

Here’s our day learning how to make Paella in Valencia

Adam, my sister Maggie, her boyfriend Sean and I had an early start to the day. We left our villa in Algorfa to arrive at the school for 9am. Ivan, the gentleman who took us to the market, took photos of our group from start to finish — some of them are displayed below with the school’s logo. It was super helpful to have these for memory, but also to help you remember the steps for cooking amazing paella.

We posed for a quick picture with the group and headed to Valencia’s main market with Ivan.

Group outside the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana

To say the market is beautiful is an understatment. It took decades for the market to look like it does today, with construction finishing in 1928. Ivan told us the blood, sweat and tears of many Valencians went into its construction.  It is a hallowed place for the city.

Valencia Market Exterior

Valencia Market Roof

To market, to market

At the market, Ivan showed us how to pick the best ingredients for a traditional Valencian paella. It consists of rabbit, chicken, beans, paprika, bomba rice and the ever-crucial saffron.

Valencia Market

Vegetable stall at Valencia market

Bean stall at Valencia market

Spanish Paprika in Valencia's market

Escuela Exterior

Time for school

Back at school, we were introduced to Chef Benni who would show us how to make paella! The kitchen was huge, with lots of giant paella burners and room for our little group to get cooking.

Once the paella hit a point where it needed to simmer, we were shown how to make a traditional Spanish tortilla, a thick fluffy omelette. We sat in the main dining room and ate it with a cold and light white wine.

Spanish Tortilla at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana

Traditional paella is cooked outside, and part of the cooking process is burning rosemary around the pan. We couldn’t get an actual fire going, but Ivan lit up some rosemary for effect (and delicious smell). While the rosemary burned on the edge, we danced around the kitchen. Chef Benni insisted it makes the paella taste better. I’m inclined to agree.

Maggie and Ivan with Paella

WE DID IT!

After a few hours, it was ready to eat!

we made paella at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana

You’re supposed to eat paella room temperature, but it was VERY hard to wait.

After the delicious meal (and plenty more wine), Chef Benni presented our certificates.

Gabby and Maggie with Chef!

Adam and Sean with Chef

 

From understanding the true value of saffron to the crunchiness at the bottom of the pan the experience was invaluable. And so much fun!  I encourage you to do a cooking class wherever you go, but if you’re in Valencia go and make paella at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana!

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