Travellers are now spending holidays in the kitchen



Chef Rory, third from right, conducts regularly-scheduled themed cooking classes at the new Ritz Culinary Centre in Cancun.


Who’s cooking on their holiday? It could be you. There was a time when taking holidays meant getting out of the kitchen. Now, for many, the tables are reversed. More travellers are vacationing with culinary activities in mind, and that means more than loading up at the buffet.


Along with other wellness minded activities such as biking, hiking and yoga, workshops to learn the secrets of local chefs are gaining popularity. It’s part of a trend that has savvy travellers wanting more than just a fun experience while vacationing. They want a learning experience — something other than a tan to take back home.

I donned an apron at the new Culinary Centre at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun for a class on spa cuisine. There are five “student chefs” in this two-hour class and each of us has his or her own personal work station and kitchen tools for slicing, chopping, mixing and blending.

The sleek, spiffy kitchen — completely outfitted by Viking — is crème-de-la-crème. “It’s the ultimate dream kitchen,” says chef de cuisine Rory Dunaway, who moved to Cancun from the Ritz-Carlton in Panama Beach Florida to head up the Culinary Centre last November. No doubt he was chosen for the job because of his charm, upbeat personality and contagious passion for food.

Following a few pleasantries and introductions, he gets right down to business. “The focus behind spa cuisine,” he explains, “is using fresh products, less oils and staying away from processed ingredients.” We begin with a cantaloupe, orange and tofu smoothie. Tofu instead of yogurt, he explains because it has more protein.

It’s surprisingly good. Today’s menu also includes chilled avocado soup with mango crab salad, grilled salmon with golden raisin and almond couscous served with caper grapefruit relish and, for dessert, basil-marinated mixed berries with vanilla yogurt sorbet.

During the workshop Chef Rory dishes out dollops of culinary tidbits such as the fact that Mexican bees can harvest more honey due to their lack of stingers.

Who knew? We also learn how to cut fresh herbs, the proper way to cut an avocado and how to wield a kitchen knife. It’s a fun, interactive and informative class and at the end all the cooks get to dine on the day’s creations.

The hotel offers two classes a day and various themes. Along with Spa Cuisine, guests can sign up for workshops such as the Real Mexico, Best Of Barbecue, A Tuscan Dinner Party, Treasures Of The Sea and a number of others.

This is the first Culinary Centre for Ritz, but four more are, shall we say, on the burner for later this year.

Also on my Mexican vacation menu was a couple of night’s stay at the exquisite, newly-opened Azul Blue in Tulum. With its inviting infinity pool, beautifully decorated guest rooms, exceptional spa, it rates “gourmet” for more than just the taste buds.

anne dimon/for metro toronto

Chef Jonotan, right, and able assistant show guests how to make the perfect Ceviche for guests at the new “gourmet-inclusive” Azul Blue.

The surprisingly young and talented chef de cuisine Jonotan Gomez-Luna performs magic in the resort’s theatre-style kitchen. He can, for instance, extract and mix the very flavours of foods and turn them into airy foam served as a delightfully light appetizer.

One midday I sought shelter from the Mayan Riviera’s sun while lapping up chef Jonotan’s secrets to making a good ceviche.

Culinary classes at Azul Blue are more of a demo than workshop and scheduled less frequently than those at the Ritz, but are as popular and enjoyable especially for those who can’t get enough of the scrumptious all-inclusive meals served in the boutique resort’s three restaurants.

The terms “bon voyage” and “bon appetite” have never been so well paired.

For more information on spa and wellness travel, see

Anne Dimon is a spa and wellness travel writer and founder/editor of

cooking class

  • The Ritz Culinary Centre offers two classes a day, six days a week. The price is $95 US plus taxes and includes a meal. You don’t need to be a guest to partake. Visit for more.

  • Prices for the “gourmet-inclusive” Azul Blue start at $720 US per night per couple; see