Tricia Welsh discovers fine food and how to make it .
Country Victoria boasts a plethora of cooking schools, many specialising in ethnic cuisines as varied as life itself. So take off for a culinary weekend and give your taste buds a ride.
When celebrated chef George Biron is not running his country restaurant, Sunnybrae, for weekend lunches, he opens his kitchen each Monday for hands-on cooking classes for up to 12 students. Preparing the five-course meal is an international culinary trip that might include artisan-style sausages or hearty cassoulets. There are side trips into the kitchen garden to gather seasonal produce before enjoying lunch with wine.
Cost: $110. Sunnybrae Restaurant and Cooking School, 4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra. Phone 5236 2276 or see www.georgebiron.com.
Where to stay: Montalban is a large, comfortable Mount Gambier-stone house 300 metres from Sunnybrae. It has a well-stocked larder and breakfast provisions of fresh produce. If you arrive by train, Sunnybrae can organise transfers. Cost: $190 a night, with a two-night minimum. Phone 0417 514 807 or see www.stayz.com.au/23724.
Learn fabulous new dishes to cook in your wood-fired oven with Damian Sandercock of Pizza Verde. Realising that many people now have their own igloo-shaped ovens, Sandercock's course shows participants how to use them to prepare not only thin-based Roman-style pizzas but many other dishes, such as spinach and ricotta balls, sardines and scallops, roasted meats and vegetables. He conducts "real food" interactive classes for children, too, making yoghurt and ricotta, salads and pizzas, followed by a shared lunch.
Cost: $85-$125 ($55 for kids). Pizza Verde, 62 Piper Street. Phone 5422 7400 or see pizzaverde.com.
Where to stay: Directly opposite is 61A, a self-contained two-bedroom apartment in an 1860s building with rear courtyard. Cost: $160, includes breakfast provisions. 61A Piper St, Kyneton. Phone 5422 1211 or see macedonrangesinteriors.com.au.
This residential cooking retreat on the Mornington Peninsula is based on the successful cooking schools of Europe, where participants live on-site and interact with each other in a convivial atmosphere. Two and three-day cooking retreats are offered for up to nine students and are usually based on a theme such as the Flavours of South-East Asia, Classic French or Mediterranean Escape. Day classes are also available, where students cook and enjoy lunch.
Cost: $990-$1300. George's Boutique B&B & Culinary Retreat, 776 Arthurs Seat Road. Phone 5981 8700 or see georgesonarthurs.com.au.
Where to stay: On-site accommodation is in three spacious and luxurious units on an upper level with terrific views from private balconies and a smaller unit downstairs. Classes include accommodation and all meals.
Well-known foodie Louise Lechte (a former contributor and food stylist for Vogue Entertaining + Travel) gives seasonal cooking classes in T'Gallant winery's cucina barrel garden. Initially, the demonstration classes will focus on the "stars of the vegetable kingdom" - asparagus, artichoke and tomato - and then move on to herbs, citrus and potato. Called "tre gusti", or three tastes, each session will demonstrate three dishes accompanied by estate wines, live music and more.
Cost: $75. La Baracca Trattoria, 1385 Mornington-Flinders Road, Main Ridge. Phone 0419 898 000, 5989 6565 or see tgallant.com.au.
Where to stay: Le Pavillon is a charming rustic two-storey Provencal-style farmhouse that sleeps up to six. Cost: from $150 a couple a night, with a two-night minimum stay. 1 Pine Grove, Shoreham. Phone 5989 8433 or see lepav.com.au.
Work alongside Vines of Red Hill's acclaimed chef, James Redfern, as he prepares lunch dishes using fresh, locally sourced produce. Called Kitchen Open Days, these hands-on cooking classes are held on the third Wednesday of each month for up to 10 students; other days by arrangement for private groups. Menus are created depending on seasonally local fresh produce such as bay fish and local vegetables. Students then sit down and enjoy their labours with wine.
Cost: $55. Vines of Red Hill, 150 Red Hill Road. Phone 5989 2977 or see vinesofredhill.com.au.
Where to stay: The Orchard Luxury B&B offers three private suites with spas and a-la-carte breakfasts. Cost: from $250 a night, with a two-night minimum stay. 45 Thomas Road, Red Hill South. Phone 5989 3152 or see the-orchard.com.au.
Overlooking the Tuscan-looking hills of Warrandyte, Agata Commisso shares her passion for all things Italian - with a little Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican along the way. The seasons dictate the dishes, which use authentically made products such as capocollo - cured pork that is used like prosciutto - as part of an antipasto platter, traditional hand-made Italian sausages using beef and pork, tasty bruschetta, lasagna bolognese, risotto, hand-rolled fresh macaroni and widespread favourite gnocchi. Regular classes are held at Commisso's home and once a month at nearby Italian-inspired Panton Hill Vineyard and Winery.
Cost: $40-$160. Amore Cucina, Warrandyte. Phone 9844 5789 or see amorecucina.com.
Where to stay: Grovedale Olives has two Tuscan-inspired self-contained studios that overlook 500 olive trees. Cost: $300, with a minimum two-night stay, includes breakfast provisions. 123 Garden Hill Court, Kangaroo Ground. Phone 9712 0089 or see grovedaleolives.com.
Using produce from a thriving potager planted by garden designer Michael McCoy and fruit from her small orchard, Diana Marsland offers hands-on classes on Saturday for up to 16 students. Classes include Middle-Eastern with Greg Malouf, desserts and pastries with Loretta Sartori and modern Australian with Andrew McConnell. Marsland, who ran a successful cooking school in Melbourne for many years, might teach the finer points of risotto. Classes start with morning coffee and include lunch with wine.
Cost: $140. Diana Marsland Cooking, "The Gables", 19 Brooke Street, Woodend. Phone 5427 1155 or see dianamarslandcooking.com.au.
Where to stay: Campaspe House offers accommodation either upstairs in the 1927-built art deco manor house, a two-bedroom cottage or in 16 modern courtyard rooms. From $280 for two. Goldies Lane, Woodend. Phone 5427 2273 or see campaspehouse.com.au.