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What could be more fun than taking a week of gourmet cooking classes with a dear friend?  Marie called me last winter and suggested that we sign up for Hugh Carpenter’s cooking school.  Hugh lives in Napa and teaches 5 sessions of cooking classes in California.  He also travels and teaches around the country and in Mexico

This year, Hugh is celebrating 21 years of cooking classes that last 6 days and feature an innovative food, and wine program in beautiful Napa Valley. There are 16 people in our group from all over the US and a mom and daughter from Canada.  We are getting an “insider’s” tour of Napa Valley’s elite small wineries, great kitchens, and homes. All the recipes are based on Hugh’s 15 cookbooks.

The Camp theme centers on visits to private estates and to family-run wineries acclaimed for their wines and open only by invitation. The owners personally welcome us. (Bruce Cakebread showed us his winery and then stayed and had lunch with us.) They will be providing us with a private tasting and in some cases, appetizers.   I am excited to get the first hand personal stories about how they transformed a passion for wine into a way of life.

Marie and I sent in our money and made hotel reservations.  We arrived on Sunday evening.  Last night we were invited for dinner at Hugh and his wife, Terry’s home.  After a tour of their beautiful property, Hugh served us a wonderful dinner of lamb shanks.

Classes started this morning in the kitchens of a fine winery – Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford. We met in the kitchen and prepared our meal.   As I mentioned, Bruce Cakebread lead us on a private tour of his winery, served us 3 wines and then joined us for lunch.

Today’s menu was: BBQ shrimp with apricot ginger sauce, Thai coconut soup, Spicy Thai salad, BBQ beef with spicy avocado glaze, couscous with currents and pine nuts and desert was a wonderful chocolate bread pudding with hazelnuts and Grand Marnier.

Tomorrow, we will start off at Far Niente Winery.  The owner, Gil Nickel restored the buildings in 1981.   The winery is famous for its Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and its premium dessert wine, Dolce. We will be touring the historic main building and get to taste their current releases and their older vintages.  The visit will conclude by seeing Gil’s extensive classic car collection.

Then after an the rest of the afternoon off, we will be the guests of the Cakebread family at their Howell Mountain property, Dancing Bear Vineyard. This property is never open to the public. Cooking classes will follow, and then dinner overlooking all of Napa Valley.  Here are the photos that I took today of the class and the food.

Hugh Carpenter showing us the shrimp that we will devein and then cook.

Here are the photos of the winery and Bruce Cakebread