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Weekends at the Culinary Institute of America

For the food and wine enthusiast, Napa Valley is our nearest nirvana. Due north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, the valley is surrounded by breathtaking vistas, colorful characters, majestic vineyards and prestigious wineries that grace the landscape.

Furthermore, it’s no surprise that The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chose the picture-perfect Greystone for its West Coast outpost. Regarded as the world’s premier culinary college since its inception nearly a century ago (the main headquarters can be found along the Hudson River in Hyde Park, N.Y.), those who set foot on this westerly campus can quickly immerse themselves in an eclectic culinary world influenced slightly less by Europe and the Big Apple than its oenophilic brethren.

And while the campus offers an array of programs for those already involved in (or delving headlong into) the professional food industries, mere culinary aficionados from across the globe have opportunities to partake in select Greystone offerings.

Once here, guests are afforded the opportunity to cook in professionally equipped kitchens, participate in lectures and demos, endure tastings and even bolster their knowledge of wine.

“CIA Samplings include wine explorations, weekend demonstrations and classes for the sophisticated palate,” says Tyffani Peters, CIA Greystone’s media specialist. “The concept behind these programs, which began two years ago, is to give people who have an interest in food and wine-and want to learn more-a chance to learn some fun things while they’re visiting without having to enroll in a professional program.”

According to Peters, CIA Samplings is a two- hour hands-on cooking class that transports students on a cultural culinary journey. These include creating dishes inspired by Spain, Asia, Africa, Italy and even Napa Valley itself.

Classes are taught by CIA chef instructors who teach students techniques that allow them to re-create masterpieces in the comfort of their own kitchen.

For those looking to develop their affinity for wine, CIA wine experts will offer “Wine Explorations” seminars which, at just two hours per session, can make for an ideal “add-on” to a day of wine tasting in the region. Participants will have the chance to take part in discussions during wine tastings, within the campus’ state- of-the art wine tasting facilities.

Those with slightly more time on their hands can take advantage of CIA at Greystone’s weekend sessions. Renowned regional chefs and instructors will demonstrate recipes reflective of the seasonal flavors of Napa, and reveal which wines work best with them.

“Our programs have been very popular,” Peters states. “You really need to book ahead before attending one of our enthusiast classes.”

Two-day ($1,995) and one-day ($495) sessions are limited to 12 participants (of all cooking levels and interests).

Led by Chef John Ash, CIA experts will introduce participants to new cuisines, ingredients and cooking techniques, all the while enjoying the company of fellow food aficionados.

CIA’s newly branded “Boot Camp” ($2,095) is a five-day program that has seen aspiring chefs, doctors, lawyers and working mothers as attendees. Call it a learning vacation for your appetite.

“Food enthusiast programs are what I like to call ‘edutainment,'” Peters says. “What better souvenir to bring home than some new cooking or wine tasting skills that you can use again and again, and impress all of your friends?”

Regardless of the length of time you decide to spend at Greystone, no visit would be complete without the dining experience as it unfolds at the campus’ Ivy Award-winning eatery, The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Whether for lunch or dinner (it’s open every day), the dance that melds impeccable service with Mediterranean-style fare, an open kitchen and views of the gently rolling Napa hillsides is an incomparable outro.

For more information on The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone and its food enthusiasts programs, visit www.ciachef.edu/enthusiasts/weekends.