Three weeks ago, I had the amazingly good fortune to be the visiting cooking teacher at Rancho La Puerta, just over the border in Tecate, Mexico.
Rancho La Puerta has been around for 70 years and was one of the original health spas. Today, it does an incredible job striking the perfect balance between healthy and hedonistic, rejuvenation and relaxation. There are hot and cold running things to do, five to eight options on the hour, every hour, including yoga, walks, hikes, talks/lectures, art classes, in-the-pool exercise classes, hula hooping, crystal bowl healing, cardio drumming, zumba, movies, bingo, and on and on – including, of course, cooking classes. Should you prefer to do nothing, there are beautiful swimming pools to lounge by, lovely meandering paths to wander, and plenty of spots, including your own gorgeous room, to read a book.
Me, I exercised at least once a day, I got massaged and facialed, I spent a lot of time outdoors wearing t-shirts and shorts (in February!), I ate well, I felt both energized and restored, and without trying or feeling the least bit deprived – quite the opposite, in fact – by the end of the week I noticed my pants were markedly looser. How’s that for a perfect vacation?!?
After three days of all this, I went to “work” for a day and a half, teaching three classes at the Rancho’s beautiful cooking school facility, La Cocina Que Canta (the kitchen that sings!). Each class began with a tour of the Rancho’s incredible edible gardens led by Head Gardener Salvador Tinajero – in-season, straight-from-the-source produce is featured in both the cooking classes and the Rancho’s dining room. After the tour, students used my recipes to prepare a lavish yet garden- and spa-inspired meal. And finally, everyone sat down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. (I didn’t really sit, but I’ll tell you why in a sec). It was a great time, especially because the class was peppered with co-vacationers I’d already made friends with (the Rancho is a fantastically friendly place) and especially especially because you couldn’t ask for a more supportive group than Rene, Eunice, Gina, and the rest of the La Cocina staff.
One example of how sweet and wonderful they were – because I don’t yet have a book to sign, La Cocina Manager Rene Gonzalez included bookplates in the students’ handouts, for me to sign and for the students to add to my book should they decide to buy a copy. Pretty much everyone asked for my signature, which kept me busy during meal time. It was my first experience with signing and I was so touched that I literally had to work to keep from tearing up.
After that, it was another day and a half of exercise, walks, spa treatments, and great meals with my students/new friends before it was time to, sadly, head back cross the border, back to reality.
Here’s what I learned at Rancho La Puerta. One, if I have nothing else to do, and if the classes are plenty fun, I would exercise all day, happily. Two, I could probably live on the Rancho “diet,” lots of vegetables plus a little fish, happily. And three, quality ingredients, well-prepared, will always produce delicious, satisfying meals, especially if they’re made with love. Okay, so I knew that last one already, but it’s always a good, and delicious, thing to be reminded of.
If you ever have inclination or opportunity to visit Rancho La Puerta, jump on it. If and when they invite me back – my fingers are crossed – you can bet I will.