Cooking at Rancho La Puerta {Part 3}

March 14th, 2013 at 8:08 am
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Today’s post is the third and final installment in my series of posts about my trip to Rancho La Puerta. (Catch up on post one and post two if you missed them.) And I must say that I’m a little sad to be finished with these recaps. Our time at the ranch was so special! At least I have plenty of photos and warm memories to take me back any time I’m craving a little dose of RLP.

During the middle of our week at Rancho La Puerta, my mom and I had the pleasure of taking a hands-on cooking class at the ranch’s nearby cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta (translation: The Kitchen That Sings).

Nestled in the hills of Tecate, the cooking school is surrounded by a gorgeous 6-acre organic farm that supplies much of the school and the ranch with fresh produce. Before taking our class, we toured the gardens briefly with the head gardener, Salvador. Coming from Wisconsin in February, the gardens were so fun and refreshing for us to walk through! Seeing all the fresh vegetation made us feel alive again.

Each week of the year, the cooking school brings in a visiting chef to instruct guests in various types of cuisine. All of the recipes, no matter the chef, focus on using fresh produce and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. I had a chance to chat with Chef Denise Roa, the executive chef and director of the cooking school, throughout the evening. She was an absolute delight! I could have talked to her about food and cooking for hours. She told us that the ranch and cooking school try to source ingredients from within 30 miles if possible for the classes and menus at the ranch. (That is, if the ingredients aren’t already grown in the beautiful gardens!)

Isn’t this kale stunning? I’d never thought of “pruning” kale this way before, but apparently it stimulates new growth. As you know, I’m such a huge fan of kale I could have easily munched my way through the row in a heartbeat!

As we toured the grounds with Salvador, our group (about 15 of us in total) had the chance to harvest some carrots, beets, and some type of heirloom Chinese green bean stalk thing that I’m not remembering the name of. We ended up grilling them like asparagus. So delicious.

And what garden would be complete with a Chief Mouser? This is Lizard, one of the many gatos at La Cocina Que Canta. He was a bit camera shy, but I managed to snap a photo before he scurried away to keep tabs on the field mice.

Then it was time to head into the kitchen and get cooking! We worked in pairs, each preparing a dish that we then served family-style and enjoyed at huge, beautiful tables in the dining room of the school. My mom and I worked together to prepare a delightful Pear & Roasted Squash Soup complete with fried carrot greens on top.

Other ranchers teamed up to make…

  • Sauteed Garden Greens with Garlic & Olive Oil
  • Shrimp with Tropical Gazpacho
  • Grilled Asparagus with Kumquats
  • Sweet Potato Gratin
  • Roasted Beets with Orange Flower Honey
  • Salad with Nasturtium Flowers & Strawberries
  • Sweet Cheese Tarts

While the menu wasn’t 100% gluten-free or dairy-free, all but two recipes were very allergy-friendly…no nuts, eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, or sugar! Needless to say, I enjoyed a plateful of amazing food and didn’t feel “left out” at all.

With so many cooks bustling in the kitchen, it was a challenge to take photos of the finished dishes. But I hope you’ll believe me when I say that everything was absolutely stunning with so much color and freshness that it almost was a shame to eat it all. (Almost.)

All in all, our experience at La Cocina Que Canta was truly unforgettable. Sharing a meal with complete strangers in a huge kitchen sounds intimidating, but it was one of the most familial, intimate parts of the entire trip. As we savored our food together and chatted about our favorite ingredients, cookbooks, and recipes, we experienced a sense of bonding that can only be fostered by the act of sharing a communal meal.

After our class was over, we returned to the ranch by van to our casita. In the shadow of the moonlight, I reflected on the evening as we bounced along the winding road back to Rancho La Puerta. And all I could think was just how true La Cocina Que Canta remained to its name: with a wholesome and delicious meal in my body, good company chatting in the van around me, and my mom tucked close by my side, my heart truly was singing.

(My trip was hosted by Rancho La Puerta, but opinions are my own.)


  1. this is one of my mom’s favorite spa/retreat destinations! it’s still on my “must do” list & hope i can make it down one of these days – sounds incredible.

  2. Lisa: You would love it! I can’t wait to go back some day with my mom and sister for a girl’s trip. :)

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