Monday, April 4, 2011

New Executive Chef Joins Rancho La Puerta's “LA COCINA QUE CANTA”

La Cocina Que Canta, the Cooking School and Culinary Center at Rancho La Puerta fitness resort and spa, announces the arrival of Executive Chef Denise Roa.

Chef Roa takes the helm of a culinary institution that has fast become the alma mater of many of the most famous teaching chefs and cookbook authors. Guest instructors at La Cocina in the past years have included Rick Bayless, Deborah Madison, Patricia Wells, Jon Ash, and many more. Classes are populated by Rancho La Puerta’s resort guests, and the school itself is located in the midst of Rancho La Puerta’s six-acre organic farm that climbs a fertile hillside at the foot of Mt. Kuchumaa in Baja California, not far from San Diego, California.

As Executive Chef of La Cocina, Chef Roa oversees not only the school’s renowned guest instructor program, but assumes teaching duties herself. She will also create—along with the farm’s founder Sarah Livia Brightwood—a new line of organic culinary products such as preserves, dressings, and seasonings.

Born in Miami of Mexican descent, Chef Roa began her culinary education at Johnson & Wales University in Miami and graduated with double associate’s degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry. She moved to San Diego in 1998 and began a successful career working for several of the region’s best known and respected restaurants, including Pacifica Del Mar, Crescent Shores Grille, Del Mar Racetrack Turf Club, Hilton Torrey Pines, and La Trattoria—a restaurant she owned and operated for six years. Most recently she has been an instructor at the Art Institute of California in San Diego, to date training approximately 500 students in essential culinary skills.

Chef Roa is keen to fuse the culinary and cultural heritages of her own life with the healthful “spa cuisine” dining pioneered by Rancho La Puerta. The resort has never focused on caloric deprivation, but instead celebrates the seasons of its own farm and organic-produce suppliers with a cuisine that is colorful, zesty, and satisfying—the kind of food that fuels a life of vigorous exercise and activity.

A nature and animal lover in her free time, Roa is delighted at the prospect of having a farm-fresh pantry at her doorstep—as well as the resort’s 3,000 acres of nature preserve on which to hike with her dogs. She will live at the farm, which is located about two miles from Rancho La Puerta and is part of a vast family-owned property that includes meadows, oak groves, streams, and mountainsides bedecked with “gardens” of giant granite boulders and chaparral.

La Cocina Que Canta’s (“the kitchen that sings”) name honors its Mexican heritage as well as the birdsongs that drift through its courtyards. Masons built a generous courtyard-hacienda layout comprising a large hands-on classroom/kitchen, cookbook library, and culinary gift shop. The classroom/kitchen looks out on patios and vistas enlivened by tinkling cantera-stone fountains amidst billows of brilliant geraniums and wisteria blossoms dancing in the breezes. Guests enjoy a series of hands-on classes offered twice a day, two and a half hours each, three times a week. The option of purchasing or signing up for a hands-on class is offered $75.

The essential simplicity and joy of using fresh, organic ingredients in inspiring ways sets the table for the school’s curriculum. Guests delight in making the connection between their new-found cooking skills from La Cocina Que Canta, and their heightened understanding of mind/body/spirit fitness from the rest of their visit to the spa. The school also hosts one-day programs for San Diego and Tijuana residents in search of the secrets behind a longer, healthier life. Released in Fall, 2008, the school’s cookbook, “Cooking With The Seasons at Rancho La Puerta,” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang) highlights methods and recipes using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and was nominated for a James Beard award.

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