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Make a French connection with culinary classes at the Osthoff
By Mike Michaelson | Midwest Travel

The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart, Lake, Wis., is a contemporary property with 19th-century roots.


Guests at The Osthoff Resort can take classes from Jill Prescott's Ecole de Cuisine cooking school.


Jill Prescott is a cookbook author and host of a PBS TV series. At The Osthoff, she teaches professional cooking skills for home use.


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Published: 5/31/2008 4:11 PM

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With the dollar weak and travel budgets stretched thin, this might not be the year you'll travel to France's Loire Valley for visits to wineries, farmhouse cheese makers and country estates. However, it easily could be the year you'll visit one of the finest resorts in the Midwest and discover a strong French culinary connection.

Set in southeast Wisconsin amid rolling Kettle Moraine forest on the shores of spring-fed Elkhart Lake (one of Wisconsin's purest), The Osthoff is the quintessential resort for relaxing getaways. It's at once thoroughly contemporary and graciously historic (dating back to 1886). Steps away, find the charming village of Elkhart Lake, sprinkled with fieldstone-built houses and 100-year-old cedars.

The Osthoff, which consistently earns the coveted AAA Four-Diamond rating, is constantly remaking itself. Recent openings include Lola's on the Lake, a fine-dining restaurant that specializes in regional cuisine and incorporates locally produced organic ingredients, and state-of-the-art Aspira Spa, widely regarded as one of the best in the Midwest.

Last year, the resort launched a culinary school, Jill Prescott's Ecole de Cuisine, designed to teach professional cooking skills for home use. "Jill Prescott provides an authentic French learning experience," says Osthoff general manager Lola Roeh. "Culinary experiences gained at classes at the resort can provide memories and kitchen skills that last a lifetime."

They're a great deal of fun, too. Pairing food and wine, for example, might seem like a bland topic but is, in fact, a lively four-hour, hands-on workshop at which a small group of students prepare dishes such as duck breasts in Madeira and wine sauce and steak au poivre, one of Prescott's signature dishes. Students learn techniques for deglazing the pan in which the beef is cooked, and for scoring the skin on duck breasts, allowing them to cook in their own fat. Meanwhile, the table is set elegantly with a phalanx of wine bottles ready for tasting.

"I created this course after spending two years in the Napa Valley going to so many wineries, tasting their wines, and always trying to imagine what foods would pair well with the wines," says Prescott. "So rather than just having people taste wines and telling them what to pair, I like them to taste food and wine together. It's amazing how a steak can taste perfect with one wine, yet when you add a piquant sauce to the same meat it completely changes."

Jill Prescott is a cookbook author and host of the popular PBS cooking series "Jill Prescott's Ecole de Cuisine." She is founder of one of the first authentic French-style cooking schools for home chefs in the United States. Her friend and mentor was the incomparable Julia Child.

Classically trained in French cooking, Prescott earned diplomas from the prestigious culinary schools of Paris. Having spent 20 years working hand in hand with artisans around the world to bring authenticity to her culinary programs, Prescott now shares her skills and knowledge with Osthoff guests.

Learn to bake crusty French loaves and flavorful onion soup with a bubbling crust that tastes the way you know it should. Master the art of the onion tart and find out about the selection of basic ingredients for your kitchen, such as why you should use only sea salt and unsalted butter.

Single and multi-day courses are scheduled year-round and span such topics as soups and sauces, pastries, artisan breads and grilling. Instruction ranges from hands-on workshops of three to four hours on such basics as knife skills to a weeklong introduction to French bistro cooking.

There are plenty of fun subjects, too, such as making bistro desserts (including French chocolate truffles) and creating celebration cakes for the next time your family celebrates a birthday or anniversary.

Classes run year-round with five-day courses providing an absorbing introduction to Classic French Cuisine and the companion French Pastry & Classic Desserts. Weekend courses include French Bistro cooking. One-day courses lasting five to six hours feature Introduction to French Cuisine, Chef's Choice Cooking Class, Seafood, French Chocolate Truffles and Pasta & Pasta Sauces. Workshops of one to four hours' duration include The Perfect Breakfast.

The latter is one of Prescott's favorites. "I love breakfast," she says, "either savory or sweet or, better yet, both! Sweet crepes stuffed with caramelized apples and cream, Eggs Benedict with an elegant hollandaise sauce drizzled over a farm-fresh organic perfectly poached egg, or a Danish made with cream puff dough and almond cream," she says.

"Maybe these are not practical for the workweek," she concedes, "but for those days I will teach you how to do the most delicious French herb omelet in a black steel pan that takes minutes."

Some students are introduced to the school via gift certificates, but Prescott has a loyal following of students from across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and even from Asia. "I have known people before they were married and now they come with their teenager."

The resort offers 245 spacious suites and guest rooms. One-, two- and three-bedroom suites range in size up to 2,300 square feet and feature a kitchen or kitchenette, dining and living room, TV, fireplace and private balcony. Guest rooms feature a king-size bed, private balcony, two-person whirlpool bath, wet bar and TV.

If you go

Information: The Osthoff Resort, (800) 876-3399,; Wisconsin Department of Tourism, (800) 432-8747,

Mileage: Elkhart Lake is about 165 miles north of Chicago.

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."