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Lake Austin Spa

Cooking school: casual Austin style meets luxury in these gourmet dishes

Written by Denise Gee
  • Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort

    Lake Austin Spa Resort in the Texas Hill Country was recently ranked the No. 2 destination spa in North America by Condé Nast Traveler and No. 9 in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. "We’ve got casual Austin style but also the luxury accoutrements people expect," says program director Robbie Hudson. With just 40 rooms, the resort is geared to offer each guest a highly individualized travel experience.

    The lush Hill Country setting offers both privacy and outdoor peacefulness, where robes are acceptable attire—in the cooking school and even at dinner.

    The spa resort offers all-inclusive vacation packages, which feature lakeside accommodations, three gourmet meals daily, indoor and outdoor fitness activities, Culinary Experience classes, and a selection of luxurious spa and body treatments. Packages range from three to seven nights and start at $1,705 per person. For more details, visit

    Recipes from Lake Austin Spa:
    Poached Pears with Blue Cheese and Brandy
    Candy-Striped Beet and Goat Cheese Napoleons
    Grilled Tuna and Green Tomatoes with Creamy Bacon Vinaigrette
    Grilled Tuna with White Bean Salad and Black Olive Tapenade

    Photograh Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort

  • Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort

    A popular feature of Lake Austin Spa is the weeklong Culinary Experience. "We’re the most food-focused spa going," says executive chef Terry Conlan (seen here). He and other amiable staffers entertain 20 to 30 guests during each Culinary Experience week’s 20-plus activities, which include a tour of an organic garden, classes on entertaining or remaking recipes, a cowboy-style breakfast on the shore of Lake Austin, a wine seminar, a cheese-tasting, and a private tour of the Whole Foods Market flagship store in Austin. Also included during the week are six two-hour cooking classes; two of them feature one or two guest chefs. Outside of Culinary Experience week, cooking classes (45-minute sessions taught by Conlan and others) are scheduled at various times each week.

    "Spa cuisine doesn’t have to mean sparse cuisine, you know," Conlan says. "I’m not into diets or gimmicky foods. I’m just into clean, bright food. Good food, period." Conlan’s classes are always a draw (he teaches regular cooking classes at the resort both during and outside of Culinary Experience week), but so now are visiting guest chefs—think Ted Allen (Top Chef/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), Patricia Yeo (author of Everyday Asian) and Frank Stitt (Frank Stitt’s Southern Table)—each featured one day a month during Culinary Experience. The chefs aren’t there to preach on losing weight or eating light, Conlan says. "They’re there to help us embrace the finer foods in life, which can be prepared and served sensibly and in a low-pressure setting."

    Recipes begin here.

    Photograph Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Poached Pears with Blue Cheese and Brandy

    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
    • 1 small bay leaf
    • 6 black peppercorns
    • 2 Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
    • 2 tablespoons Calvados apple brandy
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
    • 2 ounces Cabrales blue cheese or other blue cheese, crumbled

    In a 3-quart saucepan combine wine, sugar, apple juice concentrate, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Add pear halves; heat to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until tender, turning pears once.

    Remove pears to a bowl and set aside. Discard bay leaf and peppercorns from cooking liquid. Stir in apple brandy. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat about 10 minutes or until syrupy (mixture will be reduced to about 1/3 cup). Cool slightly (8 to 10 minutes). Whisk in butter until melted. Stir in whipping cream.

    To serve, place one pear half in each of four dessert dishes. Fill each pear cavity with cheese; spoon sauce over and around pears. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

  • Peter Krumhardt
  • Peter Krumhardt

    Grilled Tuna with White Bean Salad and Black Olive Tapenade

    Prep: 20 minutes   Grill: 8 minutes  

    • 4 4- to 5-ounce fresh or frozen yellowfin tuna steaks, 1-inch thick
    • Salt and ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 anchovy fillet
    • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
    • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
    • 1 teaspoon capers
    • 1/4 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 15- to 16-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, or 1-1/2 cups rinsed and drained cooked white beans
    • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons truffle oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

    For tapenade, in a food processor or blender combine olives, 1 tablespoon olive oil, anchovy, lemon peel, garlic, capers, oregano, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cover and process or blend until a coarse paste forms.

    For bean salad, in a medium mixing bowl combine beans, onion, lemon juice, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, truffle oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

    Lightly grease or coat with nonstick cooking spray an unheated grill rack. For a charcoal grill, grill tuna steaks on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 8 to 12 minutes, or until fish flakes when tested with a fork and center of fish is still slightly pink, gently turning once halfway through grilling. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place tuna steaks on a greased gill rack directly over heat. Cover and grill as above.)

    Serve tuna steaks on a mound of bean salad topped with a dollop of tapenade. Makes 4 servings.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Candy-Striped Beet and Goat Cheese Napoleons

    • 2 small golden beets (about 2 oz trimmed)
    • 2 small chioggia (candy-striped) bets (about 2 oz trimmed)
    • 1 cup baby arugula
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon champagne vinegar
    • Dash kosher salt
    • Dash freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 6-oz log goat cheese
    • 2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
    • 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
    • 1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted

    Trim and scrub beets. In covered medium saucepan, cook beets in enough boiling water to cover for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Drain; set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut each beet into 3 slices.

    In a medium bowl, toss arugula with oil, champagne vinegar, salt, and pepper. Divide among 6 small plates. Cut log of cheese crosswise into 12 slices. Place a cheese slice atop arugula on plates. Top cheese with golden beet slices. Top beet slices with a second slice of cheese. Top with candy-striped beet slices.

    In a small bowl combine preserves and raspberry vinegar. Drizzle over each salad. Garnish with walnuts. Makes 6 appetizer servings. 



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