By placing ambitious home cooks in Michelin-starred kitchens, L'Ecole des Chefs Relais Gourmands is able to provide lessons in everything from ladling osetra caviar onto salmon confit to turning the geoduck, the world's largest burrowing clam, into satiny ceviche. Recently brought under the Relais & Châteaux umbrella, the program consists of two- to five-day apprenticeships in which participants observe celebrated chefs and work closely with sous-chefs and other kitchen staff.
Manhattan's Le Bernardin, for instance, is tightly run and highly charged. Chef de cuisine Eric Ripart consults with a fishmonger. Sous-chef Chris Muller dispatches his new protégé from station to station—to watch tissue-thin ruby tuna being draped over mounded mesclun; practice paring away an artichoke's tough leaves in a continuous, swirling motion; slip parboiled tomatoes out of their skins with a grasp and a flick; squeeze butter through the fist into a sauté pan. Finally, he helps Muller cap the evening's amuses-bouche with fragile tuiles.
Cut to the country. The Ryland Inn, in rural Whitehouse, New Jersey, has a heliport where the mighty touch down for tasting menus. The kitchen is very much in thrall to science. Chef Craig Shelton sketches a string of beads and uses downward pen strokes to mark off neat segments: This is how heat or enzymes break up long molecules, boosting flavor. He launches into a discourse on sodium chloride: "Empirically, if I tell people to use just enough salt to trigger the salivary glands, it works like magic."
L'Ecole des Chefs' roster includes more than 100 Michelin- and Mobil-starred chefs in 17 countries. It tailors lessons to clients' level of experience—and at some establishments can arrange Relais & Châteaux lodgings. Internships: $1,250-$2,250. L'Ecole des Chefs Relais Gourmands, 11 East 44th Street, New York, NY 10017; 877-334-6464; fax 212-856-0193; www.ecoledeschefs.com.