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Denise Roa

Executive Chef at the Cooking School and Culinary Center at Rancho La Puerta

wine and food festival san digo bay chef denise roa image

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 “it” place 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, John 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.

Raised 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.

Rancho La Puerta Spa and Fitness Program:  Guests stay for one week, from Saturday to Saturday, and enjoy “All Inclusive” rates that include accommodations, fitness classes, all gourmet organic meals and snacks, activities, and special presentations. Spa treatments and personal training sessions are available at very reasonable fees. La Cocina Que Canta complements the Ranch’s approach to achieving a true balance of mind, body and spirit health via outdoor activities in nature such as swimming and guided hikes, as well as 50+ different classes each week in yoga, Pilates, tai chi, dance, and many other traditional strength, stamina, and flexibility disciplines.

Rancho La Puerta history and background: The original fitness resort and spa, “The Ranch” welcomes some 125 guests each week to its 3,000 private acres of gardens, organic farm, mountains, hiking paths, and meadows. All facilities and land are for the exclusive use of its guests, who come for the week, ensuring the delights of a warm and welcoming shared community. The climate is near-perfect; warm and dry, with some showers, in winter, and warm with very low humidity in summer. Rancho La Puerta is located only about 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean at an elevation of 1,700 feet.
The cuisine is semi-vegetarian, featuring an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables. The freshest-of-the-fresh seafood from the port of Ensenada, Baja California, brought in by our own driver and buyer from a fishermen’s market where the local boats come in daily, allows the Ranch chefs to prepare spectacular seafood dishes five times week. All meals offer both vegetarian and modified-vegetarian alternatives.
Soothing spa treatments, such as Rancho La Puerta’s unique Healing Massage, and a wide variety of body and skin treatments, provide a restorative balance when paired with the resort’s fitness classes, hikes, swimming, and other activities.

“A week at Rancho La Puerta provides the true luxury of time and space,” says co-founder Deborah Szekely, “that which is most lacking in today’s life. Space to breathe freely, to relax and enjoy what will be ‘the longer-living, younger life.’”

Week-long packages start at $2,835 per person for a double occupancy room and are inclusive of complimentary transportation from San Diego airport and back, meals, snacks, accommodations and a wide array of fitness classes.

U.S. Reservations Office:
11696 Sorrento Valley Road, Ste 203
San Diego, CA 92121
T: 800.443.7565, 858.764.5500 



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