"At CIA, we are not teaching recipes; we are teaching kitchen skills," says chef Mark Ainsworth, a 20-year veteran professor. "The focus is on cooking methods, like how to julienne or braise." Offered at three locations across the country – Hyde Park, San Antonio, St. Helena – the Culinary Institute of America's two- and five-day boot camps cover skills such as butchering, knife work, grilling, and baking, and offer lessons on making hors d'oeuvres, comfort foods, and exotic dishes from around the world. You'll sweat through sessions in its state-of-the-art professional kitchens, working in teams to make meals that are judged by teachers – just like a reality-TV show, but without the screaming. Ainsworth says he's seen everyone from retired surgeons to former Navy lieutenants come in with a passion for cooking and "leave completely energized." As a bonus, all three schools are situated in areas where there's a ton of fun to be had outside the kitchen: Hyde Park's hiking paths and graded mountain-bike trails overlook the Hudson River; San Antonio's exploding restaurant scene will satisfy your appetite should your own cooking experiments fail; and St. Helena is in the heart of Napa Valley.
Cost: Two-day skills development, $895; five-day basic training, $2,195.
Bring: Nonslip, rubber-soled shoes (think Mario Batali's Crocs) are required for the kitchen.