Cook Your Way to New Culinary Heights
NEW YORK—If a full belly is the stuff of happy, peaceful nations, you can contribute to world peace by taking a cooking class. In Manhattan, options abound for those wishing to learn how to cook, improve cooking skills, and/or learn new techniques.
For amateur cooks, the spectrum caters to both the very novice and the more experienced. Some are more focused on cooking techniques, some on providing a fun, social environment.
It’s good to know your level of comfort and your learning style. Do you prefer to do everything hands-on, including dealing with hot oil and lots of heat? Or are you more comfortable watching a demo and doing some dicing and mincing?
Settings range as well from spotless culinary school kitchens with every piece of equipment under the sun, to more home-like surrounds.
Over the past week, I tried out different cooking classes, whose prices range from $50 to $195. There is quality teaching to be found at all these price points. The atmosphere at all of them is social and enjoyable, with teachers who enjoy cooking and teaching, and students eager to advance their skills and try something new.
What differs is the quantity of food you get to eat (and sometimes, take home), and how much wine is offered. The less expensive classes do provide enough food at the end to fill you comfortably, while the more expensive provide veritable feasts.One word of caution for those who can’t stay on their feet for long. Cooking often involves being on your feet. Some of the classes need you to be on your feet most of the time; others, especially when chefs are doing demos, provide seating while you watch. It’s worth getting in touch with the instructor to find out, if this is an issue for you.
The other caveat of course is that these are my experiences only. There’s always a confluence of factors on any given night. There are also a great variety of cooking classes in Manhattan, and I was only able to attend the ones below. Notable ones I couldn’t get to are: De Gustibus, which brings in expert chefs for demonstrations; the Natural Gourmet Institute with its focus on healthy cuisine; and Haven’s Kitchen, with a market-driven, organic approach to cooking.
Institute of Culinary Education
ICE offers hundreds of classes a year—most are available to recreational cooks. The basics are offered (the knife skills class is among the most popular) and new classes are always being added. The chefs are looking at the trends as well as putting together courses with interesting themes. Sous vide? Check. Early Fall Farm to City? Wild Game and Whiskey Feast? Check, check. The approach is thoroughly hands on. You get to work in the same kitchens as the professional degree students do, alongside the same instructors, as well as guest experts. If classes sell out, additional sections are offered.
Price range: For one-time classes, $70–$120.
Highlights: The instruction is above par and the chefs are personable and entertaining. Chefs here have be able to hold an audience captive to teach. And they do.
Setting: Culinary school kitchens, equipped to the gills.My experience: “Souful Fatty Pig” class with chef Brendan McDermott, a class punctuated every so often by both hushed whispers and cries of “Amazing!” and “Have you tried this yet?” It may have been a class about pork and bacon, but alongside, I picked up numerous tips and techniques (making a dry rub, tying up a pork tenderloin, butchering a duck, searing scallops, making sure the pan doesn’t stick when you sauté something, making a chocolate ganache and caramel). We did not sit down to the huge, family meal till later, but sampling during the evening left no one hungry. You can’t be shy to make the most of this class. It felt a little chaotic at the beginning when everyone self-organized into what tasks they were interested in doing, but it all comes together well, and it is possible to switch around and work on different tasks and dishes.
50 W. 23rd St., Chelsearecreational.ice.edu
Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Center
Background: Who knew? At the upstairs space at Whole Foods on Bowery, there’s a teaching kitchen. Of course, the hope is that you’ll then shop there. But that doesn’t detract in any way from the quality of the classes, which range widely in their diversity and are also affordable.
Price range: From free (for the Small Budget, Big Flavor class) to $50. Upcoming are: Roadside Arepas & Tacos, and Fish for Beginners.
Highlights: Great tips at an affordable price.
Settings: On the second floor and surrounded by glass windows, with Whole Foods’ signature high ceilings, the kitchen space is homey nonetheless, and well-organized.
My experience: The particular class I took was on the “Herbal Middle East,” by guest chef Nissa Pearson, who has been working with herbs for the 20 past years, and helps herb growers worldwide. We got to prep, and took some turns doing some of the cooking. Nice small plates rather than a meal at the end in this case, but it depends on the particular class.
95 E. Houston St.
Miette Culinary Studio
Background: Paul Vandewoude, head chef and owner, opened Miette (means “crumb” in French) 14 years ago. He has been a chef for 35 years and was classically trained in Belgium. Of all the different classes I tried, Miette was the most personal and family-like. The class is hands on; it is divided into different teams according to interest, so prep happens separately, but the chefs gets the class together for the teaching moments. Miette also caters and offers private classes.
Price range: From $85 to $110.
Setting: Two locations, both beautiful and adorned with antiques. The studio on Mulberry is spacious, with an outdoor patio with two grills and potted plants—thyme, lavender. It’s a romantic little spot.
Highlights: The setting is beautiful, and the chefs are patient with a great sense of humor, putting everyone at ease. They are generous with their tips as well.
My experience: I took the Lobster Clam Bake class, with chefs Sui Lon Chan and chef Paul, who sometimes pair up to teach a class. Other times they take turns to host the class. Their approach to teaching is “with love and passion,” they like to say, and it’s apparent—they pour their hearts into the classes. They’re big believers in cooking when you’re in the right frame of mind. Chef Sui Lon pleads: “Don’t cook when you’re angry. Do take out instead—or do a little dance” to get in the mood. Every detail is well-attended to, including the welcoming wines (reds, whites) and the platter of great charcuterie and cheeses (tallegio, comte, goat, blue were on the board with apricots and cranberries). The family meal dinner at the end was sumptuous and plentiful.
109 MacDougal St., Suite 2, Greenwich Village and 132 Mulberry Street, Suite 2D, Little Italy
International Culinary Center
At the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute), you get to make use of the same cooking kitchens and some of the same instructors as the regular professional degree students do, as well as some of the same regular instructors. Classes run the gamut from The Secret of Spices to Sushi Making to Handmade pasta, to name some of the more popular ones. There are also master classes featuring outside chefs and experts (think coffee class with an expert from illy).
Price range: $195
Setting: Top-notch, gorgeous facilities, professional kitchens.
Highlights: The hands-on aspect and focus on teaching ensure you go home confident and practiced in the techniques.
My experience: I took a class on homemade pasta—making gnocchi, fettuccine, and pappardelle. As a bonus you learn to put together some simple sauces, though anything requiring longer prep (such as baking potatoes) has already been done to save time. Well-structured. The chef demonstrated the techniques in detail, and then everyone goes back to their station to replicate the same thing. Very hands-on, with a lot of personal attention from the chef and his assistants chefs. The set-up in this particular class gave me ample space to work—I even had my own burner and shared a flat top with another student. No jostling for space here. I was maybe a little more further from the other students than I would have liked to be, but it still does get social as the class progresses.
SoHo, 462 Broadway
Cook & Go
The premise here is different from other cooking classes: you prep your meal at the venue, and take it back to your own kitchen to finish off. Usually the dessert and appetizers are finished at Cook & Go, and you pop the main dish in the oven for another 15–30 minutes. The main idea is to “put people back in the kitchen,” said Cook & Go USA CEO Renaud Ammon. Cook & Go started in France, where there are several outposts; and the first one outside of France landed in Chelsea. The menus look to the French counterparts as guidelines but are adapted to the American palate (substitute chicken for rabbit, for example), and with ingredients and techniques simple enough that people will feel comfortable replicating.
Price range: $39–$59
Setting: A spacious kitchen, well-lit with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, with high ceilings and a minimalist feel, mostly stainless steel with red accents. Everyone is set up in a sort of U-shape, so they can see what the chef is doing during demos. Classes can handle up to 30 people.
Highlights: I took one of the most popular classes, Picnic on the High Line. Unlike the other classes there, you do finish a meal to take with you. The venue is a block away from the High Line, so I took my dinner there with friends. In good weather, this is a lovely option.
My experience: The environment is relaxed and fun (thanks in part to the wine). On a Friday night, 90 percent of the class were couples who seemed to be having a good time. For those who are beginners and feeling apprehensive about cooking, this class is a good fit: the steps and techniques are simple and easy to follow—much of it being assembling, mixing, or dicing. There’s not much in the way of sampling, so I was about to eat my shoe leather by the time the class wrapped up (eating a snack beforehand is advised). Cooks beyond the novice level may find the class too basic. Still, it makes for a fine place for a date with friends or significant other. It’s affordable at less than half the cost of many other cooking classes, though the quantity of food reflects that.
443 W. 16th St., Chelsea
Sur La Table
Sur La Table primarily sells cookware and houseware items, but also offers cooking classes, from date nights focused on a regional theme (Provence, Late Summer) to classes focused on specific items (pizza, pasta).
Price range: $59–$250, with many classes for adults around $69–$79.
Setting: Spacious kitchen. Glass windows on one side; curious passersby stop and look every so often.
Highlights: Fast-paced classes with lots of practice ensures you can go back home and replicate confidently.
My experience: A pasta-making class. Chef Joel Gamoran, who specializes in Italy’s Ligurian cuisine, injected the class with a dynamic and positive atmosphere. The class moved briskly from one task to the next, with a lot of encouragement, and memorable tips (listen for a certain sound, get the feeling for the right texture). Three very different sauces were made (ragu, carbonara, pomodoro), but the star is the pasta—cranked out on the manual pasta-maker. Watching the angel hair pasta come out elicited quite a bit of excitement. Students were divided in two groups of four, but everyone had the chance to try their hand at every task. It was very convivial. At the end, the different pastas are savored all together. An equipment list is provided with the recipes—remember you are in a store after all— but there’s no push to buy the equipment. You sure will be tempted, though!
306 West 57th St., Hell’s Kitchen
Home Cooking New York
Home Cooking New York started with chefs traveling to teach people in their own homes, and has since expanded to offer public cooking classes in a beautiful kitchen in Chelsea.
Price: $100 per class
Setting: A spacious, well-lit cooking studio.
Highlights: The ingredients are carefully sourced—organic butter, antibiotic-free, etc (founder and chef instructor Jennifer Clair teaches a class “Good Food: What to Eat and Where to Shop” that tackles topics like how to shop for produce, and good fats vs. bad fats). Clair used to work as a recipe and food editor, and has a knack for explaining the whys behind a technique, including the science behind the cooking.
My experience: The class I took, Quick & Ridiculously Delicious Weeknight Suppers, involved four main dishes. We mostly did some prep work, and not much actual cooking, but the chef’s demos were excellent and her explanations both fascinating and easy to remember. The small nature of the class (maximum of 11 students for public classes) make it an easy, interactive learning experience. Clair has her own opinions about anything and everything, as a result of years of experience teaching and cooking—and shares all her knowledge unstintingly. The family meal at the end is a great chance to enjoy the food together.
236 West 26th Street, 0000601, Chelsea