Sharpen your skills at The New School of Cooking.
FOOD This was more fun than I expected. After a lengthy hiatus, I rejoined the ranks of vegetarianism a few years ago. During my first run, frozen veggie patty pucks and pasta primavera were my staples. By the seventh year, my health suffered. This time I wanted to expand my vegetarian cooking repertoire and focus more on healthy recipes with less carbohydrate dependency. I discovered classes at The New School of Cooking. They have three levels of instruction, allowing students to spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands:
- Advanced Professional Programs
- Pro Series
- Recreational Classes
I wasn't interested in changing my profession so the more expensive levels weren't a consideration. I focused on a 4-Saturday vegetarian cooking recreational class. Two other vegetarian-friendly short classes include one for sauces and another for pastries. Yet I wondered with 30 years of cooking experience, if the class would be too basic. A visit was necessary to quell trepidation. There's a bright and airy kitchen, a couple rows of stoves, and a roster of very talented chefs. So I signed on the dotted line, grabbed my apron, my iPad, and headed back to school.
Recreational Instruction Format
Ready for some excitement? Each week focused on a different theme. The first-week cut right into knife skills and salads. The second week was a big splash with soups and stews. We warmed up to roasting, baking and gratins during the third. The final week we turned up the heat with grilling, sautéing and stir fry.
The basic format for each 3-hour class was the same: two hours of leisurely instruction followed by an hour of intense cooking in pairs with chef oversight. Wandering sous chefs also assisted. Students are provided with all recipes for the day's theme. The first part elucidated techniques to prepare them.
Just before we cooked in teams of two, we picked a recipe from a chef's hat. One week the slip I pulled was potato corn chowder; another week it was stovetop-grilled pizza with homemade dough. My head went flush with excitement similar to competitors in MasterChef even though we weren't competing against each other. Ingredients of our "mystery box" were exposed on the table before us. Afterwards, we feasted on the collective results. This way we saw and tasted each recipe. During the week leading up to our next class, we were encouraged to practice on all the dishes we did not personally prepare. If done, we effectively receive at least 21 days of hands-on cooking around 20 recipes. Opportunity to discuss personal successes and failures is allowed at the start of each class.
Some students had taken classes at The New School of Cooking before. A few had their own herb gardens. Others couldn't tell a knife bolster from a blade of wheat grass. With varied backgrounds, each student learns different things. As a long-time home cook, I was humbled quite a bit by the curriculum and learned enough to use every week since then. To me it was much better than money spent at an amusement park with much more far-reaching benefits.
What I Learned From Class
I appreciate discovering how to make salad dressings without all the preservatives. During the soups and stews week, the chef shared the benefits and taught us how to make our own stock. We were educated how to select fresh vegetables from the store and farmers' markets. Layering flavors was emphasized. I learned how to use my wok properly. With limited time, knife skill instruction was cut a bit thin and plating techniques were absent but I thought the entire course of instruction was a great value.
The New School of Cooking publishes it's calendar of classes online. Gift certificates can be redeemed towards any class offered. If someone gives you one, don't get offended. It's both fun and informative enough for experienced cooks. If you are not in the Culver City, California area, there are likely similar classes from culinary schools near you. Be a bit adventuresome and sign up for a vegetarian cooking class.
- The New School of Cooking. newschoolofcooking.com
- 5 Tips for Choosing a Culinary School. about.com
- Vegetarian Culinary Schools. culinary-schools-bestguide.com
- Ten New Cooking Facts I Learned at My First MasterChef Cooking Course. voices.yahoo.com
- Photograph courtesy of The New School of Cooking.