Food occupies a large slice of our daily life: we think about it, spend time either cultivating or selecting and purchasing food; preparing it and consuming it. As such, that doesn’t sound like one of humans’ better qualities, that is until you think about food as more than sustenance.
Food can be a peace maker, a bridge builder and an art form.
What we eat and how we eat it – cooked or raw, bland or spicy, the blending of dairy and meat; eating with or without utensils (and what those utensils are) could be interpreted as a reflection of our moral values, heritage and culture.
On the flipside of that coin: food is a science – which method of preparation yields the most appeal, the best taste and the maximum number of nutrients?
Today, we look at cooking classes. Not just those that reflect our customs and cravings but those from cultures and social movements around the world.
Wine tasting is directly linked to food. Photo on Visualhunt
Finding cooking lessons and choosing the best tutor or class are two very different stories.
In this article, we want to focus on what steps to take in finding ways to learn about cooking, including things to think about before you start your search.
Are you willing to consider group classes or would you prefer private tuition? In your kitchen or in a restaurant? Indeed, many restaurants host cooking classes or, at least, host cooking demonstrations.
What type of course are you hoping for: a beginners course, an advanced curriculum… a course with a theme?
Themed courses might include how to host a dinner party for your boss, workers or colleagues. You may kick off the summer season by learning how to barbecue, greet the fall by enroling in a stew or chowder class and brighten the winter with hearty, stick-to-the-ribs meals learned from a local chef or passionate foodie.
And then, there is specialty cooking:
Ah, the selections are endless!
You could learn how to recreate traditional Spanish recipes like paella or learn how to balance the textures and flavours of the Greek moussaka. And how about a zesty Oriental stir-fry?
Other food or sommelier related courses might include wine tastings, how to throw a great dinner party or preparing finger foods. You may also consider hosting a mystery party.
Imagine an Agatha Christie tale – Murder on the Orient Express or The Mirror Crack’d, brought to life through your exquisite planning!
Mystery dinners are a very popular form of entertainment across the pond. Rather than being spectators, all of the dinner guests are active in the role-play and food plays a part in the festivities as well!
Naturally, hosting such a party would be a very ambitious and complex undertaking, and planning the menu to complement the event takes some skill… skills you could easily pick up in a cooking class!
For more detailed information on selecting the best cooking class or teacher for your needs, why not take a look at Superprof’s tips on How To Choose The Best Cooking Tutor?
Whether you have always been a foodie or cooking enthusiast, or your culinary abilities have for some time been a bit lacking, you can refine and build on your existing skills or learn how to cook from scratch in one of two ways: teaching yourself or signing up for a cooking course or two.
By adopting a self-taught method, you will experiment and learn as you go. Naturally, we hope for your success but you should be prepared for a few setbacks: experimentation is not necessarily wholly effective, nor it is an easy learning experience.
Still, you should be rewarded for your courage and, if a few dishes end up a little more crispy than intended, well, that is simply the price one pays for being more than a bit daring. What if you suffer critics?
Dinner guests who are less than complimentary of your Burnt Boeuf Bourguignon? By all means, invite them to join you in a culinary arts class or invite them to teach you! No need to withstand criticism that a REAL chef would never make the mistakes you made…
With that said, now, the upside of being a self-taught chef…
Discovering and developing culinary skills on your own implies you are possessed of a sense of adventure – yes, cooking can be thought of in that way!
Besides that, it shows you really are committed to learning from sources like books and tutorials which can result in more unique culinary ideas and methods. That can be all the more satisfying to know that you discovered techniques and tastes all by yourself.
Of course, you’ll need to have some basic cooking skills up your sleeve upon which to build. No one is ever really alone on their journey to culinary excellence. Most people have been taught to cook by a loved one, and often have fond memories of times spent in the kitchen, learning about food.
Many people will have spent time in the kitchen with a parent or grandparent. Photo credit: Daniel Bachhuber on Visual Hunt
Regardless of how you have become the chef you are today – or how you intend to become the chef you’ve always wanted to be, you should embrace other people’s comments, suggestions and even criticism. Among other reasons, this is what will make you a better cook.
Think about this: some people yearn to be a chef so that they can please others with their culinary creations. How can you expect to do that if nobody ever gives you feedback?
The food industry relies heavily on inspiration, on developing new taste sensations and yes, on criticism.
Naturally, we understand that not everyone has the desire to learn to cook with their eye on becoming an amazing, internationally-recognised chef adorned with Michelin stars – and suffer criticism along the way.
For most aspiring chefs, the ultimate goal is simply to be able to cook a nice meal for their loved ones or their date, or to find the confidence to prepare satisfying weeknight meals from scratch. For that practical outcome, you can rest assured: even a beginner’s cooking course will fill you with confidence and the desire to cook tasty meals the whole family will enjoy!
As a self-taught kitchen master, you may be looking for resources to increase your culinary prowess.
The Internet is a great outlet for learning any new skill, including cooking. Type in the right query and your favourite search engine will yield an array of information, instructions, videos and recipes. You could even type in the wrong query and get results for dishes you never thought of!
The best part about incorporating online learning into your kitchen forays is that you have a multitude of recipes, chefs and knowledge, delivering the goods, right to your kitchen!
By contrast, a cooking class might only present you with one instructor, one type of cuisine – French, Mediterranean, homestyle… and you are limited to what your instructor teaches.
That’s not to say that cooking courses don’t have their value; we’ll talk about that shortly!
If you search online for recipes or cooking instruction, you are sure to find a range of related articles, like foods you should learn to cook in your twenties, skills every cook should know, basic recipes to learn or learning how to cook by yourself (with pictures), to name but a few.
What about learning how to cook by watching cooking shows on the telly?
You could argue that watching world-famous chefs cooking on the screen can teach you a lot about cooking methods, which wouldn’t be far wrong.
The biggest issue with such shows is that they are edited for time. You won’t always get to see the chef ply his/her skills; in fact s/he is functioning more as a presenter than a teacher. And you can’t stop and start a television programme as you could a video, so that you can better follow along!
Besides, there’s really absolutely nothing like working with food first-hand! Smelling the aromas as you are grilling, frying, simmering or baking and seeing how your concoctions look, feel and taste when you serve them.
Is your mouth watering? If so, get on down to your local culinary arts school in time to enrol in your first cooking course!
Especially if you are a novice in the kitchen, best way to learn cooking fundamentals is to attend a class. What might such a syllabus contain?
You might think that anyone can ply a knife, for example, but it takes skill to fillet a fish, trim fat from chicken and pare vegetables.
And, while the average cook in a Chinese household will use a meat cleaver for everything from peeling garlic to chopping potatoes, you might want to know that, in our cooking culture, there is a knife for every purpose. As an aspiring chef, you should learn how to identify them and how to use them.
Do you know the difference between braising and searing? Which method would you use to prepare, say, a rump roast?
Successfully completing a cooking course can not only equip you with fundamental (or more advanced) kitchen skills, it can also help you to develop better cooking ideas and can even offer you an extra qualification to pursue, should you desire to enter the catering or hospitality industry as a professional chef.
We could go on and on about what you would learn in a cooking class but why take our word for it? Before shopping around for your lessons, be sure to find out how much cooking classes cost.
Food presentation is as much a culinary skill as the ability to blend flavours Source: Pixabay Credit: Daria Yakovleva
As mentioned above, there are so many cuisines to experiment with, so many styles and types of cooking to study and so many flavours, textures, colour and seasoning combinations you could wow your palate with!
Let’s take a closer look at some of the world’s cuisines you might aspire to incorporate into your menu.
Oh, dear! Where should we start on this epic gastronomical exploration?
From China’s Eight Great Cuisines to Japan’s fugu sashimi – toxic if prepared incorrectly, if ever a foodie might seek paradise, the Asian continent would be it! And we haven’t even mentioned the delicate curries of India, the tahini-based dishes of the Middle East or Turkish cuisine, so good it has gained a foothold in Europe!
Fancy a dish of hummus? How about a fatayer, a pie stuffed with meat, spinach or cheese?
Most deliciously, our British palates have been conducting a long-term love affair with Indian food and chicken tikka masala seems to top our list of favourites from that country!
Fortunately, there are plenty of Indian food cooking classes all around our land.
Does anyone in your social circle occasionally pop over to the continent to enjoy a fine dining experience in Normandy or Brittany?
How about taking a French cooking class and wowing them with your epicurean efforts?
The French created the fine dining experience and, while one may enjoy sumptuous meals in our own country, more people have picked up on the concept of ‘destination dining’ – travelling to a particular restaurant in order to sample the fare.
Destination restaurants also originated in France thanks to the Michelin Guide, which would feature restaurants worthy of a detour while on a motoring journey. Today, both the Michelin Guide and destination restaurants are a must for passionate foodies!
Of course, there is nothing wrong with German food, Polish food and the delectable Spanish fare that so many of us enjoy while on holiday. Even Hungarian food, with its sauces and sweet paprika, is a taste sensation.
What about Oceanian cuisine? heavy influence from Europe but still distinctive flavours and traditions
A remarkable feature of this region’s cuisine is a distinct lack of imports: neither ingredients nor dishes from other lands have made their way into the essentially African diet.
Fortunately for us, some African dishes have made their way to our shores. Have you ever had a plate of couscous, served with vegetables and chickpeas? How about that Ethiopian favourite, Injera, served with thick, meaty stew?
While it would be hard to summarise this vast continent’s diverse food culture, we can summarise by stating that the traditional African diet consists mostly of locally-sourced fruits and grains, meats and dairy.
Naturally, this does not reflect individual countries’ food preferences; some diets are based more on dairy products.
Are your taste buds tingling? Why not find such a restaurant and ask the chef if he would divulge a few of his culinary secrets?
Contrary to the widely-held belief that American cuisine consists of only hamburgers, food in the Americas – north, south and central is a panoply of gastronomical diversity: spicy, savoury, sweet and satisfying, one can find food to suit any taste on this continent.
You may sample venison stews in the Yukon region and the searing beef offerings in Argentina.
The Yucatan Peninsula, a favoured holiday destination, is the largest habanero chili pepper producer and much of their cuisine is accompanied by a serving of this super-spicy pepper, either as a paste or a salsa.
Perhaps the most curious of cuisines in the Americas in Mexican. Established some 9,000 years ago, foods generally consisted of what was available in the way of plants and fruits. It was only when the Spanish arrived, bringing with them their preference for meat, dairy and rice that the Mexican diet evolved to include them.
Traditional Mexican food is, for the most part, not particularly spicy. Tex-Mex, a fusion of Texan and Mexican cooking styles is what we generally accept as Mexican food.
Who wouldn’t like a vegetable skewer, drizzled with olive oil and lightly grilled? Source: Pixabay Credit: RitaE
Either for health reasons or moral ones – or a combination of both, people are gravitating toward a meat-free diet or avoiding animal products altogether.
However, far from such food choices consisting of tofu and bean sprouts as the old saw claims, vegetarian and vegan diets are rich with flavour and texture, and replete with choice.
Naturally, it might be a challenge for a standard omnivore – someone who consumes both animal and plant products to convert to an entirely plant-based diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of cooking classes around the UK that can steer us in the right direction!
Not everyone has the means to enjoy destination dining or even the best selections of meats and veg; at least one-third of our country’s population live at or below poverty level.
To make matters worse, food quality and the types of foods in those households is considered a root cause of several preventable conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Advocates aver that education is the way to reverse those alarming health statistics.
If we accept that premise, then surely, learning how to make the most of the food available and of one’s food budget is a step in the right direction. Even those with a more generous food allowance could adopt these tactics to help cut down on food waste!
This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not new.
In 1855, chef Alexis Soyer published a book titled Cookery for the Poor, a tome full of recipes and suggestions to make dining as nutritious and palatable as possible. Today, that effort continues: various organisations have undertaken initiatives to educate those less able to provide top-shelf goods.
Countries all over the world are seeing a sharp increase in senior population; a statistic that is bringing about a most curious situation. Some people, admittedly men, who have never cooked anything are now finding themselves compelled to face kitchen duty for the first time in their lives.
At the other end of the spectrum, more children stepping into the kitchen and taking an active part in food preparation.
Both of these scenarios have opened a floodgate of opportunity for cooking classes targeted at those demographics.
By no means is this list exhaustive: you might find yourself wishing to try your hand at molecular cuisine – a style of food preparation uses technologically advanced equipment like induction cookers. Did you notice we haven’t mentioned Australian or Polynesian food?
And there’s haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine, cuisines that take into account religious dietary laws…
Much as we would love to cover every aspect of this topic in depth, really, you should go and explore for yourself what is out there. This article is meant to serve as an amuse-bouche, a tasty morsel consumed as a prelude to the main course.
Male or female, young or old… there really is no typical cookery student. In fact, individuals who enrol on cookery classes are so varied that I should think The Culinary Institute and The Cooking Channel have trouble knowing where to target their campaigns or advertisements!
One thing that they all share is a passion for food and, having watched many series of Masterchef, it seems that more and more young people wish to become a chef.
Many young chefs are entering the industry and innovating how we prepare, cook and eat food. Photo credit: ToerismeVla on Visualhunt
Prospective students all share one more thing in common, though. They all want to know where to start their search for a cooking class!
There are many different calibres of chefs, as you will probably know from having watched chef personalities on the television or from having eaten in a Michelin-starred or Rosette-awarded restaurant.
Do remember that those highly-qualified chefs are unlikely to offer private classes, due to their hectic schedules!
That said, some very high-profile chefs have established their own culinary schools, like Rick Stein and Raymond Blanc. If your personal kitchen hero has also gone that route, look into that cookery school.
No need to fret if the chef teaching your cooking classes is not world-renown.
So long as they have at least a culinary arts degree and experience in the food service industry, then they are likely qualified and perfectly positioned to teach others about what they have learnt.
The best place to start when looking for cooking courses is by looking online.
You should find a good amount of information regarding the companies, schools or individuals offering lessons in the many disciplines of cooking, as well as an overview of what you might learn during the process.
Your local county website may be a good place to visit, as they often provide information to the community about classes and activities in the area.
One thing to consider right from the beginning is whether you want to join a group session where one-to-one time will be limited, or a private course whereby you can take more from it in the way of feedback, encouragement and advice.
There are pros and cons to both, but if you are thinking about paying for a particular experience then make sure that you choose the experience you want, and don’t just settle for the first course you find.
Alternatively, if you are feeling overwhelmed by Internet searches, then why not head into your local library, tourism office or colleges in the surrounding towns to see if they have leaflets or information pointing to cooking classes.
By going in and speaking with administrative staff, you can get a feel for the environment you would learn cooking. You might also be invited to take a look around the kitchen, fridges, freezers, pantry and classroom as well as meet the instructor.
Even better, you might have the opportunity to sit in on a class that is taking place to see if it is for you or not.
You might have discussed going on a cooking course with a group of friends or you might be looking at cooking lessons as an opportunity to meet others with a similar passion for cooking.
Attending any kind of vocational course is a great way to interact with others whose interests match yours.
Who knows? You might fall head over heels for one of your classmates. All it takes is for a little bit of exotic cuisine to fill the air with undeniable romance!