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Cooking classes: worth it?

Has anyone had any luck with some of the cooking classes at places like Sur La Table or Sweet Basil in Phoenix? Personally I'm looking for two things. First, I'd like a fun night out, to meet people, and to hone my skills. Second, I'd like to know your recommendation for a class to really learn something.

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  1. I have heard that House of Rice has great cooking classes
    3221 N Hayden Rd,Scottsdale, (480) 947-6698

    Another place that I know nothing about...but looks like a fun place to go w/ friends is Entrees made Easy www.entreesmadeeasy.com

    Have fun!

    1. Your question is huge: "Cooking Classes: worth it?"
      You state that your first requirement is a fun night out, meet people and hone skills
      Second: to really learn something.

      Hmmmmm. Tall order here, you might be better off at a movie with a friend. But if you seriously want to learn something, there are classes available that can teach you.

      Two main types of non-professional (also called "avocational" cooking classes are demonstration and hands-on. The second is self-explanatory, you actually do the work. This is the way to really learn, under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor. It is also the most difficult to teach well. Emily Seftel, reporter for The Arizona Republic reported on her session at "Kitchen Classics".

      "Demonstration" is precisely what the name implies. Techniques are demonstrated to the class. Generally, you'll sit and watch the instructor demonstrate a process or technique. Demonstrations classes are fondly called "Red-finger-nail-lady" classes because they are primarily entertainment. Often there will be some cross-over between the two types but you'll need to know what you want.

      Another important factor is the quality of the instructor. A well-known chef may or may not be a great teacher, cookbook authors are all over the place in their ability to teach, ditto for celebrity chefs. Again, you have to decide what you want -- a pleasant evening with a few giggles and good food or do you want to learn a lifelong lesson.

      Both Sweet Basil and Sur La Table have classes and some of their instructors may be names you'll recognize. For some, it is important to be able to say "I took a class from so-and-so". However, it is impossible to make an across-the-board generalization about the worth of these classes for you because everything depends on your needs/wants and the quality of the instructor.

      Likely, you'll need to do some investigating on your own after you identify exactly what you want these classes to provide.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Sorry, I wasn't very clear at all. I meant those two things to be separate events. I'd like to find something good where I can have fun and hopefully learn too, then a completely seperate opportunity to really learn.

        1. re: amkirkland

          There are a number of good programs in the Phoenix area. In addition to those already cited, try Barbara Fenzl's "Les Gourmettes". Watch the FOOD section listings of the Wednesday newspapers and call the various schools to ask for what you want. Also, the large professional schools in this area (SCI, ACI, Art Institute etc) offer avocational classes from time to time. You might get on as many mailing lists as possible so you don't miss IT -- the perfect match.

          When you're looking for a teacher, find someone who is knowledgable, enthusiastic and has a great generosity of spirit. For a teacher, these qualities are much more important than book learning or restaurant experience.
          Good Luck in your quest.

      2. I've taken a class at Sur La Table, and it falls into the fun night out category more than the really learn something category. The class I took was hands-on, but we were divided into groups and each group made part of the meal. So the only part that you really learned was the part you worked on.

        My friends and I had a really good time, and took away some useful recipes, but I personally didn't learn any new skills. One of my friends who doesn't cook at all learned much more.

        1. I'd recommend both Kitchen Classics and AndyFood for casual & fun classes that teach various techniques. Their descriptions online should differentiate between classes that are more demonstration and those that are "hands on".

          Kitchen Classics (http://www.azcooking.com/Calendar.aspx
          )www.andyfood.com

          1 Reply
          1. re: scaheld

            I took a "How to make a Wedding Cake" class at Kitchen Classics that was wonderful. Two days, hands-on, taught by a noted pastry chef. I learned a ton and had a fabulous time.

            They offer a lot of classes each month. Many of them are just demo classes, but many are hands-on as well. They're clear about what kind of experience you'll get in the class descriptions, so you won't be surprised.

          2. I took a class at AndyFood with my wife, and it was a lot of fun. Honestly, it wasn't the ultimate culinary training experience (I did learn a few tidbits, but for the most part it was pretty basic stuff).

            We both had a great time, and enjoyed the meal we made. In this class, couples split up, and each make a different dish. So, you really only learn the dish you are making (although we definitely stuck our noses in everyone else's business to make sure we learned as much as possible).

            Andy was very patient, and knowledgeable. I enjoyed, and would recommend the experience to others. We enjoyed meeting the other people in our class as well.

            1. I've taken a class at Sur La Table (knife skills) and it was a joke. I was interested to see responses because I would like to take classes here and there also. But I was not impressed after that one class.

              1. Absolutely at Sweet Basil's! But... you need to go to obe given by Lara Slama. She really "teaches" cooking. The why's and exactly how.

                1. Re: cooking classes, I have taken several semesters of classes at Phoenix College and found them to be great and affordable.

                  They have a full degree/certificate program which is doesn't sound like you want, but they recently started some one-day classes that are great. They are taught in an industrial/professional kitchen by chefs and I have learned a lot from the classes. Maybe not a fun night out type of offering though...

                  They are affordable too because it is a community college.

                  Culinary Program:
                  http://www.pc.maricopa.edu/index.php?...

                  One-day short courses:
                  http://www.pc.maricopa.edu/index.php?...

                  1. Scottsdale Community college also does some community education classes separate from their full-time Culinary Arts program.

                    http://www.scottsdalecc.edu/culinary/...

                    1. I've taken 2 classes at Sweet Basil and absolutely LOVED them! The first class I took with 10 friends and then I took my husband and another couple to a 'couples' class and we had a blast.

                      1. There is a cooking school that not too many people know about called Classic Cooking in Scottsdale. www.classiccooking.net It is a serious culinary program designed for someone who is serious about cooking but not to the point that they want to do a more serious program like Scottsadle Culinary Institute. I know the owner, Chef Pascal Dionot, quite well and it's an excellent program that covers everything you'd ever want to know. Highly recommended.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ejs1492

                          I second the recommendation for Classic Cooking. We have taken a couple classes from Chef Pascal and we really enjoyed them. He is really good at explaining things and making it a fun experience!

                          1. re: sunshineinaz

                            I just completed the 12-week pastry course and it was FANTASTIC! Chef Pascal is very personable and turns every recipe into a learning experience that goes beyond the single recipe. My coworkers have been enjoying a wide assortment of goodies as I practice what I learned in class. I hope to take his 24-week practical series soon. I can highly recommend Classic Cooking Academy. Take one of his Friday night classes to see how you like the way the school works. That's how I started.

                        2. I took a class at Sweet Basil and it was fun, but it did not teach me anything that translates to recipes other than the ones we made that night. It was pretty pricey for what I got out of it, which is why I haven't been back for more... I suppose it also depends on which class you take. The one I did was something of a "girls night out" theme with lots of appetizers and a couple of cocktails. The recipes weren't anything that I couldn't have figured out on my own. Maybe if I would have picked a different class I would have learned more, but it may not have been as fun.

                          1. Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe... Whole Foods Cuisine I & II are excellent

                            http://www.swiha.edu

                            1. Having suffered through many a spendy "celebrity chef" and Sur la Table cooking course, I wholeheartedly endorse the previous recommendation of the Classic Cooking practical course with Chef Pascal Dionot. It works on almost every level... He is engaging, intelligent, a gifted instructor..and he injects a healthy balance of French distain for American habits.
                              It is all about learning technique, from which all things bloom....worth the investment....

                              1. We've done several. Some at Sur La Table, and others elsewhere. All have been good, and well worth the $ and the time. Yes, some have been better than others, but in general, all have been enjoyable, and we've both learned something in the process.

                                The best was a class with Bev Gannon (Hale i`male General Store, Maui) at Sur La Table. The next best was a Wine & Food Society event at Barbara Fenzel's. She also does cooking classes.

                                Good luck,

                                Hunt

                                1. we have had a few at sweet basil

                                  they were pretty fun, got some good recipes out of it - the friday night ones are interesting as they are "couples" classes wine etc.

                                  for what your primary things you are looking for: fun night out and to meet people they are great, as far as learning lots of things - it probably depends on how advanced your skills are, however each class we went to we learned at least one new technique or it gave us another idea about a different reciepe so to us they have been worth it

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Dapuma

                                    Thai Gourmet House offers individualized, private instruction as well as group classes. I cannot recommend it enough! It is run by Praparat Sturlin, a world-class Thai chef in her beautiful commercial kitchen in her home.
                                    My husband and I had a day-long cooking lesson from her a few years ago, and it was one of the best cooking classes we ever attended. We still talk about it.
                                    It is expensive, but contact her to see if you can work something out for you. The food is out of this world and it she makes it fun and educational. Here's the website: www.thaigourmethouse.com