Williams Sonoma cooking classes
Has anyone ever been to one? My local store is offering a series of them for $65 each. Is it enjoyable enough to be worth the time (3 hrs.) and money?
Just so you know, I have worked at Williams-Sonoma in three states (but no longer do), and used to teach cooking classes there as well.
I would ask who will be teaching the class: a local chef, or a store staff person? The stores that I worked at who brought in chefs generally had great classes, but the stores who used their own staff members could be spotty. When I was teaching, I was oftentimes paired with other staff members who new little about actually teaching (or food and food preparation) and the participants could tell that there was a lack of knowledge and experience.
Having said that, I've found that the classes that feature local chefs tend to be more interesting than those that are taught by the staff, but it really depends on your skill level. You could learn a great deal from those classes if you are a beginner or just taking your first cooking class. If you are more experienced, then you might find yourself having paid for a few recipes that could have been easily found online. But then again, that's the gamble with a lot of cooking classes.
I haven't taken the classes there, but have heard from friends that the classes they've attended have been more demo than hands-on class. I might recommend checking with your local kitchen/gourmet stores to see if they have any comparably priced options that might be a bit more interactive.
re: Suzy Q
This is actually a great point, W/S doesn't generally allow people to take part in their classes, and while some classes may feed you, some will only give you a tasting of what is made. But, on the other hand, some people prefer to learn by demo, rather than doing.
I also want to know if I'm going to be fed a meal, rather than snacks. I've been to some classes where everyone helps prepare an entire meal as part of the class, and then everyone eats after it's done. I like these better, because I can chalk part of the expense up to what I would normally spend on eating out, which makes the cost *much* easier to justify.
I've gone to a few of these, although not at Williams-Sonoma. In Toronto, I've been to both George Brown college classes, where the cost is relatively low, but it's mostly instructional and you only get a small taste at the end, and Loblaw's where classes are smaller, more hands-on, and you get a much better portion at the end, although it's more expensive.
Finally, years back, my wife and I attended a class on the Riverwalk in New Orleans. I can't remember the name of the instructor - Chet, Curtis? - but he was a BIG black man who used to play in the NFL. Nice as could be; when he found out we were from Canada, he must have talked for 10-15 minutes about the Acadian influence on New Orlean's food. He made shrimp etouffe, jambalaya, and Bananas Foster, and everyone got a great (and I mean substantial as well as tasty) meal.
What really stands out in my memory was a trick he showed us - nonchalantly, using a sewing needle and thread, and without telling us what was going on, he would put the thread through the banana, leaving only tiny holes, but slicing the banana nonetheless. Later, as he prepared the dish "table-side", he told us he ordered his bananas "pre-sliced", and cutting the banana's peel, watched as our eyes gaped out as the bananas fell out into perfectly formed slices. Very funny, and definitely worth the price of admission.
I read about them on the Sunday Night Dinner blog. Anna went to one and had mixed reviews.
It all depends on your specific Williams Sonoma each one is different - they generally don't have the extra insurance to allow you to use knives yourselves so it is usually a demonstration class.
Ask questions about it - who is teaching, should you eat before you arrive or will there be larger than bite sized tastes of the food being prepared.
My local Williams-Sonoma does classes that are approximately $40 for two hours and are done by staff members, one who has been and still does catering, one with a culinary degree, and one who is a home cook. They keep it to 20 people or less and are open to answering any questions people ask, even if it is not to do with what is being prepared in front of them. There is the cooktop with the mirror above so everyone can see the preparations. They do make sure that there is enough to eat even though you do not get restaurant portions.
If you don't want to commit to a cooking class, check out their free technique classes that I believe all of the WS stores have been doing for the past year. That will give you a feel of how a cooking class could/might be run.
Very much like my experiences with WS classes. I found I got plenty to eat and it was all good, but no chance to cook myself. They use WS recipes in the classes and hand them out before the class. And you get 10% off anything you buy during that time (and believe me they give you plenty of time to buy).
I've enjoyed both the free and paid classes. And as a bonus I got to meet a lot of other foodies who live in my area.