Cambridge School of Culinary Arts
I just got a gift certificate for CSCA. I want to sign up for a couples cooking class, but don't know anything about the school. Classes are full into March though, so I assume it's a popular thing and I'm wondering if anyone has taken a couples class and could give some feedback? There have been a few recent threads about this, but they all quickly veer off to the topic of other cooking school recommendations, and I'm specifically interested in this one. Looking for thoughts on both the type of class (French, Italian, Thai, Tappas, etc.) and the chefs that teach them (entertaining, patient, creative, etc.).
What are you cooking skills? I've tried to take basic core classes there - knife skills, saucing... and they were very good. Knife skills is an essential for a cook learning to improve their abilities. I haven't taken any of the regional-centric cooking classes. My impression is that its a well-run school - good equipment, knowledgeable teachers, and well-planned out classes. You aren't going to study under some culinary icon like Thomas Keller, but you are going to learn a lot from some good people..
I took the Couples Tapas class over the summer. It made for a fun evening, but I didn't find it very informative. As one of the other posters mentioned, you split up and cook (with your partner) one of the recipes. The instructor was great with questions and (when we asked) taught us some new techniques, but we were mostly on our own. I've taken a couple of classes from Helen Rennie and found that I've learned much more. I think that the multi-class series (and perhaps some of the other couples classes) may be somewhat different, but this was my experience with the Tapas class.
I am a graduate of the professional chef's program there. It is a very well run school (at least it was when i graduated in 2003. As far as the individual classes there I can generally vouch for them. I would call first and ask about specific teachers though if you are concerned about teacher patience or something. They will be able to tell you who is their best teacher or most patient. Not all of the individual classes are taught by their full time teachers. They hire other chefs to teach specific things as well. They usually also have students from the professional chef program at each class to assist with teaching and cleaning. Again, best bet is to call and speak to the people at the school and ask about which teachers are best.
Consider calling Sean Leonard, the fellow who runs the recreational program, and chatting with him about what you want. Looks like you're flexible, so he'll help steer you toward the kind of class and type of teacher you like.
From your post, I'm assuming your gift certificate would cover one class, rather than a multi-class series ("Back to Basics" is six classes and "Techniques of Baking" is four classes; both excellent).
Most classes at the school are four hours. There's a 45-minute-ish lecture, and then the class divvies up the recipes in your class packet. Each student picks one recipe to cook. In classes that highlight a technique (such as "pies and tarts,") each of the recipes will cover the core skill (i.e., pie crust). At the end, everyone may gather to taste and enjoy each others' food. All the recipes were heavily tested by staff and students who came before you.
Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes runs the pro pastry program at the school. His classes -tend- more toward demos, meaning you watch him cook, unlike most of the other classes. Ask on specific classes.
The cooking couples' classes are very popular, but I'm assuming your certificate is just for you. BTW, there's no ring-check at the door, so "couples" doesn't necessarily mean romantic pairs.
Classes I've seen/taken and enjoyed:
All You Knead (basic breads)
Food Preserving and Pickling with Chef Alex Lewin (who is excellent)
Gourmet Vegetarian Meals
Gluten-free classes (I liked those recipes and I'm not GF)
Favorites from the City of Lights (featuring Beef Wellington, if I recall)
Couples' Provence (It's french, but tastes italian! whee!)
Couples' Dinner Party
If you have the $$$, I strongly suggest ponying up for the multi-class series: Back to Basics and Techniques of Baking.
The school is very aware that demand is high, so is adding new classes wherever they can (given four kitchens to work with). Keep checking that calendar, if you're really enthusiastic.