How to Find a Local Cooking Class
I get lots of emails from home cooks interested in taking some cooking classes in their town or city. I also hear from those of you interested in going to culinary arts school or a restaurant management college to earn a culinary degree and start a career in the restaurant industry. Obviously my responses are much different and today I'd like to talk about finding local cooking classes.
However, if you are interested in a culinary arts education, I wrote an informative article called Back to School - Cooking School That Is that focuses on how to choose the right culinary arts school. You'll also find a detailed listing of top culinary schools listed by city and state here at culinary, baking & restaurant management schools.
On those listings you'll find one of the biggest named culinary establishments with schools located in several states. The International Culinary School at The Arts Institutes. I will be writing more about these organizations in future blogs and hopefully get some comments from students who have graduated from them.
There is an interesting article by Chef Alan Bickel called To Cook or Not To Cook - Who's To Say. The article speaks on life in a professional kitchen from a professional cook's point of view and describes in everyday terms what you are getting yourself into.
Now for those of you not interested in becoming professional cook and would like to take a few classes to learn some tricks and new techniques to help navigate around the kitchen, there are plenty of resources right in your own backyard that you might not even know existed.
You would think that the #1 resource for finding anything including local cooking classes would be a search engine on the Internet but unfortunately you are more likely to find a lot of sites offering culinary arts educations rather than cooking classes for the weekend warrior. If you spend some time and dig deep, you may be lucky to find what you want in your area.
Obviously if you are looking for cooking classes in a big city like New York or San Francisco, you're more likely to find some decent choices but what if you live in a small town in the middle of no where? Do you think there's a chance you'll find affordable cooking classes nearby? The answer is probably yes!
The first place I would look is at any of the local schools in your area. Best possibility would be a community college. They often offer cooking, baking, or nutrition classes as part of their curriculum but they also have adult education classes at night that include individual cooking courses. You may be limited by what courses they offer, but it's a great start.
Next, I would look at the local high school. Most high schools offer home economics to their students or at least they did when I went to school (not that I even thought about taking cooking classes back then) so they have all the right equipment to offer night classes or adult education classes. Give the school a call and see what they offer.
Local Churches and Synagogues
Here's another good resource for local cooking classes. Either run but the religious organization themselves or provided by an outside group borrowing their facilities, you don't usually have to be a practicing member to participate.
Often you'll find a charity, men's group or woman's organization sponsoring cooking classes at one of these institutions. Call your local church or synagogue and ask if they have any classes available.
Local Restaurants and Gourmet Stores
More and more local restaurants and gourmet stores are offering cooking schools. Why? Because it's a great way to get the locals into their establishments. Restaurants want people to know who they are, try their food, meet their chef. What better way than to offer cooking classes.
They may offer actual hands on cooking classes or they may have demonstration classes where you watch the chef prep and prepare a meal and then sit down with your classmates to enjoy the entire teaching menu.
When we lived in Park City, Utah, one of the restaurants offered these types of cooking classes. They usually worked with a local wine distributor who would offer their company's wine for free as a way to introduce it to us. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
The same is true with local gourmet stores whether they are big named outfits like Williams and Sonoma or your local mom and pop kitchenware shop. The name of the game for these guys is to get you into their stores and often they will offer free classes or classes for a nominal fee.
Call around to your favorite restaurants and gourmet shops and ask if they offer classes and if they don't, maybe you should recommend they start some.
Local Newspapers, Publications and Yellow Pages
You'd be surprised how many cooking classes you'll find if you pay attention to your local newspaper and town publications. Most daily newspapers have a weekly food section talking about local restaurants and food purveyors. Here is a great source for whose offering cooking classes in the vicinity.
Frequently you'll find your area has a magazine or some other type of publication with a "What To Do In Town" section that lists cooking programs for local residents. When we lived in Park City, Utah, a typically tourist town, there were lots of these publications around.
And don't forget to let your "fingers do the walking" when it comes to the Yellow Pages. Even with the Internet being so prevalent for finding just about everything and anything, the Yellow Pages is still a great resource for locating what's available locally.
Word of Mouth
One of the best resources for finding out just about anything in a small town or large city is word of mouth. Ask your friends if they have ever taken any cooking classes, what they were like and did they enjoy them.
When shopping at your local markets, ask the shopkeepers if they know of any classes available. If anyone is likely to know what's going on locally in the culinary world, it most likely will be those people involved in the industry every day.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.