Cooking With Class

Whether you want to learn to boil water or make souffles, there is a culinary course for you.

January 16, 2002|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,SUN STAFF

You're the envy of your family and friends. You're the highlight of the bake sales, the toast of the parties, a whiz in the kitchen.

Or perhaps not.

Maybe you're the kind who lives on microwavable foods, can't make a hard-boiled egg and wouldn't know a garlic press from a lemon zester. Perhaps your offering at the company potluck is always the plastic spoons and forks.

No matter who you are, a cooking class might be the perfect ingredient to a more fulfilled you in the kitchen.

Whether you want to improve your techniques, experiment with exotic new recipes or simply learn the basics, there's a cooking class for you.

A Cook's Table, a Baltimore gourmet retail store, offers year-round classes ranging from beginning cooking to classes on fondue and Thai recipes.

"Everybody can learn something in our classes," says Morris Vatz, A Cook's Table owner. "[Our classes] are geared to kids, beginners, advanced beginners, intermediates and gourmet cooks."

If you're looking for as basic a cooking class as they come, A Cook's Table offers How to Boil Water, a course offered in three sessions that covers (you guessed it) boiling, as well as roasting, baking, using spices, safety skills and more. Perfect for the beginner; Vatz encourages students to "come with curiosity, energy and an appetite."

Most of the cooking classes in the area feature the lesson and then a sit-down meal to taste the creation. And sometimes, classes are presented in a demonstration format, as opposed to being hands-on.

Jill Borbas, a cooking instructor with the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and owner of Chez Vous Gourmet, a catering company in Oella, cautions students to decide beforehand if they want to watch or participate. "That's an important decision. They might come unprepared," she says. In Borbas' classes, students make everything and then eat what they've created.

Courses cost about $40. Some classes may charge an additional materials fee. Many classes feature samplings of the food or full meals.

Besides the many classes offered through cooking schools, recreation and parks programs, restaurants and community colleges' continuing education programs, there are some cooking classes that are offered by private cooks in their own homes.

Some students find the atmosphere of a real home kitchen to be less intimidating than the more traditional "kitchen classroom" setting.

"It's very casual, very easy. And we have lots of fun," says Maria Springer, cooking teacher and owner of Maja's Viennese Kitchen, who offers classes in her home in Phoenix. "It's a comforting atmosphere because they have it at home."

Springer, who's taught for 10 years, offers one-on-one classes and group classes. Specific group classes include coming lessons on chocolate, cheeses and honey.

One-on-one classes can be much more personalized. "Some people want to learn specific things. I'll write up the recipes for them. [I'll write up] what pots to have and the most important things to have in the kitchen," she says.

But what about the time involved, you wonder. Well, most classes are offered in the evenings. Some are offered on weekends. Often, they are only for one session. One-on-one cooks will fit into your schedule.

So you're tempted to take a cooking class, only you can't get past the fear factor. You're afraid of looking inept, of being a culinary misfit.

Vatz says new students should understand that everybody, even the best of chefs, started at the beginning. "It's just taking that first step. Seeing that nobody in the cook[ing] world is intrepid. They would seldom serve something to someone they made the first time," he says.

Borbas tells her students at the beginning of a class: "There are no culinary police. If you make a mistake, they won't take you to the culinary jail."

If you're still afraid, Borbas encourages you to face your fears. Likening cooking classes to therapy, she says: "Explore your culinary phobias."

Here is a list of area cooking classes offered in the coming weeks:

European cooking

Cooking With Donna: Demonstration classes on Sicilian recipes and techniques, followed by dinner. 6 p.m. Jan. 30, Feb. 13, Feb. 27 and March 6. Donna's Cafe;, 5100 Falls Road, Cross Keys. $45 per class. Call 410-659-5248, Ext. 105.

Greek Cuisine: Prepare traditional Greek dishes. 7 p.m. tomorrow. Runs four weeks. Fallston Middle School, 2303 Carrs Mill Road, Fallston. $35. Materials $15. Call 410-836-4376.

That's Greek to Me: Prepare a classical Greek meal. 7 p.m. Jan. 30. Long Reach High School, 6101 Old Dobbin Lane, Columbia. $16. Materials $10. Call 410-313-7275.

Viva Italia I: Explore the cuisine of northern Italy with Jill Borbas. 7 p.m. Feb. 19. Runs four weeks. Mount Hebron High School, 9440 Route 99, Ellicott City. $49. Materials $20. Call 410-313-7275.

Venetian Cooking: Watch a demonstration of three recipes and enjoy samplings. 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30. Gertrude's, Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive. $40. Call 410-889-3399.

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