Finding cooking classes and choosing the best tutor to learn about gastronomy from are two very different stories.
By now, you have probably found some information about the available cooking courses in your area, but now it is time to choose one! For some, the decision may be made for them immediately for financial reasons, whilst for others, it may be harder to narrow down the selection. Aside from the cost of hiring a cooking tutor or attending a class, there’s a few other key things to be on the lookout for when considering a cookery school of any type.
One thing I will say is that you should consider not only the nature of the course, i.e. if it has a particularly interesting angle (like focusing on French cuisine, Italian dishes, sushi making, or making pasta, for instance), but you should also take some time to familiarise yourself with the person running the class.
While your one-to-one teaching time will be more limited on a group course, where the tutor will have to work their way around the room answering numerous queries (in some classes the instructor might only have time to offer a demonstration with no pupil interaction at all), a private cooking lesson will mean much more time spent learning from your leader.
As such, I would suggest that you speak to the individual on the phone or in person before you attend a class or, if your tutor is well-known in the food service industry, you might like to see if you can find videos or live feeds of them in the kitchen cooking. What are their combined teaching and cooking techniques like?
Feedback and recommendations from past pupils is also a fantastic way to figure out how much you might gain from your first experience at culinary school, while it can also tell you how the tuition is conducted (including how much pupil-teacher time to expect).
The chef might be gentle and soothing, loud and intimidating or somewhere in between, so think about the style of classroom you’d prefer to be in. Do you really want to be grilled in the kitchen on your first culinary class?
While you may have thought to yourself how nice it would be to learn to cook with a professional chef, have you really considered what exactly it is about cooking with the chef that appeals to you?
Is it the idea of being taught how to cook a particular dish to the level and class of a renowned chef, so that you can then go on to recreate the dish and impress your dinner party guests? Or is the valuable knowledge that you might gain from watching an expert move around the kitchen, use utensils and hearing their general kitchen tips and tricks that gets you excited?
You may not get up close and personal with the chef himself, but Jamie Oliver does have his own cooking school. Photo credit: landrovermena on Visual hunt
The culinary arts incorporate a number of food disciplines, which are so very different from one another. For instance, if you have links to Thailand and want to learn more about your heritage, i.e. learn how they cook authentic Thai cuisine, then you might be a little disappointed by a beginner’s cooking class which may not even branch out to foods of the world.
My message is to sit down and have a good think about what it is you want to achieve by attending a cooking class, and then focus on this important aspect when comparing the classes you have found. Jotting down a list of pros and cons, or doing a comparison of two or more courses might help you to narrow down your choices and find the best one for you.
As mentioned above, most people will be drawn to a particular type of food or a specific cooking method over all others. Whether that be French cuisine, Italian delicacies, seafood or sushi, for example, there is usually a course closely related to that going on somewhere near you.
Of course, if a cooking demonstration is being held at your local church, school or community hall, then don’t be put off paying a small entry fee even if it’s not a subject that deeply interests you. However, if you are paying a more substantial amount of money on a course (which you are unlikely to want to have to pay twice for), then it might be best not to rush into anything and spend more time looking around for a suitable course.
Don’t forget also that if you can’t find a class related to your chosen discipline, there is always the opportunity to hire a private tutor who specialises in the field to help you out. Popular themes for private tuition are cake decorating, making sushi, cooking tapas and pairing wines with food.
While some novices may be keen to simply gain a better understanding of fundamental cooking skills, so that they can go on to confidently do home cooking, others might not want to attend a class that doesn’t have a memorable or interesting theme. What’s more, not all people seeking cooking lessons are complete beginners, so those intermediate level cooks might be looking for more challenging food preparation techniques to satisfy their passion for certain areas of the culinary arts.
During your search for courses in the local area, you most likely came across some short-courses focusing on particular themes or disciplines, some of which are gluten free cooking, vegan cooking, how to make fresh pasta, how to slow-cook stews stuffed with flavor, the art of preparing state of the art sushi, how to create tasty weeknight meals, the secrets of Mediterranean herbs, hearty roast dinners, tuition on how bake artisan bread, vegetarian cooking, traditional Spanish recipes like paella and, last but not least, pastry art like making patisserie-worthy croissants.
Other food or sommelier related themes might include wine tastings, how to throw a great dinner party and food and wine pairings.
You might like to specialise in preparing seafood dishes. Photo credit: 46137 on Visualhunt
Does a loved one have a desire to cook, which you would like to fulfil by offering them pre-paid lessons as a gift? Perhaps your son or daughter is very difficult to buy for and you think that cooking lessons would be a great surprise this birthday or Christmas?
Learning to cook is a fabulous skill to acquire for anyone, so I’m sure that your act of kindness will be greatly appreciated, even if it isn’t something they would have chosen for themselves.
If you aren’t sure what the person in question would prefer to focus on in cooking classes, then you have the option to put some money aside so that they themselves can make all of the plans after having done some research. On the other hand, you might like get the planning out of the way for them and be able to present them with a voucher or a booking form to confirm their registration.
Many online websites offer experiences to purchase, which often include culinary classes at top schools. You can usually buy these in the form of a voucher, which is later used to book in the desired experience. However, you might prefer to look at specific voucher sites like VoucherCodes.com and Wowcher, who always have great deals on a number of items and experiences.
You may want to buy a voucher for a loved one or send them a virtual voucher as a promise. Photo credit: jules:stonesoup on VisualHunt / CC BY
Alternatively, you can go directly to the place of study to arrange a block of sessions as a present. Although you will be held accountable financially, the administrative team will gladly take down the details of the person who will be attending so that any achievements are written out in their name and not yours (just be sure not to put down their email address or phone number and risk ruining the surprise!).
Whenever purchasing vouchers or making a deposit for classes, it is wise to check out the company’s cancellation policy in case of any issues. It may be, for example, that you have picked the wrong course for that person, that the sessions clash with another commitment or that they simply don’t like the idea of learning to cook… either way, you want to make sure that you are covered under all situations.