It’s an oft-repeated truism that New Yorkers don’t cook. With small kitchens and big careers, Manhattanites haven’t the time or the space to make their own beef stock. Instead of clipping recipes, they save reviews of new restaurants, and being a foodie means knowing what wine to order with the lamb’s-tongue salad at Babbo.
Like all urban myths, this one does contain a kernel of truth. Seasoned by the hurlyburly cultural stew of Manhattan life, we sometimes feel like we’re missing out on the deeper satisfactions of the hearth. The irony is that while living in the city makes it easy to not cook at all, it also affords the widest range of choices for those who choose to learn. The same set of circumstances that makes New York the restaurant capital of the world also makes it the only place in the world where you have such a wide range of culinary courses to select from.
To get a taste of what classes are available, I chopped, diced, kneaded, and braised my way through more than 200 hours of cooking classes. Here is a menu of the very best.
A RANGE OF ONE’S OWN
If you enjoy the camaraderie of the classroom but have no interest in returning to school, consider a private teacher with his or her own space. Classes are usually intimate, kitchen setups professionally equipped, and prices affordable.
Main ingredients: In addition to being a passionate instructor, Lee is a veritable kitchen sorcerer (she could turn a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich into a four-course prandial delight). Aprons, clipboards, pencils, and soothing ginger tea are provided. Her tasty, always health-conscious recipes (she’s written five cookbooks) are inventive and draw heavily on Asian-fusion influences. She tends to pepper her heavily subscribed classes with all kinds of information – an off-the-cuff formula for applesauce, for example, or how to season a wok – so there’s never a dull moment. But when she hits her stride, her expansive pedagogic style sometimes reverts to a staccato rhythm, reducing a process to its most rudimentary components: “Chicken, dice, spice, poach, eat.” If only life were so simple.
Signature dish: I took three classes with her and am still salivating over the lively fall vegetarian stew, brimming with rutabagas, parsnips, and squash; her carrot-and-rice purée; her pungent barbecued spareribs, and her ability to render plain pork roast or turkey breasts ambrosial. Other delights: mustard-crusted halibut, and sautéed sole and scallops with spicy red-pepper sauce.
Details: 142 West End Avenue, Apartment 30V (212-787-2227); Mondays 6 to 9 p.m., and Wednesdays or Thursdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; weekend intensive class, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Prices: $135 per class, $490 for a series of four; intensive classes, $350. Limit, ten students.
C. Perry Catering
Main ingredients: I joined two classes at Cheryl Perry’s modest Lower East Side loft – a Jewish-singles night and an all-girl birthday party. The singles were clearly new to the food game – one young man eyed a hunk of fennel and proclaimed, “I don’t even know what that is” – but some of the birthday celebrants exhibited pretty sharp knife skills. Both classes were evenly paced and genial; Perry always has a kitchen assistant or two helping her, so no question goes unanswered. And although she is a caterer, her kitchen is centered upon a single four-burner stove just like the one in your apartment, so you have no excuse for failure when you try her recipes at home.
Signature dish: Perry’s original recipes are diverse and easy to follow. Although she trained in the Chef’s Program at the Natural Gourmet, her culinary reach extends well beyond standard vegetarian. The singles made boneless lamb in a mustard crust accompanied by a delicious leek-purée-for-dummies and a subtly spiced butternut-squash-and-apple bisque; the other class made a fiery Latin meal of salsa romesco, white-bean salad with gremolata, and tortilla with chorizo and manchego cheese, complemented by a more buttoned-down arugula, orange, raisin, and pine-nut salad.
Details: 115 Allen Street, Suite 2 (212-777-2189); schedules vary; classes last three or four hours. Create your own group, or Perry will put one together; (“stock” party menus include “Five Easy Pizzas” and “Valentine’s Baking: The Art of the Tart”). Price: $65 to $75; “Techniques” class, $225. Perry also hosts a “Cookbook Club” on the first Monday of each month, which engineers each meal around a tome (they read biographies and novels, too); $70 per four-hour class and meal, with a three-session commitment.
Julie Sahni’s Indian Cooking School
Main ingredients: There are 35 varieties of salt used in Indian cooking, and after a single class you’ll have sampled at least a dozen. You’ll also learn how to smell spices properly, by crushing them between your fingers, as Sahni delivers a lecture on the chemistry of spicing an Indian meal. Sahni’s tidy vest-pocket-size kitchen is cleverly rigged to maximize space (she was trained as an architect). Yellow-lidded plastic containers house staple bulk items while countless diminutive spice bottles are aligned like peewee soldiers on shelves, ready for action. Several hours of each class are spent shopping in an Indian grocery. Participants study various regional cooking – Mughul, Brahmin, and Jain – and a half-day is devoted to baking poori, chapati, and other breads. We ate what we cooked while absorbing Sahni’s encyclopedic knowledge (the lowest temperature for a tandoori oven, she told us, is 700 degrees) and watching her work the “Indian food processor,” a 375-pound granite mortar and pestle that sits in her living room. Students take home a detailed notebook with dozens of recipes. Book early, as aficionados vie for seats.
Signature dish: Although menus may vary seasonally, you can bank on making ghee (clarified butter, an Indian kitchen staple), Indian cheese from lemon juice and milk, a half-dozen breads and pilafs, and some intoxicatingly sumptuous main dishes, such as tamil shrimp with coconut or chettinad chicken sauté with tamarind, and some condiments like tomato-garlic chutney or frozen tamarind cubes.
Details: 101 Clarke Street, Brooklyn (718-625-3958); weekend course, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; weekday course, Tuesday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Prices: weekend course, $1,095; weekday course, $1,595. Limit, three students.
Anna Teresa Callen’s Italian Cooking School
Main ingredients: Cookbook author and teacher Anna Teresa Callen’s maxim, repeated throughout each class, is: “A recipe is only a trampoline – a jumping-off point. Be creative.” (Still, even she has clear limits: “You can put anything you want on a pizza – but please, not kiwi.”) Students range from the totally green – a young Asian woman who wants to learn to cook for her kosher-observant husband – to the seasoned pro: Dan Leader, the owner of Bread Alone; Grace Balducci Doria, of Grace’s Marketplace; and Louis Balducci, of Agata & Valentina, have all been pupils.
Classes are lively and relaxed. Even during the more formal parts of the teaching, she digresses often, dispensing pointers on how to make bread crumbs, burnish a copper pot to a reflective shimmer, or store porcini (add peppercorns to the container to discourage bugs). Each student has his or her own workstation, with a knife and cutting board, on the long countertop.
Signature dish: The food? In Dan Leader’s words, it’s “honest, simple, delicious.” Her drunken cauliflower – soaked with wine and baked – couldn’t be easier and provided a nice counterpoint to an uncomplicated roast chicken. Dishes included her bracing gamberi tonnati (shrimp with tuna sauce) and an elegant and complexly flavored minestra Abruzzese (vegetable soup), dubbed simply il cardone (“burdock”) by cognoscenti of that region. And her flourless torta di nocciole e cioccolata – hazelnut-and-chocolate cake – is so blissfully rich it ought to be deemed a controlled substance.
Details: 59 West 12th Street (212-929-5640). Mondays 6 to 9 p.m. (you’ll inevitably stay later, supping and sipping – Callen often has to throw her students out). Price: $675 for five nights. Limit, six people.
Main ingredients: For two weeks every fall and spring, this program’s two presiding chefs, Rossella Grillo and Maria Consiglia Nappi, arrive in town from their native Italy. Rossella cooks with the northern flair and flavor of the Veneto, while Maria, from Naples, produces a hardier, more peasantlike fare; the result is a well-rounded Stateside tour of Italian cuisine. It’s an expensive class, compared with others of similar format, but the price is justified by the small class size and above-average wines served with the sit-down meal (made all the more festive by the presence of the chefs’ family members). Most important, the recipes will leave your favorite Italian cookbook in the dust.
Signature dish: A typical class meal might include polpettine di melanzana, gnocchi al pesto, insalata di mare, arrosto di maiale in crosta di patate, pepperoni alla Napoletana, and tirami su.
Details: Location and schedule vary (212-545-1154). Prices: $175 per three-hour session. Limit, ten students.
HAVE WHISK, WILL TRAVEL
There are plenty of itinerant chef-instructors who will come to your home, whether for a one-on-one lesson or a group class. Even teachers with their own spaces will make house calls on request, so it pays to ask. And if you organize and host the class, you might get free tuition.
Main ingredients: “I’m your personal trainer in the kitchen – for your heart and well-being,” proclaims Hertz, the only registered dietitian I encountered during four semesters of cooking classes. Educated at the New York Restaurant School and the Natural Gourmet and armed with a master’s degree in nutrition from NYU, Hertz also worked for years as a restaurant line cook. She now specializes in private lessons, with an emphasis on nutritional counseling and learning to cook healthfully. Hertz doesn’t offer many of her own recipes (most were from other chefs and authors); here the focus is on technique.
Another thing that separates Hertz from the rest of the pack is that she provides a breakdown, hour by hour, of what needs to be done when, so that students develop a sense of timing. She’s an affable, laid-back instructor who tailors her class menus to the client’s needs, which makes this a great class for those learning to live with dietary restrictions. One couple came looking for a repertoire of eight to ten delectable and healthy meals they could reliably reproduce, sans Suki, for dinner guests. So far, they have mastered a Sicilian fish stew.
Signature dish: In one private class, we made crunchy and spicy cheddar palmiers to munch as we prepared a Moroccan feast, including savory game hens, an artichoke-and-preserved-lemon salad, Tunisian harissa, and a low-fat lemon-ginger ice cream. In another, we prepared butternut-squash risotto, a toothsome grilled-vegetable medley, and feisty banana-mango crêpes with ginger sauce and raspberries.
Details: Call 212-946-6546. Prices: $75 per hour per student; food is additional, and generally runs about $100. Limit, three students.
Main ingredients: Schmidt can be a purist. “I never even look at margarine! I’m appalled by it,” he bellows. “I think they should ban it.” We couldn’t agree more. But he’ll readily teach his class less egregious alternatives to tradition, such as how to make an intense sauce without stock. A former Queens College English instructor, Schmidt is a much better lecturer than your average chef. He provides a master shopping list for participants (something few teachers do), who generally do the shopping before his arrival. Still, he is likely to arrive with a surprise treat, as he did on one occasion, bearing crackers and home-made clotted cream for us to savor while we got started. He’s a marvelous baker and author of a handy kitchen Baedeker, Master Recipes.
Signature dish: In one class we produced an extravagant Christmas feast, with a tender, standing prime-ribs roast, accompanied by a vibrant salad of roasted pears, Port-infused figs, and walnuts, and a hearty potato-onion-and-bacon pie. In another class, we whipped up a feisty banana-caramel cobbler with a pecan-biscuit crust.
Details: Call 212-369-3697. Prices: $500 per three-to-four-hour class, plus food costs of about $15 per person. Limit, fifteen students.
Main ingredients: Berley has a genius for health-oriented, modern vegetarian. He will, however, teach meat and fish dishes, as well as healthy desserts (“a natural extension of the meal”); he wrote the curriculum and helped create the recipes for the sixteen classes that constitute the core program at the Natural Gourmet, and his new cookbook, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen (Regan Books/HarperCollins), comes out this week. He’s an enthusiastic and generous teacher who tends to keep talking long after the bell rings.
Signature dish: Our menu consisted of pumpkin pâté with pita crisps; mushroom turnovers; endive stuffed with tofu, olives, and capers; three-grain pilaf; chickpea-and-vegetable tagine; and roasted pears with caramel sauce.
Details: Call 914-674-0589. Prices: $125 per person for a three-to-four-hour class, with a four-person minimum (includes food costs). Limit, eight students; Berley will help assemble groups.
Jeri Jackson of DeLoach Delectables
Main ingredients: Using all her own appetizing recipes, Jeri Jackson’s classes reflect a healthful approach to food. (Her background includes study at the New York Restaurant School, the Natural Gourmet, and the legendary La Varenne in France.) I attended a class for three couples in a private home. One of the husbands had just returned from the Pritikin Longevity Center, and his medical marching orders dictated low-fat meals, so this class was devoted to nutritious “healthy heart” cooking. Jackson spent a good hour lecturing before the hands-on part of the lesson; in the kitchen, she shared countless tidbits and shortcuts, from how to shred cabbage to how to fold a smart parchment envelope for poaching fish. She planned a rather ambitious meal for this group; if the husbands had been as adept in the kitchen as the wives, we would have sat down to eat an hour earlier.
Signature dish: The tasty borscht with dill-tofu “sour cream” was a healthful substitute for what my grandmother used to make, and the rest of the meal – poisson en papillote, roasted seasonal vegetables, sautéed broccoli rabe, and scrumptious poached pears in a sesame crust – was filling, nutritious, and delectable.
Details: Call 212-864-0778 to schedule. Prices: $150 per three-hour session for individual private lessons, plus $50 to $100 for food, and $25 to shop with or for client; $500 per three-hour session for six-to-eight-person group lessons, plus $50 to $100 for food, shopping included.
Many savvy restaurateurs have realized that in the downtime hours of mid- to late afternoon, their staff and facilities can be used for cooking classes. While most of these “tutorials” offer minimal hands-on experience, they provide a precious back-of-the-house glimpse of a professional workspace, as well as an intimate opportunity to dish with the (sometimes celebrity) chef.
Main ingredients: If you get a voyeuristic thrill from observing a working restaurant kitchen, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the classes at this New American eatery in the SoHo district. Classes are held under the whisk of executive chef Kevin Reilly at the bar-height chef’s counter, so even the worst seat provides a great view. In every one of my classes here, we ate and sipped (the restaurant’s wine director and co-owner Scott Lawrence pours excellent wines and expounds a little on each) like aristocrats and even took home generous doggie bags. In addition, co-owners Thalia and Stephen Loffredo distribute handsome, embroidered Zoë aprons; they won’t turn you into Reilly, but he always takes phone calls from students. Really.
Signature dish: Topics reflect what’s fresh at the market. In one summer class on grilling, Reilly made a grilled-vegetable gazpacho with lime crème fraîche; an aromatic Chilean sea bass with a warm-asparagus salad, charred-grapefruit sauce, and balsamic glaze; followed by a whole sirloin with a crushed-Vidalia-onion relish. The November class, which produced a holiday banquet, netted a recipe for a crackling-good corn-bread stuffing.
Details: 90 Prince Street (212-966-6722); Classes are held Wednesdays, October 4, November 8, and December 6. Prices: $55 per session. Proceeds go to City Harvest.
Miette Cooking School
Main ingredients: For years, Mariette Bermowitz held classes at Tartine, a beloved Village bistro. Classes were relaxed, almost breezy, as pupils donned well-worn aprons and repaired to individual cutting boards to work on chef Paul Vandewoude’s eclectic mix of French country fare. Right now, Bermowitz is searching for a new permanent space, but this friendly, well-priced operation is worth waiting for.
Signature dish: A typical Miette menu is a simple one- or two-pot affair – for example, couscous with chicken and cumin; baked Gorgonzola polenta; crêpes and crème fraîche; pumpkin-and-green-apple bisque; or salmon steak with ratatouille and basil sauce. Bermowitz says that Vandewoude has accumulated volumes of recipes, and she is only now, after four years, beginning to repeat herself.
Details: Call 718-336-4009 for schedule. Price: $45 per session.
Main ingredients: Lots of larger schools with professional facilities offer cooking sessions to corporations looking to show their harried employees a good time. Tuscan Square, with its spacious, well-designed lower level and a ten-to-one student-to-staff ratio, is one of the few restaurants that can do so on a regular basis. The menu is fixed and showcases the zestful native cuisine that is the hallmark of Pino Luongo’s eateries. The tariff is a little steep, but if the boss is footing the bill, who cares?
Signature dish: Students begin with a cocktail reception with abundant hors d’oeuvre (such as tuna tartare, assorted pizzas, and codfish croquettes) and then break into groups; some prepare a variety of mozzarella dishes for a first course while others labor over the main dish, which is usually either a seafood stew or house polpette (chicken-and-ricotta meatballs). The restaurant also offers an evening of pasta-making (papardelle or ravioli) that finishes with a dessert of tirami su.
Details: 16 West 51st Street (212-462-1001); call for schedule. Price: $115, plus the cost of alcohol, tax, and 20 percent gratuity, and an additional charge of $100 per chef. Limit, 80 students on the lower level, or 120 in the ground-floor main restaurant.
There’s something to be said for bureaucracy. Unlike some mom-and-pop shops, large, full-service institutions maintain set schedules and locations, possess professional-grade kitchens, and offer a varied curriculum.
The New School Culinary Arts Program
Main ingredients: Guests of the Inn on 23rd Street, a bed-and-breakfast in Chelsea, really lucked out when the New School’s Culinary Arts Program began leasing the Inn’s kitchen facilities; breakfast is now apt to include biscuits from Stephen Schmidt’s baking class. Fairly similar to the school’s former Greenwich Avenue facility (but a tad roomier), the new kitchen has a mix of home and professional equipment. The school’s signature seven-foot-wide round dining table made the move, and it continues to foster a convivial atmosphere during the class meal. I took six in-house classes here and attended two off-site “behind the scenes” courses at local restaurants, one at Tropica Restaurant and the other at the Hudson River Club. The high quality of the instruction on-site was consistent, and in every class I attended, the teachers all used their own recipes. (After I spent several months researching this article, Low-Fat Sauces with Arlyn Hackett was a very handy course to have under my ever-tightening belt.)
Signature dish: In Home Entertaining: Buffet, the class learned handy tips like why to use more acidic foods for a buffet (cuts down on potential bacteria) and to squeeze lemon on cut apples (so they don’t oxidize and turn brown). In How to Boil Water with Michael Krondl, I coasted through some basic grilling (vegetables and a pleasant tuna steak) and topped the meal off with a sophisticated hazelnut roll cake with coffee-cardamom whipped cream.
Course catalogue: It’s hard to go wrong with any cooking class at the New School, and there are close to 200 to choose from, including the very basic (Knife Skills), the arcane (For Pumpkin Lovers Only), classic favorites (A Provençal Dinner Party), and seasonal specifics (Czech Christmas Cookies).
Details: 131 West 23rd Street (212-255-4141). Prices: About $80 for one three-hour class; about $2,500 for 25 four-hour sessions of the master-class series; food costs are separate and can range from $15 to several hundred dollars.
Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health
Main ingredients: Even if you don’t know the difference between an antioxidant and a flavonoid, you’ll still enjoy the nutrition- and healing-oriented classes offered here. The mainstream staff, led by Diane Carlson (a fabulous teacher), can turn discussions of aduki, Anasazi, and mung beans into cocktail-party chatter. The school’s kitchens recently underwent a desperately needed stem-to-stern renovation and are now state-of-the-art. Most classes have minimal participation, but there are several each term that are totally hands-on. Students come from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and culinary sophistication.
Signature dish: I took several hands-on classes, including Basics of Healthy Cooking, in which we prepared a surprisingly feisty and densely rich split-pea soup (without benefit of ham hocks or grand shank); in Healthy Chinese Cooking, we made a fantastic tea-and-orange-smoked salmon and crispy vegetable spring rolls with an Oriental dipping sauce; in Vegan Holiday Desserts, we made an un-cheesecake (not quite Junior’s, but passable), and a succulent poached pear in pastry.
Course catalogue: The school now offers more than 50 classes each semester. Interesting and reasonably priced, they span a wide range of topics, from the esoteric (A-Maize-ing Grain) to the prosaic (No Hassle Winter Soups) to the therapeutic (Sugar Blues), and are packed with wisdom and wit (Berried Treasure; Cooking by the Seat of Your Pantry).
Details: 48 West 21st Street, second floor (212-645-5170). Prices: $25 (Staying Healthy in New York City) to $90 (a four-hour course, Harvesting the Sea’s Bounty: Introduction to Shellfish) to $150 (a two-day class on soy); skeptics are advised to check out the five-course vegetarian meal, served every Friday at 6:30 p.m.; fee is $25, BYOB. Limit, 16 students for hands-on classes, 20 for partial-participation classes, 30 for lectures.
Cooking by the Book
Main ingredients: When Suzen and Brian O’Rourke moved back to New York a decade ago, they wanted to find a way to meet people. “We figured people who liked food and cooking would be nice,” says Suzen. Out of that grew a cooking-class empire (with a huge chunk of their business now coming from Fortune 500 team-building exercises), but it all still takes place in the kitchen of the downtown loft they call home. Each class showcases dishes taken from a recently released cookbook. The author is always in attendance, but teaching is done by the highly trained staff. Afterward, everyone sits down to share the meal the group prepared. My only complaint is that I would have liked greater interaction with some of the authors. Depending on the night, you may get stuck with a prima donna.
Signature dish: During an evening celebrating Michele and Charles Scicolone’s book Pizza: Any Way You Slice It, I made dough for calzones. The “meal” we prepared with famed baker Nick Malgieri (director of the Pastry and Baking Arts Program at Peter Kump’s), promoting his book Chocolate, was worth the trip to the dermatologist a week later: supernatural brownies, chocolate and vanilla trifles, champagne truffles, chocolate and coffee pots de crème, and coconut chocolate-chip bars.
Details: 11 Worth Street, third floor (212-966-9799). Prices: $85 to $125 for three-hour classes. Limit, twenty students; more may attend, particularly for corporate events, but the overflow crowd has to kill time in the dining room, schmoozing, drinking, and nibbling on the hors d’oeuvre, until their turns come up.
To Grandmother’s House We Go Cooking Tours
Main ingredients: Susan Baldassano started this loosely cobbled “school” five years ago as a way to explore authentic ethnic cuisines with native cooks. Each class is held at the home of a “grandmother.” (In practice, they’re grandmothers the way Pino Luongo’s “madri” are all mothers; in fact, one of Baldassano’s grandmothers was a grandfather. No matter.) She’s quick to caution that these classes are not about serious gourmet cooking in sparkling, spacious kitchens. “They are a journey,” she says. “A tribute to the unsung heroines who have managed to somehow keep the art of traditional home cooking alive.” The level of teaching isn’t likely to be anywhere near what you’d get at the New School or Natural Gourmet (to compensate, Baldassano stands on the sidelines and often injects nonintrusive but appropriate pedagogic direction), but the dollar value is substantial, and classes are always fun. Baldassano is a former head chef at both Angelica Kitchen and the Whole Foods market and currently teaches in the Professional Chef’s Program at the Natural Gourmet.
Course catalogue: So far, Baldassano has hosted grandmothers of Greek, Cuban, Jewish, Sicilian, Italian, Trinidadian, Appalachian, Syrian, Mexican, Indian, and Japanese descent.
Signature dish: In a class on Hungarian foods, we made a substantial pot of paprikas csirke with nokedli (chicken paprika with dumplings), to which we added seltzer, not water, since the instructor felt it made his dumplings lighter and fluffier. While exploring Middle Eastern traditions, we did a few valiant one-pot meals – lamb and okra, chicken with chickpeas – and appetizers and desserts.
Details: 471 17th Street, Apartment 1, Brooklyn (718-768-6197); call for schedule. Prices: $55 to $60 for four to five hours (including food costs).
NYU School of Education Department of Nutrition and Food Studies/Continuing Education Program
Main ingredients: A few years ago, the academic culinary programs at New York University were completely restructured; as a result, the class roster has been greatly expanded. According to the department head, Dr. Marion Nestle, the university wants to give even the Continuing Ed courses a serious academic flavor. (Thus, sober classes on sports nutrition are offered alongside Demystifying Chocolate.) The newly overhauled kitchen facility is superb, with six restaurant ranges, eight sinks, half a dozen oversize stainless-steel work tables, and a complete pastry pavilion.
Signature dish: There were only seven of us in Suvir Saran’s class on Indian cooking. As a result, we all got plenty of hands-on experience and lots to munch on, including the tapioca-and-peanut croquettes with just a whisper of coriander and chili peppers; dum aloo (white potatoes in spicy yogurt); and fried cauliflower.
Course catalogue: For those who already know how to boil water, NYU’s avocational classes provide greater than average depth. Fall offerings include Small Gamebird Cookery, Endangered Cheeses, and Fish: A Fresh Look.
Details: 35 West 4th Street, tenth floor (212-998-5588). Prices: $50 to $100. Limit, 15 students for participation classes, 30 for lectures.
Italian Culinary Center
Main ingredients: A relative newcomer to the cooking-school scene, the Italian Culinary Institute is the year-old arm of the venerable Italian food magazine La Cucina Italiana. It offers theme nights and hands-on classes taught by staff editor Micol Negrin (an able instructor), and Cooking with the Stars, hosted by various guest chefs and authors. Representative topics include A Taste of Abruzzo (or Lombardy or Apulia), Medieval Cooking, and Vegetarian a l’Italia. Classes are taught in the magazine’s sun-drenched test kitchen. The demo class I attended, Pestos and Sauces, was dense with information and moved along at a fast clip, but the students were quite food-savvy and easily kept pace, asking well-conceived questions. As at several restaurants where classes are staged, here, too, there is a wait staff, replenishing wine and water glasses.
Signature dish: Before class even begins, each table received an abundance of antipasti and bread. By the end of the night, I left stuffed and thoroughly enlightened, eager to replicate at home the half-dozen novel pestos I’d sampled, including a Ligurian walnut sauce, escarole-and-rosemary pesto, and a Sienese tarragon sauce.
Details: 230 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1100 (212-725-8764 or 888-742-2373). Prices: $65 per class; Cooking with the Stars is $75; nonmembers must pay a $5 fee. This November, the ICC is offering a weeklong crash course on risotto, pastas, and sauces, taught by Negrin and Paulo Villoresi, the editor-in-chief himself, and Maurizio Marfoglia, the chef from Revel. (The class will be held November 6 through 10, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $575 for members, $625 for nonmembers.)
Main ingredients: If the store-brand olive oil (only $5.99) hasn’t brought you to Fairway yet, maybe the $40 cooking classes will. Steven Jenkins, the store’s resident cheese expert, instituted them last year and although classes can accommodate as many as 50 people, there’s still a feeling of intimacy in the upstairs café where they convene. The setup is stadium-style, with an overhead mirror, so there’s a decent sight line from every seat in the house. The roster is varied, and popular local chefs like Bill Telepan (JUdson Grill), Diane Forley (Verbena), and Henry Meer (Cub Room, City Hall) often take up the guest toque.
Signature dish: The feast began with a glorious portobello-mushroom carpaccio with bitter greens and Parmesan chips, followed by succulent Sonoma-lamb osso bucco and rosemary-and-garlic potatoes. Tart and tangy caramelized apples in a cloche puff pastry with a green-apple sauce topped it all off.
Details: 2127 Broadway, at 74th Street (212-595-1888); Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., for about two to 2 and 1/2 hours. Price: $40 including food and wine; proceeds go to Citymeals-on-Wheels.
De Gustibus at Macy’s Herald Square
Main ingredients: Over the past twenty years, De Gustibus has seen more than 500 chefs tip their toques in its kitchen. As luck would have it, I got to attend a class taught by Mr. $500-a-Plate himself, Alain Ducasse, and I’m still drooling for his roast veal with vegetables in garlic-shallot butter. (And now, instead of trekking over to the Essex House, I can whip it up at home.) I also took Advanced Knife Skills, Pasta-Making, and Hors d’Oeuvres under the tutelage of less hyped but equally skilled star chefs. All four classes were top-flight, with plenty of attention from the chefs and staff (at least a half-dozen kitchen assistants are constantly buzzing about, organizing, cleaning, and helping to answer questions). Most of the 60-odd courses offered each semester are demonstrations and tastings. But the hands-on classes were my favorites.
Signature dish: Culinary styles vary by chef (recent teachers have included celebrated Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, the dessert king Jacques Torres, and the maestro Italiano Giuliano Bugialli). No matter what cuisine you crave, invariably there will be a class here to sate your palate. Happily, De Gustibus is generous with amuse-bouches to nibble on before class, with vino during meals, and with doggie bags.
Details: 151 West 34th Street, eighth floor (212-439-1714); call for schedule. Prices: $80 to $155 per session. Limit, 24 students per class.
The Sustainable Cuisine Project at the Earth Pledge Foundation
Main ingredients: Academic issues like genetically modified foods and natural-resource depletion may not sound like the sort of thing you’d take up in your spare time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At the Sustainable Cuisine Project, learning about the benefits of supporting local food producers, maximizing the use of ingredients when cooking, and making informed choices regarding what to eat can be fun as well as edifying. If the menu features a fish dish, then the opening discussion might focus on the fishing industry, endangered species, and the debate over farm-raised versus wild fish. The foundation’s handsome turn-of-the-century carriage house features a well-equipped, open kitchen that can accommodate eight students.
Signature dish: A few typical courses include butterflied leg of grass-fed lamb, grilled and served with an olive-caper sauce; homemade rosemary pasta; bourride of striped bass with tarragon aïoli; and roasted Comice pears with home-made caramel sauce or ginger tuile cookies. If this is what a sustainable planet tastes like, we’re all for it.
Details: 149 East 38th Street (212-573-6968, extension 4); call for schedule. Price: $110, including wine. Limit, eight students.