A Cooking Class Christmas

I don’t really know how I learned to cook, but I remember when I really started cooking for myself. It actually wasn’t that long ago: When I moved to college, I lived in a dorm straight through my sophomore year. I spent the summer between freshman and sophomore years in luxury, sharing a triple with one other roommate. I spent the first half of sophomore year in a cramped little dorm room, then switched to an open single that had 1) more space and 2) smoking privileges, plus a really nice little window nook and a former resident who had removed the bed frame and set up two mattresses on the floor, a tradition I continued in what would become known as “Comfy Island.”

I didn’t have constant access to kitchen facilities until the summer before Junior year, when I apartment-sat for my aunt while she was overseas. It was a revelation: Suddenly, I went from a mini fridge and microwave to a full fridge, oven/stove, microwave, dishwasher, the works. I made a steady wage, so I could afford my own groceries. I had started to realize that the long-held assumption that I disliked many many food items was actually false, and that in any grocery store, even a crappy one like the Mt. Washington Foodland, there were untold number of items that I had never tried that I might like to. And what’s more, I could make them for myself.

It had more dismal results than bad, of course. I was decent at making a fairly good pasta, but my first attempt at lasagna flubbed badly. (I still blame my mom: No-cook noodles make it easier my butt. Bad call, Mom!) Making pancakes quickly went from Bisquick to homemade. I could cook a piece of chicken without killing anyone, and I even managed to cook decent meals for the few vegetarians and vegans I knew. (As long as they didn’t mind repetition. The aforementioned pasta came in handy.)

I haven’t lived without a decent kitchen since. Those first few years of extensive cooking for myself have gotten me to the point where I am willing and ready to try just about any recipe that comes my way. And although there is still so much that I do not know about the culinary arts, I feel like I am really able to provide for myself and my loved ones. It’s a satisfaction that I have rarely known elsewhere.

I’m not really surprised when people tell me they don’t know how to cook. For many, the intuitive process they use to prepare a few regular meals does not count as real cooking. I disagree, but whatever. I am surprised, however, when someone tells me that they have no interest in cooking.

Really? No interest? I mean, it’s one thing to have comfort processed foods around for those days when you’re too tired/miserable/busy to bother with fussing around the kitchen. But to simply have no interest? Something so fundamental to our well-being, so essential to our survival, not to mention so abundant in delicious possibilities, and you have no interest whatsoever?

If you got a loved one who is kitchen-impaired, a gift certificate for a local cooking class is a great holiday gift. Not only does it teach them a valuable (and did I mention delicious?) skill, but it can also be the kind of fun activity friends, partners, and family do together. Spend a few hours learning how to prepare a traditional dim sum? How about an evening of pie baking? What about visiting a kitchen of one of the best restaurants in town to prepare a meal?

Five Cooking Classes That Make Excellent Gifts

Rania’s Catering Based in Mt. Lebanon, what really sells Rania’s programs is Rania herself. Her knowledge and skills in the kitchen are only surpassed by her boundless enthusiasm and culinary curiosity. Her classes are usually only one-nighters, but you get a lot of experience for your buck. Take a class in quick and simple recipes or in utilizing sustainable foods, join a wine or beer tasting, or register for one the many guest chef classes, taught by professional chefs from upscale local eateries. It’s personable, friendly, and guaranteed to be delicious. (100 Central Sq, Pittsburgh, PA)

Food Glorious FoodEast End foodies might already know Brad and Tom from their monthly demonstrations at Whole Foods. These guys know their cooking, but if their bakery offerings tell you anything, these are the guys to show you how to satisfy a sweet tooth. Looking for a good group present? Schedule a class with Brad and Tom, as either hands-on participants or delighted observers. Either way, you get a food education and a wonderful meal.  (5906 Bryant Street, Pittsburgh, PA)

Crate You can choose between hands-on or demonstration at Crate too. There’s a nice variety of classes that feature both in-house talent and local professionals, and a good range of prices, from a $28 lunchtime course to the pricey $130 partner cooking meal. Another prime attraction are the cooking tools themselves. Love that pot even more than the Creamy Fall Fennel and Potato Soup? Buy it and take it home to make gourmet soups in the comfort of your own kitchen, or buy it as an addition to the cooking class Christmas present. (1960 Greentree Road)

Gaynor’s School of CookingGaynor’s started off as an offshoot of Peter Kumps cooking program, but has since renamed and become its own entity. There’s all the usual here – couples cooking, quick and simple recipes, tastings, seasonal programs – but the real treat are the children’s programs, including 1 and 2 week-long summer cooking camps. Know a couple that really needs to find something for their kid this summer? Help them send the child to cooking school! Not only will it keep him/her busy for at least a solid week, by the time the kid finishes, he/she will be able to cook for the whole family. (309 East Carson Street & at Right By Nature in the Strip)

Chop, Wok, TalkChop, Wok, Talk shares more in common with the homey Rania’s than the more straightforward culinary education by some of the other cooking schools, but don’t mistake that for less quality. What started as a cooking school focused on Southeast Asia cuisine has since expanded to include food from many other cultures, including local favorites like pierogies. Still, if you feel like your loved ones could build new apartments out of their discarded Chinese takeout boxes, you might want to sign them up for the beginning class right away. Choose from 2-session classes, or one 3-hour sessions, or schedule a group private instruction. The schedule is overwhelming with options. (5404 Penn Avenue)

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One response to “A Cooking Class Christmas

  1. 3/5ths of your list had a huge impact on my cooking roots. When my wife and I started dating we took classes at Rania’s and Crate together…Brad and Tom taught classes at Crate way back then before they opened their own school. We even did “work study” at Crate so we could take the classes for free. Before we took those classes I knew next to nothing about food; the classes, especially at Crate, gave loads of hands-on, expert advice and ideas.

    Everyone should take a knife-skills class, by the way. Good knife skills save so much time and make cooking ten times more enjoyable. Crate offers these a couple times every year.

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