Cooking the Books: 12 Great Reasons to Take a Cooking Class

What even inveterate cookbook users can learn from a cooking class

At UNC Press, we’re lucky to be located just a few minutes away from A Southern Season—Chapel Hill’s nationally acclaimed gourmet food and wine lover’s emporium. They also offer cooking instruction in a program known as CLASS (Culinary Lessons at a Southern Season) where students can learn from regional notables and top celebrity chefs in a state-of-the-art Viking kitchen.

UNC Press cookbook authors Sheri Castle (The New Southern Garden Cookbook) and Sandra Gutierrez (The New Southern-Latino Table) introduced many of their recipes through sold-out classes at a Southern Season and both are on the program in the spring. Sheri Castle will lead a food-inspired book club and cooking class scheduled to meet three times (January 22, February 5, and March 11) and Sandra Gutierrez will be teaching a menu from The New Southern-Latino Table on March 15. Visit the Southern Season website for information on how to register.

Other great places to take cooking classes include Atlanta’s Cook’s Warehouse and the Culinarium program at the Miami Culinary Institute. Many Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods stores also offer classes and demonstrations.

 

Here are 12 great reasons to take a cooking class from an expert at your local cooking school or kitchen store.

1. Tasting is believing. You’ll usually have an opportunity to sample the food and experience how different dishes complement each other on a suggested menu. There may even be a wine pairing for one or all of the courses.

2. Get organized, get ready. You’ll get tips on which components of a menu can be prepared ahead for easy assembly later. In a recent class, Sandra Gutierrez demonstrated how to mix up and freeze logs of compound butters to add instant zest to everything from biscuits to veggies to rib eyes.

3. Try new ingredients. You may see unusual ingredients used for the first time. There’s nothing quite like opening one’s first package of frozen banana leaves to find that they unfold into three-foot wrappers perfect for steaming food. And learning a bit about distinctive seasonings (and where to find them) like Thai fish sauce (nam pla), kaffir lime leaves, and asofoetida, can help you replicate your favorite take-out dishes at home.

4. Meet the chef. Cooking classes often offer an opportunity to meet that cookbook author, Food Network star, or even local restaurant chef that you’ve long admired. And you’ll usually have an opportunity to ask questions about techniques and ingredients during the demonstration.

5. Cooking in real time. It can be difficult to estimate just how long it takes to put a dish–especially one with multiple steps or ingredients—together. Seeing a chef at work in the classroom takes away the guesswork.

6. Find out what you need and use what you have. You’ll see how much time can be saved by using tools like immersion blenders for soups or standing mixers for batters. Or, you may decide to take a minimalist approach and that your blender and handheld mixer will work just fine.

7. What smells so good? You’ll discover how fabulous a meal will smell long before you taste it. The heady aromas released when Sandra Gutierrez toasts ancho and guajillo chiles for her Pork Tenderloin with Cocoa, Chile, and Bourbon Mole is unforgettable.

8. Be an armchair chef. If you love to watch cooking shows, taking a class takes the experience up a notch. And there’s no shopping for ingredients or cleanup involved.

9. A safer kitchen. Whether you’re bringing ingredients to high temperatures to make things like seed or nut brittles or prepping foods that can cause irritation (like chiles), a good teacher will offer tips to help avoid mishaps and get great results when making, serving, and storing food.

10. A change of pace. Taking a cooking class together is a fun way to spend time with friends and family.

11. Road test that cookbook. Curious about a new cookbook but not ready to buy? You’ll usually come away from the class with a sheaf of recipes that you can take notes on.

 12. Recreate and share the experience. You’ll often have an opportunity to buy a signed and personally inscribed cookbook by your teacher—perfect for yourself or to tuck away for gifts!

 

So next time you have the chance, take a cooking class from experts like Sandra or Sheri!

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