Food TV inspires hankering for cooking classes


Aspiring chefs turn to the classroom to expand their culinary expertise

Across the - cutting - board, professional chefs, home cooks and gourmands attribute the popularity of cooking classes to the Food Network and the celebrity status of culinarians such as Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse.

“Food is the new hobby,” said Jodi Abel, owner of LaJollaCooks4U, adding that this trend has also created a demand for culinary tours and cooking clubs.

Pam Schwartz, culinary program manager at Sur la Table in Carlsbad, said the Food Network inspires people to want to cook at home like the professionals and cooking classes enable them to do so.

“They’ve always wanted to try a recipe, but they were scared of it,” Schwartz said.

Bernard Guillas, executive chef at La Jolla’s Marine Room restaurant and spokesperson for Macy’s School of Cooking in Southern California, began offering cooking classes at the Marine Room in May. The demonstration-style session covers preparation of a three course meal, followed by lunch.

Do it at home

“I teach in a way that everyone can do at home,” Guillas explained. “I understand how and what’s needed to cook in the regular kitchen. It’s from my kitchen to their kitchen.”

Students are provided with each recipe Guillas presents, along with tips, shortcuts and strategies designed to prepare a meal.

There are probably just as many reasons for attending cooking class as there are recipes for chicken breast. The good news: Cooking classes run the gamut in price, format and content.

Jimbo’s … Naturally! markets conduct free cooking demonstrations the third Wednesday of each month. Macy’s School of Cooking, Great News! Cooking School in Pacific Beach and Williams Sonoma at UTC also offer classes, covering special events, holiday-themed meals and ethnic cuisine with prices starting at $10.

Some cooks enroll in class looking for something different than just another recipe to add to their collection.

It’s the experience

When Valerie Skala planned a visit to La Jolla in August, she wanted to find an activity that would appeal to four generations. She found LaJollaCooks4U, a non-traditional cooking class that owner Abel describes as a “cooking experience.”

Held in her own kitchen, working with ingredients harvested from her organic garden and consumed from a table atop a terrace that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, Abel guides her students through the preparation of an individualized menu.

“People who love cooking love this,” Abel said. “The shopping is done. The prep is done. It’s like walking into a Food Network kitchen.”

Skala said her family, including her 12-year-old grandson, enjoyed Abel’s warmth, generosity and enthusiasm.

“We were all talking about getting inspired to cook,” Skala said. “Everybody said, ‘I didn’t know it was that easy.’”

Making connections

For restaurants and resorts, cooking classes are a way for chefs to connect with patrons with a dash of marketing thrown in.

“We have this unbelievable resort here,” said Jason McLeod, executive chef at The Grand Del Mar. “We wanted to showcase the talents … we have, and we thought, ‘How can we get this out to the public?’”

The Grand Del Mar launched its program in February 2008 with a men’s only Valentine’s Day class. The romantic cooks prepared a three-course meal which only needed reheating to create a romantic dinner for two.

Since then, the resort has conducted classes throughout the venue. Classes are capped at 15 so each person has an opportunity to roll up his shirt sleeves and help out.

What seems to surprise instructors and students alike is discovering that all cooking classes require the same elemental ingredient to truly satisfy the appetite: camaraderie.

“Everyone cooks at home, one way or another,” said Guillas. “I think if you can share that love (of cooking) and that love is transferred to others, that really makes things better.”