Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cooking Classes: Where To Learn (in and around TO)

So, you decide you're ready to up your cooking game.  You've tried a recipe or ten and think, "Hey, this is actually pretty fun; I want to know MORE!" or, "Ooooh, I could use some mad skills to impress my girlfriend" or better still, "Now how the eff do I make pasta?"

Your next question is probably, "um, okay ... where the hell do I go?" 

Well, here's a list:

Calpahlon Culinary Centre is located at King and Spadina in downtown Toronto.  They've got both demo (you watch, eat, and ask questions) and hands-on (you are equipped with a knife and get to the grunt work yourself) classes.  I've done both, and each are good for different reasons.  If you're making something for the very first time that would require you to really feel it out first-hand (like making pasta), I'd say pony up the extra money and ALWAYS go for the hands-on class.  If you just want to sit back, drink some wine, watch the cooking, and take home the recipe to try on your own, the demo is perfect.  It's like going out for dinner, only less ambience and more cafeteria-like.  Think TV cooking show, minus the cameras.  Prices range from $70 (demo) to $500 (series of 4 hands-on classes).  They also offer wine classes for about $135.

Dish Cooking Studio, owned by Trish Magwood, operates similar to Calphalon in that they have both hands-on and demo classes.  They do both scheduled and corporate/private classes.  They often bring in guest chefs to teach the classes, and have very knowledgeable, friendly staff.  The set-up is more intimate than Calphalon, which can be nice with a group of people.  The down-side to the hands-on classes is you generally do not make all elements on a menu - you are broken into teams and are assigned one portion of the menu.  You walk away with all the recipes and can ask all the questions you want, but you are not at your own individual station like at Calphalon.  Prices range from $75 (demo) to $175 (intensive hands-on or celebrity chef demo).

George Brown College's continuing education program in hospitality and culinary arts is rather extensive.  Costs are quite a bit pricier, but because they're taught over several weeks.  Advantage here is the cache of learning in a true teaching facility, with PLENTY of hours to hone your skills.  The list of courses is almost limitless, from food writing to knife skills to gluten-free cooking to dim sum.  Prices range from about $100 to $600, but can vary greatly.

LCBO  not only offers wine tastings, but also a pretty robust array of cooking classes.  They're held in a variety of LCBO flagship locations, and they're actually pretty darn good.  Most of their classes are demos, but what that means for you is they're also AFFORDABLE!  Added bonus: shop for booze while you're there (um, helloooo, who doesn't want booze?!).  Most classes range from $50 to $85, with the odd hands-on for around $225.

Niagara College, besides their full-time enrollments, offers cooking classes for the amateur home cook.  Taught at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, it's a bit of a jaunt if you're travelling from Toronto, but make it a weekend and visit some wineries and stay at a B&B!  Bonus: you can book online. Prices range from about $130 to $170.

Bonnie Stern School of Cooking.  Well, who hasn't heard of Bonnie Stern?!  She founded the school in 1973, has developed recipes for major food companies, has written several cookbooks, has had national TV shows, and the list goes on.  I admit I have not personally been, so I can't comment on the space or the style of class.  There are many guest chefs (don't expect it to be Bonnie, herself) and the class list looks decent.  Hey - check it out and let me know what it's like! Prices range from $135 to $225 per person.

Well, there you go.  I'm sure I'm missing a few, but if you can't find what you're looking for from this list, you are either trying to cook with dead babies or are the most finicky person on earth.  Thankfully, I'm certain my readers are neither psycho nor totally lame.  So good luck, and happy cooking!

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