Cooking school

by Michael Alderete on 7/22/2004

Another thing I was pretty busy with was a 12-week cooking course I took through HomeChef. I’d finally saved up enough gift certificates, and also signed up early enough to be a prep assistant. The course covers basic home cooking techniques, and sends you home equipped to cook 3-4 new recipes a week, along with an appreciation for basic processes that let you cook more confidently from any cookbook, or on your own. It’s not professional cooking school, but it’s quite a step up from watching cooking shows on TV.

Taking the course as a prep assistant means you arrive 1 1/2 hours early to help set up the demonstration trays that making teaching the class look so effortless. This involves things as simple as dicing onions and measuring out primary ingredients like flour or oil, but on some nights it’s as complicated as preparing a soufflé all the way up to before you bake it (the high point of the class for me).

The class session itself lasts two hours, and most of the students simply sit in the audience, watch and ask questions, and then get to eat the food that’s prepared. It’s more social than a cooking show, and you actually get fed, but I learned so much by working prior to the class, it wasn’t clear to me how much non-participating students were learning. While I understand that people have busy lives, and making a 3 ½ hour commitment for 12 weeks is really hard, I just don’t know that I would even consider taking cooking classes where I was not participating.

On the other hand, the first part of every class session was a review of the prior week, when people could talk and ask questions about their “homework,” i.e., cooking what they’d learned. There were quite a few people who were making the effort to cook at least 1-2 dishes each week, and always had good questions for the instructor.

I found that trying to cook every dish each week was a huge commitment, bigger than the class itself. I stopped trying after roasting a whole chicken, and decided that (at least in the Bay Area) it makes more sense to pick up a whole roast chicken at Costco or a good grocery store than it does to buy it raw and spend 3 hours making a meal around it myself. The bought bird costs $2-4 less, comes out better, and the only thing you’re missing is gravy. (And I have a great recipe for cracked pepper gravy that doesn’t require meat juices, so I’m OK there.) Instead, I simply tried to make the one dish a week that I thought was the best.

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