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Creating Culinary Masterpieces in Your Own Kitchen

Reading Time: 15 minutes
"by " Elizabeth Lande

Do you love fine dining and want to re-create a 5-star food experience in your home? Perhaps after spending decades cooking weeknight meatloaf for your family and pasta dishes for friends, it’s time to broaden your kitchen’s horizons with breads that could get you on The Great British Baking Show or the secrets to making it to the finals on Chopped.

Rather than sharing our favorite eateries, this autumn, Connected Living "turns the table" to you, as we focus on opportunities for you to gain the culinary tools that would up your game in the kitchen, so your family can honestly say “Mom’s (or Dad's) cooking is better than any restaurant.” 

Cooking as a cultural hallmark

For millennia, the art of cooking has linked people to one another, and has been a hallmark of cultures. Italian cooks have been associated with pasta, just as India has been with curries, and if you have learned the secret ingredients from your grandmother's cooking, you're in luck. Didn't spend much time in your grandma's kitchen? We've got good news: learning new skills can help improve self-esteem and enrich your quality of life. Recently, cooking has been incorporated in therapeutic approaches that have yielded positive results.¹ Plus, there’s nothing that feels like the art of kneading dough, listening for the oven timer to take it out, smelling the aroma and eating home-baked bread after you’re done.

Does gaining expertise in master techniques from culinary experts sound like you? Or would you rather learn to knead dough to improve wellness? Let's explore options all over the world. 

Keys to the master chef’s kitchen: Tips for becoming a master chef

Culinary schools across the globe educate top-tier chefs in specialties that are designed to deliver delicacies to the world’s finest restaurants. The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY (and campuses in California, Texas and Singapore) is one of many premier programs to train professionals. Some premier institutions, such as the Institute of Culinary Education and International Culinary Center (formerly known as The French Culinary Institute), both in New York City, offer programs for both chefs looking to build a world-class career and amateurs who want to emulate the work of masters. The International Culinary Center’s amateur programs include a variety of single-day classes and multi-day programs, and range widely in scope. Whether you are looking for a class in French pastry techniques, artisan bread-making or even just learning the essentials of cooking, their courses for amateurs can give you the learning experience of a lifetime.

Image credit: International Culinary Center

Associate coordinator and esteemed chef and teacher, Kir Rodriguez, has been teaching at the International Culinary Center since 2004. He explains, "Although there are both career and recreational programs for professionals, our amateur classes are very popular with seniors or couples who are looking for something fun to do together. And it isn't just people from the United States. This week, I'm teaching a five-day breadmaking class with students from Mexico and Turkey. We attract people of all ages, from all over the world. It's fun!" 

Rodriguez says that the wine classes, chocolate making, sushi and their breakfast breads and pastries classes are among the most popular. "Right now, macaroons are trendy. They're challenging to make because macaroons are temperamental."

Authentic adventures await

The world is your oyster — learn to cook them like the locals

Are you an adventurous eater? How about cooking with spices you might not find at your local grocery store? There are opportunities to learn cooking from locals all over the world. Boston-based Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) offers cooking programs in exciting and varied destinations across the US and all over the world. Programs vary widely, both in geography and price — and even include some options specialized for grandparents with grandchildren. Sound tempting? Some recent international options include:

You don’t have to travel abroad for a great taste. If you like the sound of sizzle, we have plenty of barbecue, right here in the US, and you can learn the right techniques at the North Carolina BBQ Society, in Goldsboro, NC.

Learn French cooking in Julia Child’s kitchen in Provençe? Oui, c'est possible!

Back when most people watched TV in black and white, one of the most colorful programs was “The French Chef.” More than 40 years later, her unique voice is still heard on public television. Julia Child brought French cuisine to households all over the nation in a time when people were embracing the ease of frozen dinners. If you grew up fascinated with Julia Child’s brazen take-no-prisoners methodologies and unapologetic love of butter and wine in her cooking, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to learn her techniques in the very same kitchen where she honed skills that launched a reality cooking empire. La Peetch runs nearly “recipe-free classes” Sunday through Friday, with all-inclusive prices including food, accommodations, and – best of all – kitchen cleanup. (Closer to home you can see, but not cook in, her Boston-area kitchen on display at the Smithsonian Institution as part of its American food exhibition, in Washington, DC). 

Local options for curious learners

For those challenged in the kitchen, or people who want to bring their skills to a new level, but don't want to get on a plane, there’s always an opportunity to try new things. Here are some budget-friendly (or friendlier) classes to up your cooking skill set, right in your neighborhood. 

Vo-tech programs and community colleges – Across the country, you can explore options at vocational programs and local community colleges. For example, if you are in Wichita you can take advantage of Butler Community College’s culinary arts program

In your community – Senior centers, libraries and faith-based programs. The City of Boise offers a collaboration with the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS) to teach people how to grow and cook healthy foods. Local YWCAs and YMCAs across the country offer countless economical programs, such as Washington, DC-based cooking classes and cooking with nutrition classes and services in Grand Rapids, MI.

Mixing shopping with cooking – Today, groceries stores and kitchen appliance stores offer cooking classes. Some Williams Sonoma stores host free or inexpensive cooking seminars — of course, with the understanding that they are hoping to sell their products.

Discover a world of cooking classes across the US

Non-western and vegetarian cooking – If you’re near Chicago, Naveen’s Cuisine might be right for you. Some farm-to-table restaurants (that we highlighted last spring) offer cooking classes or workshops using locally sourced and organic foods, including LT Organic Farm in Iowa, Natirar’s cooking school in New Jersey, Blackberry Farm in Tennessee and Wisconsin’s Cheeze Factory Restaurant, which doesn’t have a school, but does have its own restaurant show, where you can try their all-vegan cooking at home.

Bringing a world of cooking to the Midwest – Don’t let the Italian name fool you. Located in Ohio, the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking offers a whole world of options. Upcoming classes are inspired by Indian, Korean, Chinese and various European traditions, and even include the culinary arts of Cleveland. 

In-home classes – Not everyone can travel for cooking classes, even if it is only across town. Luckily, some cooking teachers have a come-to-you approach, and will teach you in your own kitchen. Based in suburban Boston, Chef Edgar Ievans offers individual and small-group lessons that focus on teaching the techniques you need to be a successful cook. 

Online is an option, too – Perhaps you live in a remote area, or caring for a relative makes it hard for you to get out to take a class. Online cooking classes may be an option. There are countless offerings online. You can try to roll your own sushi, or create delicacies following YouTube videos from the Culinary Institute of America’s cooking demonstrations. If you're a Food Network junkie, these videos may include details you can’t get watching cooking competitions on television. If you are just looking for tips on how to prepare the basics with perfection, try allrecipes.com’s immense video library for almost any American dish. 

Cooking as therapy? 

Last year, scientists reviewed a variety of research seeking to confirm improvements in mental health through cooking interventions. Whether it be the social aspect of learning in a group environment, or the benefit of eating a healthier diet (or even cooking as a survival mechanism), there is a link between cooking therapies and increased self-confidence.¹ And, of course, it's nice to eat something you cook for yourself and your loved ones. 

Of course, cooking your own food, rather than eating out, also can have health benefits. Heart-healthy cooking classes may be available at your local medical center. It’s one thing for a doctor to say, “you need to cut your cholesterol.” It’s another thing to change eating habits that your family may have been following for generations. That’s why many medical centers have launched nutritional programs that work with local cooks to teach people how to cook healthier. UNC Rex Healthcare Center offers such programs.

Cheers! Tips for taking on winemaking?

For many people, the heart of a fine meal is the wine. While most people do not venture into winemaking (although wine tasting is very popular), learning how to make your own can become a passionate hobby (or a second career or business) that you can enjoy for many years. Centrally located in the heart of grape-growing country, the University of California at Davis offers a certificate program on winemaking that offers much more than a tasting at a vineyard or a tour of Napa Valley. With locations across the country, another option is Napa Valley Wine Academy, where you can experience harvesting grapes for winemaking. 

Whether you have been cooking for your family for decades, or the stove is relatively new territory for you, there are near-endless ways to change up what you make in the kitchen. You can mix exotic travel and cooking as a destination adventure, or check out local programs a few miles from your home. We hope this inspires you to take the opportunity to explore new tastes, sounds and smells that you can enjoy for yourself or share with loved ones. 

¹Farmer, Nicole, MD, et.al., "Psychosocial Benefits of Cooking Interventions: A Systematic Review." Health Educ Behav. 2018 Apr; 45(2): 167–180. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5862744/ Accessed October 8, 2019.