I doubt that I would be writing this column had it not been for a series of cooking classes that I enrolled in many years ago, when I was just beginning to navigate my way around fine food and great restaurants. The course was in New York City, and the instructor was Jacques Pepin, who I’d long admired from his cooking shows on PBS. The chance to learn a little about how to operate in the kitchen from someone as talented and gracious as Pepin set me on a culinary path and voyage that continues today. I even occasionally host my own “The Critic Cooks” series of cooking classes.
Of course, you could travel to Napa, New York City or Paris to attend lauded cooking academies such as Le Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America, the French Culinary Institute or others, which would be great choices if you intend to become a professional chef. However, most of us are content to dabble—albeit quite seriously—in the kitchen. I, for one, have no dreams of spending 12 hours or more a day on my feet in a hot, steamy, chaotic restaurant kitchen. For folks like me, there are a lot of good opportunities locally to learn about cooking from very talented and creative instructors, at prices to fit most any budget.
The Viking Cooking School at Kimball Distributing (2233 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City, VikingCookingSchool.com/SaltLakeCity) offers a wide range of courses ranging from one-day demonstration classes—including some for kids and teens—to multi-day hands-on workshops such as the popular six-day culinary basics class and the Essential Cooking Series, which meets weekly over a 12-week period. More than 70,000 participants attend Viking Cooking School courses each year, and if you love to cook or want to learn, this is a great place to get started. Demonstration classes like Raw Mexican Fiesta run as little as $25, with hands-on courses often priced from $69 to $99 and multi-day instruction like Culinary Basics costing $599 for six classes.
As with the Viking Cooking School, one of the aims of classes at the Roth Distributing showrooms (1400 S. Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, RothDistributing.com) is to expose attendees to high-end kitchen appliances like Sub-Zero, Wolf and ASKO, which might make going back home to your G.E. stove somewhat humbling. Contact Roth for a schedule of upcoming classes like the recent “Fall Weather/Fall Soup” course.
Yet another fancy appliance place is the Orson H. Gygi Company (3500 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City, Gygi.com), where you can enjoy cooking courses that run the gamut from Gluten Free Baking and Gourmet Caramel Apples to Italian Artisan Cooking and Modern BBQ. Most hands-on classes at Gygi are $55.
For a much more intimate culinary experience, I suggest learning to cook (and eat) with longtime Salt Lake City cooking instructor and culinary consultant Marguerite Henderson (MargueriteHenderson.com), author of Savor the Memories and the recently published Small Sweet Treats. The classes are held in Marguerite’s Sugar House home, making for very fun and informal events, always with plenty to eat and drink and lots of laughs and camaraderie. All classes are $60 per person, which includes food. Upcoming class topics include Small Sweet Treats for Fall, Cooking for Two: Easy But Elegant, New England Foods Revisited and courses dedicated to Thanksgiving meals. Occasionally, Henderson also hosts culinary tours in places like Italy, which I highly recommend.
I have taught at Sur La Table in The Gateway (10 N. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City, SurLaTable.com) and enjoy the atmosphere and the setting—not to mention all the great tools at hand—of the cooking classes there. A friend of mine shared a Sur La Table cooking class story, saying that at the end of a lengthy class dedicated to chocolate, the instructor told the participants there was time for one more question. My friend asked, “Why do we always eat the ears off the bunny first?” For answers to these and other cooking mysteries, sign up for Sur La Table demonstrations or hands-on classes, most of which run from $59 to $79. Upcoming classes include Italian Small Plates, Thai Cooking 101, Fall Cupcake Workshop, Spice Up the Kitchen and Date Night: Wine Lover’s Feast.
I have also teamed up in the past with Tony Caputo to make risotto and other tasty dishes at the enjoyable Caputo’s Market & Deli (314 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City, CaputosDeli.com) cooking and wine classes. But Caputo’s classes aren’t merely fun and tasty; they can be quite transformative, often challenging preconceptions and exposing overblown industry claims about products. These days, Tony’s son Matt teaches most of the food courses, with Francis Fecteau of Libation, Inc., handling the wine education duties. And, with Caputo’s at 15th & 15th (1516 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City) in full gear, there are even more options for learning about cooking, in addition to the classes at the downtown Caputo’s. Typical pricing for these classes is $45 and $15 for wine (optional) for cooking classes and $25 and $15 for wine (optional) for “Fine Tasting” classes. Matt Caputo has become known in chocolate circles worldwide as a major catalyzing force in the world of fine chocolates, so I highly recommend attending one of his chocolate classes, like Intro to Fine Chocolate or Cooking with Chocolate. Other tempting topics upcoming include a Holiday Cheese & Wine Tasting, Traditional Italian Holiday Cooking and a VIP Shopping Tour and Tasting.
Classes and demos at the Bosch Kitchen Center (8940 S. 700 East, Sandy, MyKitchenCenter.com) are very affordable—some are free, and others run $5 to $15—and the emphasis is on time- and money-saving kitchen techniques and tools. Class topics include 5 Star Asian Cuisine with Kanta Sakamoto of Shushiko Japanese Restaurant in Miami, The Best Pizza You’ve Ever Tasted and Authentic Mexican Cooking.
Even Harmons (HarmonsGrocery.com) is getting in on the act, with the new Farmington location (200 N. Station Parkway, Farmington) featuring a full exhibition kitchen, cooking school (classes are $15-$55) and even Friday night “date night,” where customers can enjoy a prix fixe five-course meal served with candlelight, white tablecloths and live music, cooked by executive chef J Degenhardt.
So, time to get cooking!