Now You're Cooking
The East Bay's best cooking schools
It’s just shy of 7 p.m. at Viking HomeChef in Walnut Creek. Twelve people, seated at long, stainless-steel tables, watch intently as instructor and chef Carl Drosky gently stuffs a sheet of nori with vinegar-scented rice, avocado, and fresh crab. With an expert hand, he rolls it into itself on a plastic-lined bamboo sheet, then voilà: a tightly knit, eye-pleasing California roll.
Now it’s the students’ turn. Giggles abound as the would-be sushi chefs—men and women, young and old, kitchenphobes and amateur Emerils—attempt to replicate chef Drosky’s effortless creation. For these foodies, there’s no better way to spend a Thursday night.
Cooking classes have been around for eons, introducing new and international cuisines to our home tables. Thankfully, they continue to do just that, while also educating us on the subtler nuances of food of all kinds. And it’s clear that cooking schools have been doing their market research. They offer a buffet of classes for people who, busy with jobs and families, still want to eat well, guiding them through the whole process, from shopping to preparing to storing.
Whether you want a one-time workshop on Christmas cookie baking with preschoolers, a group cooking class for a company team-building event, or a weeks-long series in Parisian bistro fare, today’s cooking classes have got you covered. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking!
Cook first, shop later
High-end grocery stores and retail shops are a great place to learn about the latest trends in cooking as well as traditional, classic techniques. Classes are diverse and convenient, and they frequently include helpful information about entertaining and wine pairing.
Of course, class participants are also gently encouraged to shop. The good news is, that encouragement often comes in the form of a discount.
This upscale grocery chain offers a range of cooking classes at its Danville location.
Hands-on classes last about three hours and allow small groups of students to get involved in preparing each step of each recipe. The leisurely Winemaker Dinners take place on Thursday or Friday nights and allow you to eat, drink, and listen in as chefs and winemakers chat about pairing wine and food. A Nov. 11 chef-winemaker collaboration will feature Kevin Gin of Bridges Restaurant in Danville and a representative from Carmel Valley’s Robert Talbott Vineyards.
Cooking school administrator Karen Alvarez says she likes to showcase cooking talent from all over the country—in December a chef from the Shintaro restaurant in Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel will headline a Winemaker Dinner.
Check it out: Lunch ’n’ Learn midday classes let you catch a lesson on your lunch break. These hour-and-a-half-long sessions are packed with tips and recipes.
Kids’ classes: They run the gamut from helping kids make Santa houses to a three-day winter-break camp for $199.
Cost: $39–$89 per class
Information: 345 Railroad Ave., Danville, (925) 855-8920
As the only cooking store in the 925 with its own full-fledged school, Viking HomeChef sells out its classes quickly. But it also holds them almost every day of the week, so there’s a good chance you’ll find a class that accommodates your schedule and interests.
The Essential Cooking series teaches basics, such as how to make stock and sauces, or cakes that won’t fall when you pull them out of the oven. Specialty classes explore foods from around the world—Spain, Morocco, India, and the Provence region of France—and cover techniques for making great tart crust, cooking fish, and handling knives.
Check it out: Girls Night Out classes allow you and your girlfriends to sip tea or wine while learning some delectable new kitchen techniques. Couples can bond over preparing an ultradecadent New Year’s Eve dinner.
Kids’ classes: Teen cookie baking and decorating workshop, gingerbread house decorating, and a mother-daughter tea party.
Cost: $49 for each demonstration class, $125 for each workshop
Information: 1604 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-3191
The weekly demonstration classes at the Walnut Creek store often have a seasonal theme, so this month expect lots of tips on Thanksgiving and holiday entertaining, including a class on how to make a full Turkey Day dinner from start to finish.
Up to 25 students per class watch Michael Hendricks, assistant store manager, or Sandy Sachs, chef and resident culinary expert, whip up a meal. Then they sit down and dig into the results, which Hendricks says are not “mere samples.”
The classes, he says, are designed for cooks of all abilities. “From the person who doesn’t know how to boil water, to the person who’s been cooking for years, everyone comes away with something.”
Check it out: Once a month the store offers a class on seasonally inspired hors d’oeuvres, whether they be tapas, canapés, or small Italian bites.
Cost: $48 per class
Information: 1470 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 210-1215
Community Cooking Schools
Your hometown’s parks and recreation department or local public school district may be your best bet for an affordable cooking class.
Like their privately run counterparts, these community programs cover a variety of cuisines and topics designed to meet the needs of our bustling East Bay lives. They feature instruction by local chefs, authors, and veteran cooking school teachers, and offer everything from one-time workshops to weeks-long series. Prices listed cover fees for both city residents and nonresidents.
What’s offered: Classes in preparing two weeks’ worth of healthy meals, Crock-Pot dishes, and quick and delicious meals using ingredients from Costco and Trader Joe’s.
Kids’ classes: Five- and six-year-olds listen to a story, then cook up a dish inspired by it. In another class, six- to nine-year-olds learn how to make edible—and tasty—holiday ornaments.
Cost: Adults, $31–$41 per class; children, $30–$78 per class
Information: (925) 314-3400
What’s offered: Classes in preparing two weeks’ worth of healthy meals and in learning to taste wine.
Kids’ classes: Busy Bee Cooks is for four- to five-year-olds. Let’s Get Kids Cooking, for children six to 14, introduces a new recipe and cooking technique in each class while also stressing safety and cleanup. Both classes take place weekly for up to eight weeks.
Cost: Adults, $36 per class; children, $96–$172 per class
Information: (925) 284-2232
Mt. Diablo Adult Education
What’s offered: This division of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District offers a wide range of classes that last one or two days and series that last up to 12 weeks. Topics include Parisian and Italian bistro meals, and ingredient-specific classes on cooking with chocolate, tofu, or mushrooms. There are also classes on perfecting Asian specialties such as sushi, dim sum, chow mein, pot stickers, spicy Thai, and Vietnamese soup. Classes are held in Pleasant Hill at 3100 Oak Park Blvd.
Cost: $14–$61 per class
Information: (925) 937-1530
Orinda Parks and Recreation
What’s offered: Lead instructor and food industry veteran Chat Mingkwan specializes in teaching French cooking as well as the cuisines of Southeast Asia. Other classes focus on basic baking skills and on making quick and healthy meals using ingredients from Costco and Trader Joe’s.
Kids’ classes: Gingerbread house decorating for ages four to nine and adult-child classes for preschoolers. Busy Bee Cooks (ages four to five) and Let’s Cook Again Kids (ages six to 13) last several weeks and teach basic cooking skills.
Cost: Adults, $40–$198 per class; children, $50–$151 per class
Information: (925) 254-2445
Piedmont Adult School
What’s offered: You can enroll in one-time classes or a series of classes in Thai and Japanese food, tea party snacks, and holiday hors d’oeuvres. Classes are held at Paulding and Company, 1410-D 62nd St., Emeryville, or at the Ellen Driscoll Building, 333 Highland Ave., Piedmont.
Cost: $60–$260 per class
Information: (510) 594-2655
Pleasanton Parks and Community Services
What’s offered: Classes focus on helping you fit cooking into a busy family and work life. One class teaches you how to prepare healthy Crock-Pot meals. Others cover how to create two weeks’ worth of healthy meals or delicious, healthy dishes using ingredients from Trader Joe’s and Costco.
Cost: $39–$45 per class
Information: (925) 931-5340
San Ramon Parks and Community Services
What’s offered: Class topics include holiday baking, gourmet vegetarian cooking, and easy and creative ways to cook chicken. San Ramon also offers several Indian cooking classes that are taught by Laxmi Hiremath, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and author of Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen.
Kids’ classes: Basics for ages four to six in how to use kitchen utensils and decorating yummy pastries.
Cost: Adults, $20–$38 per class; children, $30-$65 per class
Information: (925) 973-3200
Walnut Creek Recreation Division
What’s offered: Classes include how to prepare two weeks’ worth of healthy meals, Crock-Pot cooking, and whipping up quick and delicious meals using ingredients from Costco and Trader Joe’s. Also, learn how to make Asian salads and appetizers, and holiday hors d’oeuvres.
Kids’ classes: Let’s Cook Again Kids, a five-week course, introduces six- to 13-year-olds to cooking basics, including safety and cleanup.
Cost: Adults, $34–$50 per class; children, $90–$160 per class
Information: (925) 943-5858
Whether you want to enroll in a complete, two-year culinary arts program or just take a few courses, Diablo Valley College is a good option for professional training. Classes lead to certificates in culinary arts, pastry making and baking, and restaurant management, and are appropriate for anyone interested in the food industry, from restaurant cooking to owning a neighborhood bakery.
Cost: $26 per unit, plus the cost of knives and uniform
Information: (925) 685-1230
Private cooking teachers
Some top East Bay chefs and teachers have created their own schools that reflect their individual styles of cooking and philosophy about food and life. Your instruction may take place in the chef’s home kitchen, and you may use ingredients harvested from the chef’s own garden. These classes usually involve more than just cooking a new recipe; they also include introductions to other cultures or chats about food’s role in society and healthy living. The teachers also tailor classes for unique private celebrations, such as birthdays, showers, or weddings, or for companies looking for a fun and relaxed way to build office morale.
Adventures in Thai Cooking & Travel
Run by longtime local cooking instructor and cookbook author Kasma Loha-unchit
(It Rains Fishes—Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking and Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood), this Oakland cooking center based in Loha-unchit’s home specializes in Thai cuisine.
The school is run more like a small academic center than a cook-for-fun type of environment, which reflects how serious Loha-unchit is about food. Classes are offered in four-week series or in an intensive one-week format, for which students are required to take a beginner’s series first.
High-quality products—meats from Niman Ranch and organic, local produce—are used as often as possible for traditional Thai dishes such as lahb gkai (spicy minced chicken) and yum makeua yao (spicy eggplant salad). Classes are very popular, so book well in advance.
Check it out: Loha-unchit hosts culinary tours to Thailand between November and February. An upcoming trip will take lovers of Thai food and culture on an adventure to southern Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
Cost: $155 for a four-week series (four sessions), $500 for the one-week intensive
Information: (510) 655-8900
Cooking With Rosetta
Rosetta Costantino has been cooking since her childhood days in the Calabria region of southern Italy and has been known to teach chefs at local Italian restaurants a thing or two. Assisted by her still sprightly and expert cook of a mother, Maria Dito, Costantino guides you through recipes that are both authentic and easy for home cooks to grasp.
Weekly classes take place at Paulding and Company’s Emeryville kitchen, feature food from Costantino’s home garden in Oakland, and cover a range of topics inspired by the food of Calabria and the rest of southern Italy. Costantino designs a new menu for each class and is available for private parties.
Check it out: Learn to make homemade ricotta and pasta shaped with a knitting needle and how to transform eggplant into a delicious dessert.
Cost: Starting at $75 per class
This new cooking school, opening next month, is one of the most exciting things to hit the East Bay food scene in awhile. Olivier Said, co-owner of César, and Mike Cappon, a local cooking instructor, teamed up to create a collection of classes aimed at students interested in all aspects of cooking. Held in an old building next to César and Chez Panisse, classes will cover French, Japanese, North African, California, and Chinese cuisines.
Check it out: Kitchen on Fire is looking to offer classes for women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth; it’s also considering offering a class for people recovering from eating disorders.
Kids’ classes: In the works
Cost: $35–$85 per class
Ruta’s Indian Kitchen
Classes in Ruta Kahate’s home kitchen are among the most specialized in the East Bay. Concentrating on regional Indian cuisine, Kahate, a native of Kerala, India, and a former Sur La Table cooking instructor, leads students enrolled in her weekly classes through the customs and flavors of different regions of a delicious country. Whether it’s Indian barbecue, curry, chaat, or masala, Kahate’s students do all the prep work and cooking themselves, under her direction.
Check it out: Before private cooking parties and corporate team-building sessions get under way, Kahate always serves a sampling of ginger-flavored tea or lemonade and an array of sweet and savory treats.Kids’ classes: A new mother, Kahate is considering beginning a series for children.
Cost: $70–$80 per class
Information: (510) 655-7882
The Sustainable Kitchen
Though she recently moved to Santa Barbara, Laurel Miller, a freelance food and travel writer (and Diablo contributor) will continue offering classes in the East Bay that teach home chefs how to prepare cuisine composed of organic, local, and seasonal ingredients.
Classes touch on the issues of sustainable farming and land preservation while giving students tips on shopping and cooking from local farmers markets. Some fall and winter dishes to be mastered under Miller’s guidance? Think warm salad of Riverdog fingerling potatoes with leeks and chanterelles, and braised Niman Ranch pork with mustard-herb butter. Classes will be held at the Emeryville-based Paulding and Company, other local kitchens, and at local farmers markets.
Check it out: Miller leads tours for adults and children to organic farms, dairies, and other sustainable food producers. She follows with a cooking class or demonstration using ingredients harvested during the tour.
Kids’ classes: Occasionally offers classes for teens and children nine and older.
Cost: Depends on the facility Information: (805) 962-0209
Paulding and Company
After teaching cooking classes for more than 15 years at the Piedmont Adult School, Terry Paulding decided last year to open her own teaching kitchen, where she and other local instructors, including Charles Vollmar and Rosetta Costantino, teach classes.
Paulding’s open, airy Emeryville kitchen is also available for private cooking classes and cooking-inspired parties, from birthday celebrations to wedding rehearsals. The kitchen designs an individual menu for each event, drawing on a variety of culinary styles that range from vegan and vegetarian to California-Mediterranean and international. Corporate team-building classes are also available, and are easygoing sessions that allow coworkers to get to know one another better.
Check it out: The corporate team-building classes can be set up as fun competitions during which, for example, two teams must work with only a specific list of ingredients to develop their own menu and recipes.
Cost: Call for prices.
Information: 1410-D 62nd St., Emeryville, (510) 594-1104
They Make House Calls
You don’t go to them; these chefs and cooking teachers come to you, bringing their lesson plans, recipes, tips, and equipment into your home or office. Like the independently operated schools, these courses often reflect the individual styles and philosophies of the instructors. They, too, are available for private celebrations, such as birthdays, showers, weddings, and company parties.
Out of a desire to raise public awareness of the sometimes harmful living conditions of animals raised for food, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau launched Compassionate Cooks in 2001 to demonstrate that a vegan diet doesn’t have to be nutrient deficient and boring.
Through her nonprofit organization, Patrick-Goudreau charges you for the food only and relies on a committed group of volunteers to run the classes. Her aim is to teach people the ins and outs of vegan fare, from shopping and preparing to sustaining a lifelong diet. Compassionate Cooks holds regular classes at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, but Patrick-Goudreau is available for private classes and parties; she is willing to travel all over the Bay Area. Tempeh reuben sandwiches, eggless “egg salads,” vegan pizzas, and Thai green curries are just some of the scrumptious meals students will discover.
Check it out: This month features Thanksgiving for the Birds, and December brings vegan tips on holiday cooking.
Cost: $40 per class per person (in a group), private classes vary
Information: (510) 531-2665
Local cooking instructor and chef Charles Vollmar’s Epicurean Exchange’s classes emphasize incorporating food and cooking into a balanced and healthy life. You will pick up basic culinary techniques while getting tips on how to shop for seasonal, high-quality ingredients and use them in easy, everyday recipes.
Vollmar also offers corporate team-building classes, as well as a special class on how to use knives to quickly and easily chop up all that fresh, seasonal produce you need to meet your minimum daily fruit and veggie requirements. Classes are also taught at many Bay Area cooking schools, including Paulding and Company in Emeryville.
Check it out: Vollmar plays personal nutrition trainer with his Kitchen Fitness program. He pays you a home visit to evaluate your kitchen and what you’ve got in your pantry. It’s the first step to transforming your shopping, cooking, and eating habits.
Cost: $50–$75 per class
Information: (510) 531-8326
Hands On Gourmet
Hands On Gourmet is the ultimate in portable culinary fun. Whether you’re celebrating an event with friends at home or participating in a corporate team-building exercise at work, these 20 professional chefs go out of their way to expose you to easy and delicious seasonal foods.
Leading the team is founder Stephen Gibbs, a veteran of Stars, Postrio, and La Folie restaurants in San Francisco. Dishes on your menu might include pappardelle with chunky tomatoes and smoked bacon, shrimp pot stickers with avocado cream, or Provençal pizza with poached garlic. Your instructor leaves you with a custom-made book of the day’s recipes and a glossary of cooking terms so you can easily re-create the dishes. Based in Orinda and San Francisco, Hands On Gourmet travels all over the East Bay.
Check it out: Wine education programs taught by flavor and sensory expert Leslie Norris look at the building blocks and intricacies of wine flavor.
Cost: $95–$150 per person
Information: (510) 207-8827
Unusual Touch Cooking and Traveling with Chat Mingkwan
You can book some private time with Chat Mingkwan, a cookbook author and veteran instructor of classes taught throughout the Bay Area, including those offered at the Orinda and Walnut Creek city recreation departments and the Piedmont Adult School.
Bangkok-born Mingkwan specializes in teaching Thai and other Southeast Asian cooking, but he also offers courses in making dim sum and sushi. And after a stint cooking in France, he’s big into fusing Asian techniques with those of classical French cooking. His guiding philosophy—whether he’s teaching you how to pound out a curry paste or shred papaya for a cold and crunchy som tum salad—is to keep things simple. “Thai food can sometimes be complicated,” he says, “but it doesn’t have to be.”
Mingkwan will come to your home to conduct a class, and he occasionally arranges to teach private classes at the Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley. He can also come to your office to run a company team-building party.
Check it out: Learn the Thai way to carve fruit and vegetables into decorative and edible table sculptures.
Cost: $575 and up for a party of 10; $1,500 and up for corporate team-building parties
Information: (510) 528-2547
San Rafael–based Michelle Stern specializes in helping young chefs learn to cook, whether it’s a spatula-wielding preschooler or a college student learning to cook for herself. Stern hosts private cooking lessons and birthday parties in your home; you provide the space and the children, and What’s Cooking provides almost everything else. Stern also teaches courses to help parents gain confidence in their cooking skills so they feel better about cooking with their kids. Although she works mostly in Marin County, Berkeley, and Oakland, she often ventures to locations east of the Caldecott Tunnel.
Check it out: Stern offers classes for groups of Brownies, Juniors, Cadets, and Seniors working toward their Girl Scout cooking badges.
Cost: $60–$215 per hour
Information: (415) 342-4353
Beyond the East Bay
If you’re willing to travel a little, the schools listed below are definitely worth a car or BART trip. They are all known for high- quality instruction but vary in terms of price, length of class, and experience needed.
Where Kids Cook!, San Francisco. Range of after-school and weekend classes and camps for children 10 and older taught by a Culinary Institute of America graduate. (415) 550-7976
California Culinary Academy, San Francisco. This Le Cordon Bleu–affiliated program provides professional training in classical and contemporary techniques to future chefs and restaurant managers. (800) 739-9700
Cooks and Books and Corks, Angwin. This cooking school, which used to be located in Danville, offers hands-on and demonstration classes in its new location in Angwin. (707) 965-9409
COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, Napa. Sixty- to 90-minute classes cover wine and food, ethnic and regional foods, and specific food topics. (707) 259-1600
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena. The CIA’s West Coast campus is in the heart of the Napa Valley. Like its mother ship in New York, the Greystone campus offers year-round cooking demonstrations, seminars, classes, and travel programs. (707) 259-1600
Draeger’s Cooking School, San Mateo and Menlo Park. The upscale purveyor of international foods, wine, and cookware also runs an extensive cooking school program. (650) 685-3704
Ramekins Sonoma Valley Culinary School, Sonoma. Hands-on and demonstration classes for cooks of all levels are offered daily at this school four blocks from Sonoma’s historic plaza. (707) 933-0450
Sur La Table, San Francisco. The new Walnut Creek location of this high-end cookware retailer won’t offer a culinary program, and the Berkeley location ended its program in August, but you can still take Sur La Table cooking classes at the shop on Maiden Lane in San Francisco. (415) 732-7900
Tante Marie’s Cooking School, San Francisco. Small cooking school in North Beach offers all-day classes for serious chefs and a specialty series for home chefs. Founded in 1979, Tante Marie’s Cooking School also hosts cooking parties for private groups. 271 Francisco St., (415) 788-6699
Restaurants with Cooking Classes Masala, Danville
Chef Rajesh Sharma leads classes on Monday evenings at this stylish, comfortable restaurant that specializes in Indian fusion—that is, South Asian flavors incorporating a California sensibility.
During the three-hour classes, students can watch Sharma do all the work creating an appetizer, three entrees, and a dessert, or they can roll up their sleeves and help Sharma with the chopping and stirring. At least eight people must sign up for a class to take place.
Cost: $65 per class
Information: 499 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville, (925) 362-4900
The Pleasanton Hotel
Chef Neil Marquis offers regular cooking classes at the restaurant featuring a variety of themes. Recent class menus delved into food from Provence as well as Cajun cuisine.
Class begins with a brief talk on safety and knife skills, then students are divided into groups to work on the different courses. A local winemaker arrives midway through to chat about pairing wine with the food. Each student can invite a noncooking guest to join the group for $35.
Cost: $85 per class
Information: 855 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 846-8106
Walnut Creek Yacht Club
It may seem a bit early to start booking your kids’ activities for next summer, but the secret is out about the summertime classes for young ones taught by Walnut Creek Yacht Club chef and owner Kevin Weinberg. It’s worth planning ahead, because these classes will probably fill up sooner than you think.
Weinberg, Diablo readers’ favorite chef in 2005, teaches hands-on sessions held every two or three weeks. And best of all, they’re free! Classes start in June and are offered through August.
Information: 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474.
Cooking School Vacations
Design your next vacation—or sabbatical from regular life—around a cooking class. Definitely worth the airfare, these classes include traditional cooking programs that last from several days to several months, as well as tours of culinary regions with stops at top restaurants and wineries, plus private sessions with well-known chefs.
Ballymaloe Cookery School, County Cork, Ireland. This school features one- to five-day vacations and 12-week certificate programs. +353 (21) 464-6785.
Cooking With Friends in France, Provence. This six-day cooking school vacation takes place in Julia Child’s former house in southern France. (800) 236-9067
The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York. The CIA offers degree programs and continuing education. (845) 452-9430.
The French Culinary Institute, New York. Aspiring professionals can immerse themselves in a program that combines classic and contemporary cooking techniques. (888) 324-2433.
Giuliano Bugialli’s Cooking in Florence. The noted chef and author of books on Italian cooking teaches one-week, hands-on vacation courses. Contact the headquarters in New York. (646) 638-1099.
The International Cooking School of Italian Food and Wine. Four- to seven-day excursions around Italy with chef and author Mary Beth Clark include hands-on cooking classes and winery visits. Call the New York office. (212) 779-1921.
Le Cordon Bleu, London and Paris. Both locations offer certificate and diploma courses for upwardly mobile professional chefs, as well as half-day to four-day courses for home chefs.
Les Liaisons Délicieuses. Food tours of France, Morocco, and Canada take you into the kitchens of top chefs for small, personalized cooking classes. (877) 966-1810.
On Rue Tatin, Normandy, France.
Six-day cooking program in the home of chef and author Susan Herrmann Loomis.
Oriental Thai Cooking School, Bangkok. Indulge yourself with a stay at the legendary Oriental hotel (the world’s 11th best hotel in 2005, according to Travel and Leisure magazine) and sign up for daily classes in preparing Thai cuisine. +66 (2) 659-9000.