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Chef Heaven

Experienced chefs and newbie home cooks alike can love a gourmet cooking class!


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Photography by Ed Anderson

“I was 32 when I started cooking,” Julia Child famously said. “Up until then, I just ate.”

If you want to go from consumer to chef, the secret may be cooking classes. And, where better to learn than in Northern California’s famed Wine Country, a confluence of fresh produce, innovative cooking, and stunning scenery?

Classes run the gamut from holiday entertaining, with San Francisco chef and TV personality Joanne Weir, to a four-day getaway culinary tour, with three of your best girlfriends. Don’t worry: Typical students are not pros but range from home chefs who know their way around an herb-encrusted pork loin to rookies who can barely skin a potato. And, there are classes for kids, too.

These classes are some of our favorites offered in the next few months. View their websites for more comprehensive listings.

Cakebread Cellars

Executive chef and Culinary Director Brian Streeter has been teaching for 20 years at this scenic Rutherford winery’s cooking school, where classes emphasize seasonal food paired with Cakebread wines. (800) 588-0298, cakebread.com.

Holiday 101
Tackle the turkey and some appetizing new twists on classic dishes in this class for novices and experts alike. November 7, $175.
Fun factor: Learning to impress your family with clever tricks for preparing your holiday feast.
Yum factor: Lunch includes an array of Cakebread wines that will help you choose the perfect bottle for your table.

Olive Oil Class, with Marvin Martin
Get the scoop on all things olive from an olive oil producer and consultant. November 21, $175.
Fun factor: Discovering how oil goes from tree to bottle.
Yum factor: An oil tasting. Who knew olive oil had as many different styles as Manolo Blahnik?

Cold Weather Comfort: Cassoulet and Syrah
Get ready for winter by learning how to make this classic French dish. December 12, $175.
Fun factor: This red wine–friendly recipe will please all the hearty food lovers in your life.
Yum factor: Eating your cassoulet with a vertical of Cakebread’s in-demand Syrahs.

Cooking With Julie

A graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, Julie Logue-Riordan is known for her spring/summer combo farmers market tours/cooking classes, which give students access to exclusive experiences, such as tasting limited-production cheeses. Great classes continue during the cold months, offering recipes and techniques that will put the wow into your holiday entertaining. (707) 227-5036, cookingwithjulie.com.

The Art of Eating Standing Up: Tapas
Impress your foodie friends, with recipes perfect for your holiday cocktail party. November 7, $135.
Fun factor: Learning how to make exciting new small bites such as beet leaves stuffed with morcilla sausage and shrimp in romesco sauce.
Yum factor: Making and eating authentic Spanish flan.

Thanksgiving Dinner
Try your hand at butternut ravioli and grilled, herb-rubbed turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, along with a torta of mashed potatoes and spinach. November 14, $135.
Fun factor: Learning twists on old favorites, like apple cider gravy.
Yum factor: Enjoy pumpkin ice cream with ginger cookies.

Chocolate Truffle Workshop
Someone once said, “Nine out of 10 people like chocolate. The 10th person always lies.” Learn to make truffles, and you’ll please everyone. December 6, $85.
Fun factor: Experimenting with unique flavors like Grand Marnier, Port, curry powder, coconut, chili, coffee, almond, or pistachio.
Yum factor: A tasting of Guittard, Valrhona, and Scharffen Berger chocolate.

Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

Although most of the programs offered at the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus are for the aspiring professional, it also offers a full complement of classes for the home chef. (707) 967-1100, ciachef.edu/california.

Career Discovery Boot Camp: Wine Studies
A five-day information-laden course for those who love wine and have always wanted to get into the business. November 16–20, $1,886.
Fun factor: Exploring viticultural techniques, analyzing the ideas behind successful wine pairing, and visiting wine merchants.
Yum factor: Wine tastings with Napa Valley winemakers.

Baking at Home: The Desserts
When it comes to cooking, the CIA literally wrote the book. In this Weekends at the CIA class, cook from CIA pages alongside seasoned chefs and learn how to prepare professional desserts. December 5 and 12, $250.
Fun factor: Taking home a CIA logo apron and a copy of Baking at Home With the Culinary Institute of America.
Yum factor: Licking the spoons.

CIA Samplings: Rustic Italian Flavors
In this pan-Italian Weekends at the CIA class, you’ll explore classic Italian food from one end of the country to the other. December 5 and 19, $95.
Fun factor: Using the different cooking techniques found in the various regions of Italy.
Yum factor: Preparing and munching on biscotti bites.

Gourmet Retreats at CasaLana

These hands-on cooking classes are taught in the kitchen at CasaLana, a Mediterranean-style bed and breakfast in Calistoga owned by Lana Richardson, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. (877) 968-2665, gourmetretreats.com.

Four-Day Flavors of Napa Valley: Wine Country Tour
An essential-skills culinary retreat, combining cooking classes with excursions. November 11–14, $2,475.
Fun factor: Visiting Chalk Hill Estate Winery, the CIA, or a ranch promoting sustainable agriculture.
Yum factor: Making and eating classic crème brûlée.

Wine Country Class: Holiday Favorites
A class that proves entertaining doesn’t need to be a chore. December 12, $175.
Fun factor: Adding new and exciting recipes to your repertoire that will take the stress out of your holiday feast.
Yum factor: Eating a multi-course meal that includes wild mushroom soup with black pepper whipped cream and warm chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise.

Two-day Gourmet Weekend: Comfort Food
Flee the chill of winter as you cozy up in the kitchen to learn some soul-warming recipes. January 22–23, $350.
Fun factor: Learning updated versions of favorite comfort foods like herb-roasted root vegetables.
Yum factor: Getting to make and then nosh on spiced winter fruit crisp with bourbon cider sauce.

Ramekins

At this academy near Sonoma’s historic plaza, the home chef can learn everything from basic cooking skills to Spanish paella, Mexican tamales, and a French Riviera classic: noisette d’agneau chasseur (boneless rolled filet of lamb, for the nonchefs among us). (707) 933-0450, ramekins.com.

Italian Thanksgiving
Add an Italian flair to your Thanksgiving supper, with Deborah Dal Fovo’s recipes that use fresh fall ingredients. November 21, $85.
Fun factor: Making (and pronouncing) recipes such as rotolo di tacchino farcito (roasted stuffed turkey breast with spinach, parmigiano, and mortadella)
Yum factor: Eating torta sbrisolona mantovana con pecan (crumbly pecan streusel cake).

The Chef’s Table: Home for the Holidays
Students get full portions of a holiday entertaining menu designed by chef Joanne Weir. December 3, $195.
Fun factor: Learning from a James Beard Award–winning chef, cookbook writer, and television personality.
Yum factor: Munching on lavash pizza with smoked salmon, caviar, and crème fraîche, along with crispy pear tart with soft cream.

Seafood Watch: Dungeness crab party
Pick up some new dishes that focus on the West Coast’s favorite native shellfish during its peak season. December 5, $100.
Fun factor: Learning how to cook live crab and how to get every last bit of the crab.
Yum factor: Crab salad sliders and crab, chili, and cheese pie.

Relish Culinary Adventures

In 2003, Donna del Rey created a roving cooking school in Healdsburg. Last year, Relish Culinary Adventures found a beautiful permanent home. (877) 759-1004, relishculinary.com.

Wild Mushroom Foray and Cooking
Chef Elissa Rubin-Mahon, past president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association, leads this class in collecting, storing, and using local wild culinary mushrooms. November 28, $89.
Fun factor: Romping through woodlands outside of Healdsburg and a demo on preparing edible treasures found on the expedition.
Yum factor: A four-course wild mushroom lunch served with wine.

Kids Holiday Treats Workshop
In this seventh annual hands-on class for children ages seven to 12, kids whip up the season’s goodies. December 21, $50.
Fun factor: Kids measure, mix, bake, and generally make a big mess, which parents do not have to clean up.
Yum factor: After snacking on tidbits and hot chocolate in class, each student takes home a decorated box of delectables.

The Seduction of Rice
A tour of Asia through an assortment of recipes that include different types of exotic rice. January 16, $84.
Fun factor: Try the amazing flavors of Chinese black Forbidden Rice (once grown exclusively for the emperor of China) and Bhutanese red rice.
Yum factor: A buffet lunch pairing Asian flavors with wine.