Crazy For Food
By Marybeth Bizjak
Posted on March 20, 2007
Are you crazy for food? Take this little test:
• Are you a regular at the farmers market?
• Do you insist on eating at every hot new restaurant as soon as it opens?
• Do you drop phrases like “molecular gastronomy” and “artisanal cheese maker” into casual conversation?
• Do you TiVo “Top Chef”?
• Do you have your own food blog?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you are officially crazy for food.
You’re in good company. Here in the Sacramento region, plenty of us are more than a little food-obsessed. And why shouldn’t we be? We have not only great restaurants and cutting-edge chefs but high-quality ingredients being raised right here in River City.
We at Sacramento magazine (being as crazy for food as you) did a little research on the best cooking classes and kitchenware stores in the region. Call it our little gift to you. We also looked at how Davis has become the area’s culinary crossroads and talked with some of the biggest food obsessives we could find. If you love food, read on . . .
Foodies go to school
For people who are truly crazy for food, cooking classes are like catnip: They can’t get enough of them.
Luckily, there are plenty of cooking classes of every type and stripe in the Sacramento region. For self-styled Emerils and Giadas who want to tie on their chef’s aprons and put their Wüsthof knives to work, there are hands-on classes. For those who would rather sit and be entertained while being wined and dined, there are demonstration classes. Some classes are taught by classically trained culinary educators, others led by self-taught amateurs. And a handful of the region’s top restaurant chefs, eager to get out of the kitchen and meet their public, teach as well.
If you don’t know your way around a Wolf range, you can find “cooking for dummies” classes, like Learning Exchange’s Basic Cooking series, which routinely sells out. But plenty of excellent cooks also take classes: to learn new techniques or unfamiliar cuisines, to sharpen their skills, to meet (and learn from) a favorite chef or just to be around other food obsessives like themselves.
“I love cooking classes,” says Dee Johnson, a Davis resident who has signed up for dozens. “I learn something every single time.” If she comes away with just one recipe that’s a keeper, she figures the class was worth the money.
Kerry Rossi, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Pocket, attends at least one class a month. It’s a great way to get ideas and recipes, she says—the perfect solution to her daily what-should-I-cook-tonight? dilemma.
You’ll find classes wherever foodies congregate: at grocery and kitchenware stores. Food snobs sniff at such programs, saying they’re just a ruse to get people to buy products. But Terese Hollander Esperas, who teaches with her husband at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and other area markets, begs to differ. “Our goal is to teach people to cook,” she says. “If I can turn people on to the great ingredients available at the store, that’s a plus for my students.”
So if you don’t want to be a dunce in the kitchen, read on.
Cooking School and Programs
American River College—
American River College offers a degree program in hospitality management and culinary arts for future professional chefs. But home cooks are welcome, too, says instructor Teresa Urkofsky-Collins. “About 25 percent of our students are hobbyists,” she notes.
Semester-long classes (3 or 4 units) are offered in subjects like fine baking and pastry making, professional cooking and garde manger (that’s restaurant talk for the art of making sausages, pâtés, terrines and other charcuterie). In the introductory baking class, you’ll learn how to turn out yeast breads, croissants, puff pastry, pâte à choux, cakes, tortes, pies and meringues; in the advanced course, you’ll make artisan-style breads and wedding cakes. If you’re thinking of chucking it all for a life in the kitchen, sign up for Becoming a Chef, a warts-and-all view of the profession that covers the history of the culinary arts, looks at career opportunities and includes field trips to local restaurants.
The instructors here don’t cut hobbyists any slack: You have to wear a chef’s uniform (hat, apron, chef’s jacket and black-and-white checked pants), buy textbooks and provide your own tools (instant-read thermometer, knives, diamond steel knife sharpener, etc.).
Types of classes: Semester-long culinary courses for aspiring chefs and ambitious hobbyists Most popular: Mediterranean, regional American Upcoming: Registration for fall semester starts in May; classes fill up quickly Cost: $20 per unit per semester Info: arc.losrios.edu
The region’s biggest purveyor of cooking classes, Learning Exchange offers hundreds every year, some taught by name-brand chefs, such as Mexican-cookbook author Diana Kennedy and local restaurateurs Biba Caggiano and Taro Arai. Classes range from small and hands-on (12 students max) to large and demonstration-style. Some take place in restaurant kitchens, others in rented halls. For big-name chefs, Learning Exchange uses Central Library’s Tsakopoulos Library Galleria.
Types of classes: Runs the gamut from slow cooker to sushi Most popular: Basic Cooking series Upcoming: Freezer Cooking (May 9, June 27), Gourmet Truffle Making (May 23), A Week’s Worth of Meals in One Class (June 10) Cost: $25–$59 plus a materials fee ($5–$15); special classes with marquee-name chefs can run as high as $175 Info: (916) 929-9200; learningexchange.com; free course catalog available at area newsstands
Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op—
The co-op holds three to four classes a week (hands-on and demonstration) in its Community Learning Center, a converted restaurant adjacent to the store. Wines from the co-op are served. Four times a year, the store offers a free class to introduce people to the program.
Types of classes: Ethnic, vegetarian and healthful foods; kids’ classes; private classes and corporate team-building classes available Most popular: Thai, sushi, Indian, Italian, knife skills Upcoming: Nothing scheduled at press time Assistant program: Save 50 percent on the cost of a class by volunteering as a prep or cleanup assistant Cost: $35–$45; $10 discount for co-op owners; buy three classes, get the fourth free Info: (916) 455-2667; sacfoodcoop.com; course catalog available at store
Salud! Cooking & Lifestyle School, Whole Foods Market—
Salud! holds four or five classes a week in a sleek demonstration kitchen at Whole Foods Market, at the corner of Arden Way and Eastern Avenue. Instructors use fresh produce and other store products, and a TV monitor and angled mirrors enable everyone to see the action.
Types of classes: Everything from raw food to seafood, with a heavy emphasis on vegetarian and healthful cooking; kids’ classes; private classes available Most popular: Sushi, Thai, raw food, naturally healthy weight loss Upcoming: Raw, Healthy, Fit & Fabulous (April 3), Spring Salads and Spring Cleaning (April 9), Mini Cakes and Desserts (April 28), Simply Seafood (May 10), Introduction to Thai Cooking (May 17) Assistant program: Volunteers pay nothing for the class at which they work; after working four classes, the fifth is on the house (no work required) Cost: $25–$55; free classes occasionally offered Info: (916) 488-2800; wholefoodsmarket.com; course catalog available at store
Shallots Cooking School, Nugget Markets, Vacaville—
Nugget Markets operates a highly regarded cooking school out of its Vacaville store, but no classes at its
Sacramento-area outposts. So food-loving Sacramentans have to trek down crowded I–80 to sit
in Shallots’ gleaming, high-tech demonstration kitchen and learn from pros like Joseph Renner and Glen Wielosinksi, both instructors at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Types of classes: Skills classes (braising, kitchen essentials), world cuisines, healthful cooking and menu classes; hands-on kids’ classes Most popular: Hands-on sushi and tamale classes Upcoming: Seafood on the Grill (April 5), The Art of Stock and Sauce Making (April 12), Fun With Sushi (April 18), Flavors From Northern Italy (April 19), A Greek Feast (May 2), Dim Sum (May 16) Assistant program: Save 50 percent on the cost of a class by volunteering as a prep or cleanup assistant Cost: $45–$59 Info: (707) 469-6800; nuggetmarket.com; course catalog available at store
Le Bilig French Cafe—
After Le Bilig co-owner Monica Deconinck began teaching kids’ cooking classes at her Auburn restaurant, people started clamoring for adult classes. So her husband and business partner, Marc Deconinck, obliged. Working through the Placer School for Adults, Deconinck offers twice-monthly French cooking classes, held Tuesday nights at the restaurant. The demonstration classes last about three hours and include dinner and wine.
A typical class might feature sweetbreads, beef bourguignon and pear clafouti, or foie gras, coq au vin and maple crème briolette.
Deconinck likes to showcase the ingredients, bringing out a whole fish or beef fillet to give participants a “different concept” of food. Because enrollment is limited, the classes are intimate affairs. Deconinck likes the opportunity to preach his message. “I don’t just teach techniques and practical aspects of cooking,” he says. “It’s more an awakening of consciousness about food.”
Details: Limited to 12 people; private small-group classes and birthday parties available Extras: Dinner and wine Cost: $69 (includes administration and materials fees) Info: For course listings or to register, go to placeronline.org
At the upscale Masque Ristorante in El Dorado Hills, resident pastry chef and master chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth teaches dessert making in a beautiful kitchen classroom built specially for that purpose.
Classes take place Saturdays (generally 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) on an irregular schedule, about once every other month. Most are demonstration-style, although Elizabeth occasionally offers hands-on cookie- and cupcake-decorating classes.
Elizabeth, who also teaches at Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods Market, shows students how to make elegant desserts such as soufflés and tarts and does an afternoon tea class with scones and petit fours. She always includes a brief lecture on chocolate. “My mission is to bring about awareness of fine chocolate,” she says.
Details: Limited to 25 people Extras: Samples provided Cost: $45; culinary students get a
25 percent discount Info: (916) 933-8555; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get on e-mail notification list
Mulvaney’s Building & Loan—
Yes, you can learn to cook at Mulvaney’s, the 19th Street restaurant owned by the wickedly charming Patrick Mulvaney. But these are not your grandmother’s cooking classes. For small groups (up to 50 people), Mulvaney offers kamikaze-style “Iron Chef” events, loosely modeled after the campy Food Network TV show of the same name. He breaks the group into two or more teams, announces their “battle” and gives them the run of the kitchen and pantry. (In Battle: Appetizer, for instance, each team gets one hour to make two appetizers.) A chef from the restaurant works with each team as an adviser, imparting food knowledge and kitchen tips along the way. At the end, the results are judged and the winning team receives Mulvaney’s Golden Whisk award. Afterward, the group sits down, family-style, in the restaurant and eats the food they’ve prepared. “It’s cool if you’re into the competitive thing,” says Mulvaney.
For less-competitive types, he offers small-group team-building classes. Again, he breaks the group into teams, and each prepares a different course for a meal, using recipes Mulvaney provides. While prepping and cooking, participants learn skills such as how to cut an onion or properly season food. “We’re trying to teach people without force-feeding them,” Mulvaney explains. They, too, eat what they cook.
Both the Iron Chef and small-group classes are perfect for birthday parties, corporate retreats and team-building exercises.
Details: Classes offered Sundays and Mondays only; you provide the group (no individual sign-ups) Extras: Participants receive printed recipes and an apron, chef’s jacket or chef’s hat to take home Cost: $65–$125 per person Info: (916) 441-6022
Matt Woolston, the inventive chef at Supper Club, has figured out a way to introduce people to his exquisite seven-course tasting menus: Offer classes. Like at a dinner party, you’re greeted with a glass of wine and mingle with other students. Then you sit down with a clipboard of recipes and watch as Woolston zips through a quickie demonstration. When he’s done, everyone heads out to the restaurant courtyard for some hands-on action. Prepped ingredients are laid out on long tables, reminiscent of preschool play stations; all you have to do is some simple assembly. At a recent class, students flipped crêpes over a portable burner. It was fun—and, thanks to the wine, a little raucous. Afterward, everyone sits down at long tables and eats.
Details: Classes offered once about every six weeks; limited to about 25 people Extras: Seven-course tasting menu served, plus wine Cost: $80 (a bargain; regular prix-fixe dinners cost $130) Info: (916) 920-2885; supperclubsacramento.com
People flock to The Waterboy in midtown for chef/owner Rick Mahan’s inspired take on Mediterranean cuisine. Many of those same devotees fill the seats at Mahan’s once-a-month, Saturday-morning cooking classes for the chance to see the artist at work.
Classes start at 10 a.m. in the restaurant’s dining room, where Mahan sets up a table with portable burners in front of two rows of chairs. All classes are demonstration-style, but Mahan invites students up to the table to better see what he’s doing. He runs theme classes—salads, soups or braised foods, for instance—and prepares recipes from the restaurant menu. (If you love The Waterboy’s cassoulet, here’s your chance to learn how to make it from the master himself.) He spends a lot of time in class talking about ingredients.
“You can’t possibly make great food without great ingredients,” Mahan explains.
When he’s finished teaching, everyone eats. Participants leave with a recipe packet and often a little gift. If you take the soup class, for instance, you’ll come home with a stock-making kit: chicken bones, onions, carrots, celery and seasonings.
The self-taught Mahan loves to share his knowledge and passion for cooking. “I’m a pretty good teacher,” he says. “If I didn’t have a restaurant, I’d be teaching something to somebody.”
Details: Limited to 24 people (classes fill up quickly); private team-building classes available Extras: Come 15 minutes early for coffee and scones Cost: $90 Info: (916) 498-9891; waterboyrestaurant.com
East Bay Restaurant Supply—
This commercial-kitchen supplier off Richards Boulevard recently began offering demonstration-style classes overseen by Carolyn Kumpe, a former professional chef who worked at San Francisco’s famed Zuni Cafe. Classes take place in the store one Saturday a month from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. A recipe packet is provided, and everyone eats.
Types of classes: Pastries, bread making, world cuisines Upcoming: Cinco de Mayo (April 21) Cost: $40 Info: (916) 440-0620; eastbayrestaurantsupply.com; call to get on e-mail notification list
Tony Matthews Cooking School—
This upscale kitchen and housewares store in Placerville offers cooking classes several evenings a month. The owners clear out the merchandise and set up tables and chairs in the kitchenware section, and an instructor holds forth from the in-store demonstration kitchen. Local chefs Taro Arai, Randall Selland, Rick Mahan, Biba Caggiano, Mai Pham and Jim LaPerriere have all taught here; so have Bay Area biggies and nationally known cookbook authors out on tour. Sacramento culinary educator (and former Biba cook) David Edgar is the chef-in-residence and leads many of the classes, including a much-in-demand pasta workshop.
Every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., employee Tracy Laughlin does free product demos, showing how to cook with gourmet foodstuffs sold in the store. He’ll whip up a pizza using a caramelized onion balsamic spread or top warm brie with a spicy apple garlic jam. What he does isn’t exactly teaching, Laughlin admits. “Hillary Clinton’s having—what does she call them?—‘conversations,’” he says with a laugh. “That’s what we’re having here: food conversations.”
Types of classes: Hands-on; menu classes taught by local chefs; free product demos every Saturday Most popular: Pasta making, two-part sauce making, sushi Upcoming: Nothing scheduled at press time Cost: $65 on average Info: (530) 626-9161; call to get on e-mail notification list
About twice a month, both area Williams-Sonoma stores (Pavilions and Roseville Galleria) offer evening classes taught by store associates and local chefs such as Jim LaPerriere, Ginger Elizabeth and Roxanne O’Brien. The 21/2-hour demonstration classes take place on the sales floor; samples are provided. Bonus: Students receive 10 percent off any store purchases they make that evening.
The stores recently began offering free technique classes on weekends. About twice a month, they open early on a Saturday or Sunday morning for classes in knife skills, roasting, sautéing, wok cookery or using a mandoline or food processor.
Types of classes: Fee-based evening classes and free technique classes; subjects vary Most popular: Italian, desserts, fast and healthy weeknight dinners Upcoming: (Pavilions store) Fast and Healthy Weeknight Suppers (April 4), Say Cheese! (April 25), Mother’s Day Supper Featuring Recipes From the Barefoot Contessa (May 9), Mexican Fiesta (May 22) Cost: $49–$55 Info: (916) 646-0189 (Pavilions); (916) 788-1240 (Roseville); brochure available in store; call to get on e-mail notification list
A Healthy Kitchen—
Private chefs (and married couple) Terese Hollander Esperas and Dionisio Esperas offer small-group classes in people’s homes, teaching as they prep, cook, serve and clean up. “It’s like a cooking class and dinner party combined,” explains Hollander Esperas. Recently, they began offering private “fit kitchen” classes for athletes and people trying to lose weight. In your home, they’ll show you and a small group (eight minimum) how to prepare nutritionally balanced food that tastes good. (For an extra fee, they’ll throw in a yoga or Pilates class.) These popular instructors also teach, both separately and together, at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Learning Exchange, Bel Air Markets and Nugget Markets’ Shallots Cooking School in Vacaville.
Types of classes: Private lessons in your home; eight people minimum Most popular: Thrill of the Grill, A Taste of France, Latin-Caribbean Sizzle, Flavorful Low-Fat Cost: $85 per person for small-group dinner-party classes (does not include wine); $150 per person and up for half-day “fit kitchen” classes Info: (916) 739-0659; ahealthykitchen.sac.com
Good Eats Cooking With Paulette—
Amateur chef (and Sacramento magazine Dining Diva) Paulette Bruce used to teach private classes in the kitchen of her Land Park home. But a neighbor put the kibosh on that, complaining to the city that Bruce didn’t have the required permits. All’s well that ends well: Bruce now teaches her hands-on classes in the luxe demonstration classroom at the Poggenpohl kitchen showroom on Power Inn Road.
When Bruce teaches, students get their hands dirty. She distributes recipes and assigns people jobs chopping, measuring, mixing and other prep work. (Bruce does the actual cooking herself.) She throws in a lot of hard-earned kitchen wisdom as she leads participants through the steps. Classes are fun and social; you really get to know people when you share a chopping block.
Details: Bring your favorite knife; group classes, birthday classes and gift certificates available Extras: Coffee and freshly baked breakfast pastries served before class Cost: $65 Info: (916) 498-9804; goodeatscooking.com; e-mail email@example.com to get on e-mail notification list
Coming Soon: Old Soul Co.—
This wholesale coffee roaster and baker located in an alley behind L Street in midtown received a ton of press last year when the county shut down its “guerrilla” cafe operation for lack of proper permits. Now, permits acquired, Old Soul is back in action and about to start offering hands-on cooking classes in its commercial warehouse space. Owners Jason Griest and Tim Jordan will teach bread and pastry making; they’ll also bring in outside instructors Ginger Elizabeth (desserts) and Mulvaney’s pasta maker Dave Brochier (pasta making without a machine).
Details: Limited to 20 Extras: Participants take home something extra, such as a pound of coffee or a package of fresh pasta Cost: $35 Info: (916) 443-7685; oldsoulco.com; call to get on e-mail notification list
Get in your car
Willing to drive a ways? You’re in luck: There are two excellent programs for foodies less than 75 miles from Sacramento.
Ramekins in Sonoma is an exquisite stand-alone culinary school, with visiting instructors who are some of the biggest names in American food: Sara Moulton, John Ash, Cat Cora, Joyce Goldstein, Giuliano Hazan, Paula Wolfert, Joanne Weir.
Ramekins’ small (20 students max), hands-on classes provide participants a rare opportunity to get to know a favorite chef in an intimate setting. After cooking under the chef’s tutelage, students sit down with the chef to eat, drink wine and talk. (For Christmas one year, my husband bought me a class with my then-idol, Caprial Pence, an Oregon chef and cookbook author who had a cooking show on public TV. At lunch, I sat THISCLOSE to her and asked all sorts of impertinent questions.)
Demonstration classes are bigger and offer fewer chances to rub elbows with the food pro. Still, you’re bound to come away with something good: At a large demonstration class I attended last year, Sara Moulton dished openly about her fellow Food Network stars Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray.
The downside? Ramekins is pricey: $60–$195 for a class. But remember: You get what you pay for.
Upcoming classes: Exotic Dishes From the Mediterranean Kitchen with Paula Wolfert (April 19, $65); Wine Country Mediterranean with Linda Carucci (April 20, $155); Wraps, Rolls & Dim Sum with Joyce Jue (April 26, $80); John Ash’s Spring Grilling Party (April 28, $105). Ramekins, 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma; (707) 933-0450
Copia in Napa is another popular place to slake your thirst for food knowledge. The Robert Mondavi-underwritten food, wine and art museum has gone through some tough times, and last year it laid off workers and closed down some of its programs in a cost-cutting move. But the excellent cooking classes are still going strong.
Classes are taught in Copia’s Meyer Food Forum, an exhibition kitchen with stadium-style seating. Award-winning culinary instructor Linda Carucci, author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, offers a popular hands-on cooking series.
Upcoming classes: Quick Cuisine: Easy Spring Entertaining—Honest! With Jill Hough (April 22, $25); Linda Carucci’s Test Kitchen (April 29, $125). Copia, 500 First St., Napa; (707) 259-1600; copia.org
Kids in the kitchen
Along with reading, writing and ’rithmetic, children ought to learn their way around the kitchen. It’s a great life skill (and fun, to boot). One of the best programs in the Sacramento region is Jr. Chef Cooking Camp, a weeklong summer day camp for youngsters 10–15 years old that teaches them the basics—and then some.
During the week (Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), students learn to develop recipes, shop, prep, cook and set a table. They are taught nutrition, kitchen safety and dining etiquette, and they take field trips to a farmers market and grocery store. Every day, they cook a four-course meal from scratch, then sit down to eat it. On the last day, they cook and serve lunch to their parents and other guests.
Founder Karla Lacey-Minors runs the not-for-profit camp out of Antioch Progressive Church’s Progressive Life Center in South Sac. Several sessions will be held this summer; dates not yet determined at press time. Cost: $225.
For Jr. Chef graduates, Lacey-Minors offers advanced classes (taught by guest chefs like The Waterboy’s Rick Mahan) on Saturdays throughout the year.
For schedule information or to reserve a space, call (916) 691-4323 or e-mail Lacey-Minors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More kids’ classes
City of Sacramento Recreation and Community Programs
What: Finger Lickin’ Fun, series of four Saturday-morning classes for kids grades 1–6 Cost: $25 for four-class series Info: cityofsacramento.org/parksandrecreation
Davis Food Co-op
What: Hands-on classes for kids 4–8 Cost: $15 members, $20 nonmembers; multiple-class passes available Info: (530) 758-2667; davisfood.coop
Le Bilig French Cafe
What: Hands-on classes for youngsters 7–13 taught by restaurant co-owner Monica Deconinck Cost: $20 Info: (530) 888-1491
Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
What: Hands-on menu and technique classes for kids and teens; taught by Karla Lacey-Minors, Jill Simmons and others Cost: $45; $35 for co-op owners Info: (916) 455-2667; sacfoodcoop.com; course catalog available at store
Nugget Markets’ Shallots Cooking School, Vacaville
What: Creative Cooking for Kids classes for youngsters 8–13 Cost: $35 Info: (707) 469-6800; nugget
market.com; course catalog available at store
Salud! cooking & lifestyle school, Whole Foods Market
What: Occasional kids’ classes; summer cooking camp; private birthday parties available Cost: Varies; free classes for Kids’ Club members (free club sign-up in the store) Info: (916) 488-2300; wholefoodsmarket.com; course catalog available at store