Cooking classes gaining popularity

Some of the most tantalizing new courses being introduced by Wisconsin chefs have little to do with what shows up between appetizer and entrée. They are about what the customer can take home – not leftovers, necessarily, but recipes and culinary advice.

We seem to have a voracious appetite for cooking classes in Madison, and more chefs seem to be playing teacher. Settings are commercial kitchens to fine dining restaurants. Most outlets combine entertainment and education, socializing and sustenance. The best turn a mere meal into an unusual getaway.

How to size up supply vs. demand? One-half of the dozen March classes offered at All Through the House, Stoughton, were at capacity weeks ago. Two others had only one seat open. Business proceeds in a similar manner at Madison’s Orange Tree Imports.

Tory Miller, chef and co-owner of L’Etoile in Madison recently set up March 26 and April 16 “spillover classes,” to accommodate a surplus of interest in his “classic rustic Italian” and cooking-with-the-seasons classes, respectively.

Instructors say a helpful springboard for culinary instruction is nutritious, in-season ingredients that are grown locally. Forays into ethnic cooking also appear often.

Chef Wave Kasprzak schedules an occasional, $150 Chef for a Day hands-on class at The Dining Room at 209 Main, a limited-hours restaurant that he and wife Jane Sybers operate in tiny Monticello, 30 miles southwest of Madison.

Instruction is intimate, involving only four students, who arrive at 1 p.m. on a Sunday and learn to prepare a six-course dinner. Each student invites a guest to join them at 5 p.m.; the final feast includes matching wines, and the $150 fee includes the dinner guest’s meal.

Wave also occasionally offers two-hour cooking demonstrations. Students watch him work, then eat. The cost typically is $60, and upcoming topics include Indian cooking, which includes advice about how to make curry powders.

“Some people have been cooking for years and want to get out of a rut and find new dishes that are easy to prepare and taste great,” says Kim Walter of Stoughton’s All Through the House. “Others want to try a new cuisine, ingredient or learn to use spices in new and adventurous ways.”

Instructors offer tips about where to shop for ingredients and techniques to make cooking or baking easier. Classes cost about $40 and last at least two hours.
“We like to think we offer something for everyone’s tastes, and utilize ingredients that are readily available,” Kim says. Sometimes class topics – such as soups, sushi – are a response to customer requests.

Huma Siddiqui of White Jasmine, which sells exotic and unusual spice blends online, is among the guest instructors here and elsewhere. She also hosts “White Jasmine Everyday Cooking,” a weekly cooking show on Madison’s NBC-15.

Shows are taped on Sunday afternoons, and average people – with reservations – can attend and taste.

“We all get tired of making the same recipes over and over again,” Huma says. “Time to time, it is important to ramp up the palate and try some new flavors.”

The most popular classes at Orange Tree Imports feature local restaurant chefs, ethnic themes, menus for entertaining, baking, knife skills or food/wine pairings. Gretchen Harrell, cooking school director, also has noticed “a large increase” in the number of men taking classes.

“I think the experienced home cook can always pick up tips from the professional chefs and caterers, and also learn about new cuisines and ingredients,” she says.

Head 25 miles northwest of Madison, to Sauk City, and you’ll find chefs from as far away as Colorado “say cheese” during cooking classes at the Carr Valley Cooking School, a test kitchen operated by an artisan cheesemaker whose products have garnered dozens of national and international awards.

“People all across the country are really trying to learn how to create a restaurant-quality meal in their own kitchens,” asserts Sid Cook, master cheesemaker at Carr Valley Cheese.

A good chef will “put a new twist on common dishes and ingredients,” he believes. Students pay $45 for three hours of instruction and eating.

Upcoming guest chefs include Jason Gorman of Dream Dance, Milwaukee; Brian Jurkowski of Morels Restaurant, Middleton; and Kent Rathbun of Abacus and Jasper’s restaurants, Dallas.

“We like to invite chefs from all over the country, because it really does open the doors to what people like and desire in different regions,” Side says. They also use his cheeses in class recipes.

For more:

All Through the House, 160 E. Main St., Stoughton:, 877-9403.

Carr Valley Cooking School, 807 Phillips Blvd., Sauk City:, 643-3441.

The Dining Room at 209 Main, 209 Main St., Monticello:, 938-2200.

L’Etoile, 25 N. Pinckney St., Madison:, 251-0500.

Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe St., Madison:, 255-8211.

“White Jasmine Everyday Cooking,” airs at 11:30 a.m. Mondays on NBC-15:, 437-1250.