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Top 8 Tips on How to Choose a Cooking Class

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Taking an evening or weekend cooking class is a great way to sharpen your cooking skills while learning more about a different culture at the same time. Below are tips on choosing a cooking class that best meets your needs. If you'd like further detail about what to expect in a cooking class, you may want to read about a few of my more memorable one-day cooking class experiences.

1. How do I find a cooking class in my area?

Check with your city's Parks and Recreation Department - many offer evening and weekend continuing education courses in the Spring and Fall. Local colleges or trade schools are also a good bet. Catering companies, cookbook stores and professional cooking schools frequently offer evening or weekend classes geared to the non-professional. For Chinese cuisine, don’t forget to check out your local Chinese cultural center – many offer classes to help people learn more about Chinese culture.

2. Be prepared to settle for a course that doesn't precisely match your interests.

Be flexible. For example, if Szechuan cuisine sets your tastebuds watering and the only course available is Wok Cooking 101, you can learn the basics and try them out on your favorite Szechuan dishes. You'll need to decide which course comes closest to meeting your needs.

3. Which is better - a one day course or one offered over several weeks?

Both have advantages. A lengthier course gives you plenty of time to hone your skills and ask the instructor questions. On the other hand, a one day course can be ideal for anyone who just wants to pick up a few tips or whose schedule makes it difficult to commit to several sessions. It's also a great way to find out whether you really want to explore the topic more deeply.

4. Don't be afraid to get tapioca starch on your fingers.

Cooking classes, particularly those offered over a longer period of time, frequently have a hands-on component. If you're uncomfortable with this, you might want to explore other options such as purchasing a cooking video. Better yet, give it a try - cooking with a group of people who are all learning at the same time can be a fun experience

5. Don't expect recipes to have the same level of detail as those in a cookbook

They may, but often the recipes are more of a skeleton outline for what will take place in the class. In particular, the directions are often quite short, as the teacher expects to explain the procedure as she goes along. Ingredients may be added or dropped, and substitutions made. Be prepared to revise your copy of the recipe on the spot.

6. Be prepared for different formats.

In some cooking classes the atmosphere is very homey. The class is small and students are encouraged to make comments, ask questions and gather around the cooking area for a closer look as the instructor prepares the food. In others you may be part of an audience, watching the instructor prepare the food from an elevated dais at the front of the room. This format, favored by many professional chefs and cookbook authors, generally gives you less opportunity to interact with the instructor.

7. Passionate about Asian Food? Sign up for a Chinatown walking tour!

This is a must if your passion is Asian food. The profusion of exotic vegetables and ingredients can make shopping in an Asian market a rather daunting experience. Even experienced Chinese cooks can pick up tips on best brands and where to find the freshest ingredients. The tours often conclude with a dim sum lunch, making it a very productive and relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

8. Ready to Get Started?

Ready to get started? Here is more information on Chinese cooking classes offered in the United States, Canada, and internationally. If your passion is for something other than Asian, here are a few more suggestions from About Guides:
Cooking in Italy - information about cooking schools and culinary tours throughout Italy.
Spanish Cooking Classes and Culinary Tours - Culinary tours through Spain and Spanish cooking classes in both Spain and the U.S.
New York Cooking Classes and Wine Seminars

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