What Would You Want To Learn at Cookery School?
May 16, 2012 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm opening a cookery school, hoping to entice people and children from all walks of life to learn and care more about their food and how to prepare it. What courses would you want to see offered at a professional cookery school?
posted by mooders to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Fish. We all should eat more, and it's a bear to cook if you know nothing about it. Knife skills would be nice too.
posted by jwells at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2012

Knife skills.

Also I could use help learning to fabricate a chicken for simple everyday use.

So many cooking schools offer super-fancy classes, which is fine and fun, but it was the basics I really needed help with, the simple skills that would help me learn to cook wholesome meals and save money buying whole ingredients.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A class on slow cookers/crockpots would probably be very helpful for busy families.
posted by mmmbacon at 11:09 AM on May 16, 2012

Knife skills. Should be required for the rest of the classes, in fact. I'm convinced that 75% of people who dislike cooking just dislike chopping things because they don't know the right technique. Plus, good knife skills lead to even-sized pieces of whatever lead to even cooking
posted by supercres at 11:09 AM on May 16, 2012

Oh, and simple butchery. Breaking down a chicken, fileting fish, deboning and trimming everything.
posted by supercres at 11:11 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another vote for knife skills.

I'm possibly a throwback, but a basic sauce class would be up my alley.
posted by scody at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2012

Argh, and knife sharpening. Should be part of knife skills. Not just using a hone (though honing is necessary too)bor an electric sharpener: using a bench stone or diamond grit sharpener. Done now.
posted by supercres at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2012

Cooking (and shopping) for one.

Cooking (and shopping) for one person without a large freezer.

Cooking (and shopping) for one person without a large freezer who only has a toaster oven, a large chef's knife, and a single cast iron pan.

Cooking (and shopping) for one person without a large freezer who only has a toaster oven, a large chef's knife, a single cast iron pan, and less than 15 minutes to prepare a given meal that is healthy and not the same damn thing he ate last night.

Cooking (and shopping) for one pers...

Sorry, I'm being ridiculous. "Cooking for bachelors." That is what you should teach. I would pay for that.
posted by jsturgill at 11:14 AM on May 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

10 Quick, Delicious, Healthy Dinners from the Shelf-Stable Pantry.
posted by apparently at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sauces and seasoning. Most people want to eat tasty food but don't know how to make it.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012

A separate knife skills course for vegetarians, please! I would definitely sign up for that. Most knife skills courses involve a section on meat, but I would prefer not to have to pay for that or look like an asshole for skipping those sessions. I'd still love to learn to chop vegetables efficiently and evenly, and how to sharpen & take care of my knives.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012

Nthing knife skills.

A class on sight-test, smell-test, touch-test for freshness, ready-ness and done-ness. As a cook, the single most important thing I learned is when things are "done" or "ready". The broccoli is not done when olive-green and mushy, it's done when it's bright green and still a touch crunchy. The bread is properly kneaded when it's smooth, silky and not sticky, not when it's still dusty with flour. Brown roux should look like peanut butter, not like molten chocolate. How to tell ripe from underripe at the grocery store, or how to tell if the meat/fish at the butcher/fishmonger counter is getting on in age. Things like that.

How to shop and cook healthily as a single/with a small kitchen/with limited storage space would also be a very useful class.
posted by LN at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I cook quite a bit, and the classes that I would love (or loved to have taken) would be:

*Knife skills
*Meat butchery
*Fish butchery
posted by patrickje at 11:24 AM on May 16, 2012

Knife skills, knife skills, knife skills.

Think about the economy. People are cutting corners. A class on, for example, cooking cheaper cuts of meat would get attention.

jsturgill: "Sorry, I'm being ridiculous. "Cooking for bachelors." That is what you should teach. I would pay for that."

I think this is genius. You could follow it up with "Cooking for two for bachelors" (aka how to cook for your date).
posted by mkultra at 11:26 AM on May 16, 2012

Ooh, and grilling. How to grill things so you don't end up with dried out/burned/etc things on the grill.
posted by LN at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2012

mkultra is on to something. Tips for how to make a food budget stretch in a healthy and appetizing way would be a big sell to a lot of people, I think. Cooking cheaper cuts of meat, ideas for using veg/pulses/grains to extend a meal, how to properly store and use leftovers, etc.
posted by LN at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2012

Cooking "chemistry": How does brining work? What's the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Why is a hotter oven better for making pizza? Etc.

And I agree with the previous suggestions of "Cooking for Bachelors" and "Cooking for Two Bachelors," a course on how to make a food budget stretch, and courses on meat and fish butchery.
posted by hypotheticole at 11:31 AM on May 16, 2012

Feel free to discard my response because....I don't really cook and it has never held my attention, however, these ideas have intrigued me:

• Why you do things. There was a book called cooking for geeks - very few "recipes" but they would explain the why behind cooking and things that you could try. If the approach were similar, it may hold my attention.

• (Depending on where you live)-how to make something like a Thai dish or curry dish or something that you normally don't get exposed to all the time (regions of the world). However, to make it worthwhile, include a trip to a part of town with the specialized store (or show the packaging, what to look for) because I'm overwhelmed with cookbooks as it is...I have no idea what half the ingredients are/where to find them.

• Spices. What do you do with them?What is the history of them? You could combine it with (briefly)how to grow them I know that some people like to do that.

• How to make drinks (this may not be part of cooking -if so, ignore it)--I bet that you could pair up with someone who is a sommelier or who teaches about wine....and also teach about meals that complement it. Wait, perhaps the science behind alcohol (what makes it sweet? Not sweet? Differences in fermentation techniques? )

• One off cooking classes such as "How to make yogurt" or "how to make ice cream"
posted by Wolfster at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2012

Substitutions for idiots would be helpful for me. Hint: you cannot substitute one ingredient for another just because they're the same color.

I second the simple butchering thing. You could bill that as a frugality thing, too.

Cook once, eat thrice would be great - how to use leftovers and how to cook batches so that you have food enough for a couple of days.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2012

bread making
single pan cooking (cast iron skillet meals come to mind)
peppers: mild to hot (show me their different heats, cooking applications and how to slice them)
using gourmet salts
cooking on a salt block
gravys, rues, dips, and sauces
posted by haplesschild at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2012

How to bake bread. This is the first thing I teach people, because it's super gratifying and pretty hard to mess up.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2012

I immediately came here to say knife skills (I need a course in it). Yeah -- cooking (meal planning) for one. Don't call it "for bachelors", because then I think it's all about "how to cook if you have never made toast" and not "how to make meals for a single person".
posted by jeather at 11:45 AM on May 16, 2012

1. Almost-vegetarian cooking - as so many people are trying to cut back on meat lately, but they still want hearty meals and don't know where to start.

2. Bento lunchboxes - I've noticed a huge increase among people at my office who bring lunch these days, but it's often just a sad frozen meal; likewise lots of parents want ideas for making healthy lunches their kids will eat.

3. Fermented foods - To bring in the hipsters :-)

4. I'd jump at the chance to take something like "International Peasant Cooking", which could draw on traditional frugal meals from around the world (Asian noodle dishes, etc).
posted by susanvance at 12:23 PM on May 16, 2012

I volunteer at farmers markets from time to time, and I'm amazed at the number of people who have absolutely no experience at all with fresh vegetables, much less any idea of how to prepare them or what they pair well with. A seasonal run-down of available foods and ways they can be prepared would be marvelous for these folks.

A cooking for a family course would be great too. That would focus both on meal planning and on preparation.
posted by Gilbert at 12:26 PM on May 16, 2012

My first thought was "zomgknifeskills" too but when I think about it I really taught myself how to cut things. It seems to me that if you get yourself a nice knife and practice once in a while they come pretty naturally and become pretty dang enjoyable. It's all about using the tool and not your arm to do the work.

-Something about being able to judge the ripeness or quality of the produce you buy at the grocery store.
- Making vegetables grood.
- Sauces and seasoning.
- Fermentation/pickling/canning/preserving workshop like what.
posted by sibboleth at 12:27 PM on May 16, 2012

also, breads breads breads. you could tie that in with the 'hipster' fermentation class if you do sourdough starters. om nom nom.
posted by sibboleth at 12:28 PM on May 16, 2012

To build on punchtothehead's suggestion of a substitutions class: how to substitute healthier ingredients for less-healthy; how to substitute more readily available ingredients for harder-to-find ones; how to substitute vegetarian/vegan ingredients for animal products; how to adapt recipes for specific food allergies/sensitivities/medical conditions.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:52 PM on May 16, 2012

- Ethnic cooking classes: Indian food and rolling sushi at home would I think be popular.
- How to make your own cheese
- Make your own yogurt
- Make your own other simple sauces/dips (this could tie in with the money saving bit). For example making your own hummus is super easy and way cheap. I have found making my own small servings of salad dressing is way more economical than buying a whole bottle that I don't use often.
- I am a vegetarian so totally agree that most cooking places neglect the vegetarian and vegan crowd. I have found that vegetarians and vegans tend to be much more obsessed with food (because they have to think about it more consciously than others) and thus would be a great audience to cater to.

- Right now I am on a low carb diet and I really think this is a huge untapped market since there are not many cookbooks for this out there. There are a lot of other people on this diet because of diabetes etc (also many of the recipes are gluten free), and it really requires very different cooking skills than what I have had up to this point. Like yesterday I powdered erythritol to make low carb brownies - the use of sugar substitutes is interesting and requires particular knowledge (i.e. not using granulated erythritol, or dissolving it in sugar free syrups, cutting amounts of sugar significantly if substituting Splenda and the difference between Splenda packets and baking Splenda, etc.).

I have had to 'separate eggs and whip egg whites into stiff peaks' a number of times to make Oopsie rolls/other Oopsie recipes, and it's hard! And then there is the use of so many different flours for substitution that I am having to do a lot of reading about, like flax seed meal, almond meal, coconut flour etc., they have very particular properties and you need to know how to sub them in to regular recipes. There is a website Your Lighter Side that I have found very useful for these types of recipes if you are interested.

In the same vein, Paleo cooking class could be popular since that is a trend now.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:26 PM on May 16, 2012

How to prepare unusual fruits and vegetables. You could have everyone bring in produce that confuses them, demonstrate simple approaches and end the class with a massive taste-testing session.
posted by carmicha at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2012

Yet another vote for a class on cooking cheaply.

My mom always put together extremely cheap dinners for the family growing up, and it's a skill that I'm trying to figure out for myself now.

She'd walk into the grocery store, see what meats were on special that day, and assemble meals for a family of four for a week. Whether this was chicken (bbq chicken legs tonight, chicken salad tomorrow, chicken and dumplings the next day, chicken noodle soup the next), a ham (roast ham tonight, ham sandwiches tomorrow, fried rice with ham bits the next day, ham and white bean soup the next), or whatever, she always knew how to make a zillion things from a given ingredient. (Granted, we had a pantry stocked to the gills with canned veg, and I definitely would have appreciated more fresh ingredients, but I think that was more due to the fact that my mom was raised on canned food and doesn't really know how to cook fresh veg.)

Anyway, I think a class on how to economically plan different meals (for a family or for one person) using the same protein (for a variety of different proteins, because if you're planning chicken and only beef is on sale this week, you go with the beef) would be EXTREMELY popular. What veggies go with what proteins, what cooking styles go better together, the progression of what you eat (i.e. roast chicken first, then soup), etc.
posted by phunniemee at 1:45 PM on May 16, 2012

A class on canning, making jams and jellies would be great.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 1:52 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of just listing the things I wish I'd had someone to teach me when I first started cooking. I'd have paid to learn these:

Some modular go-to meals: starch from column A, protein from column B, pan sauce / garnish from column C. That seems very simple for anyone who knows how to cook, but not for a beginner. Teaching them how to put foods together has more long-term value than teaching them recipes.

A class on local sourcing: how often do you end up making guesses and approximations because this or that isn't sold at your usual market? A class telling people where to find this and that, which butchers will cut to order vs who will look blankly at you. A class on how to substitute locally available stuff for things you see on TV or in books that no one locally sells.

Simple butchery. (Cutting up a chicken, fileting fish, etc. I *still* don't do this well.) You could lump this under "knife skills," but too often "knife skills" devolves into "how to chop an onion."

I could never cook risotto or omelettes worth a damn until someone watched me and told me where I was going wrong. I *did* take classes to fix these and am glad I did.

Also, n'thing: what to do with fresh veggies, how to tell by sight and feel when something's done.
posted by tyllwin at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2012

Such great, practical suggestions!

Slightly different: the wife of a friend once confided in me that while my friend was extremely smitten with her beauty, brains, kindness, and conversational skills, what really sealed the deal was when she invited him over to her apartment and prepared what seemed to be a very complicated, impressive, delicious dish involving delicate mushrooms and puff pastry. And then some kin of exotic creme brûlée-ish dessert. The dishes were secretly relatively easy to make, but the culinary outcome (and gorgeous presentation) charmed the pants ...um, literally?... off my friend.

So, maybe a "Make 'Em Fall In Love With You" three course meal class. I can picture groups of girlfriends - and guys looking to make a fantastic impression - arriving to take a class like that after work. Let them bring wine?
posted by sestaaak at 3:45 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Knife skills: It is very difficult to change someone's knife habits even if they want to learn. You teach them one way but they go home and cut a carrot into the pot against their thumb. They watched their mothers we (assuming you learned in a professional kitchen) watched professionals. You must teach confidence in the kitchen. Making someone start over is not the right way.

Baking bread: Baking bread is not easy. It is highly nuanced and there are a lot of factors, many of which are difficult to control at home, which must be adjusted and controlled.

That being said, you mentioned kids and kids love playing with bread dough.

You should teach: How to use a digital thermometer to tell if proteins are cooked, if bread is done baking, if you fudge will harden, if your fried foods will be golden and crisp. How to use a digital scale, how to tare and measure ingredients, how to work from recipes that are noted in percentages or grams. How to use salt. To no be afraid of salt. Common percentages of salt that are considered "well seasoned".

Then you get whatever produce is available seasonally and show them what to do with it. What steps need to be taken to make a product ready for cooking. Then you show them one recipe. Not something fancy or rare, just the most straight forward, classic, thing to do with that produce. But you show them how to do it perfectly, every time. Empower your child or adult students and they will get it.
posted by Infernarl at 6:01 PM on May 16, 2012

I agree with the knife skills idea in theory, but I think you should integrate it into another basics course, rather than separate it out. Some people don't think they need a knife skills course, and some people aren't interested in one, even though they know they might need it. If I were a total novice who had the money to pay for one fun course at a cooking school, I doubt I'd sign up for a knife skills course.

Instead, you could easily do a course on making stocks and soups and make it a mandatory first class for further savory cooking. In this class, you could teach knife skills *in context* through cutting onions, carrots, celery, etc.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:24 PM on May 16, 2012

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