Feast: 5 fierce cooking classes

There’s something perfect about a cooking class for an adult — it’s a way to learn a new skill without making a huge commitment (Sure, I want to learn Italian — but who has time to spend a semester on it, only to know how to ask for directions?); it’s a way to get closer to existing friends or to meet new people (especially singles-themed events); and it has a practical application (One must eat. One mustn’t necessarily, say, do cross-stitch). So I’ve researched a selection of what the Bay Area has to offer, whether you’re looking to strengthen partnerships, find new ones, or just change your relationship with your kitchen (it is, apparently, more than a place to keep your beer). The most important thing I’ve learned is that many classes offer similar tips, skills, and seasonal menus. And all intend to demystify or intensify your relationship with food. So when choosing a class, consider what it is you really want to get from it. Do you want to know how to make a gourmet meal for a dinner party? Do you want to meet new people and have a good time? Do you want to put some food in your freezer? Or do you just want to figure out what your gas range-top is good for other than lighting cigarettes when your Bic’s out of fuel? Lucky for you, in a culinary-focused city like this one, there’s a class for all of you. Here are some of my favorites.

THE CULINARY SALON


The only thing more charming than Chef Joe Wittenbrook is his teaching space: a quaint street-level apartment with a picture window in Duboce Triangle. Wittenbrook’s focus is on the whole experience. This is not necessarily the class where you’ll perfect techniques, but you’ll learn more than you ever expected to — from the origin of the foods on your menu to special tips and tricks. His classes are small — a recent Saturday course had five students — and are therefore intimate and casual, made friendly and warm by Wittenbrook’s outgoing personality. Don’t forget the wine — you’re welcome to imbibe during class as well as the European family-style meal you’ll share together afterward. Or, get four or six friends together and you can have him to yourself.

16-B Sanchez, SF. (415) 626-4379, www.theculinarysalon.com

FIRST CLASS COOKING


The structure of these courses, hosted by Emily Dellas at her stunning SoMa loft, is similar to Wittenbrook’s: everyone gets a list of recipes, takes turns preparing dishes, and shares the resulting meal together. As a food-lover without much formal training, though, her approach is to pass on her love for cooking to those who might be intimidated by it, demystifying dishes like profiteroles (the pastry base of cream puffs and éclairs). She likes to create menus that people can not only prepare themselves, but can feel good about eating on a regular basis — light, healthy, and seasonal. Her courses have room for about 10 people apiece, which means less hands-on time for each person, but the potential for a more festive atmosphere. Bring a friend and a bottle of wine.

www.firstclasscooking.com

PARTIES THAT COOK


Though Parties That Cook does host public classes (in particular, one for singles at Sur La Table), its specialty is creating cooking-themed events for corporate team building or private gatherings. And the experience it provides is part class, part catered meal. PTC will come to your house or help you rent a space, bring ingredients and cooking utensils, organize staff to help with hands-on instruction, and, when the meal is done, serve you and your guests restaurant-style. As an ideal option when you want to create a special event according to your tastes, PTC can accommodate up to 600 people. PTC even offers a recipe deck, complete with illustrated instructions on 30 different small dishes, that you can purchase as party favors.

601 Minnesota, SF. (415) 441-3595, www.partiesthatcook.com

COOKS BOULEVARD


Though the independent kitchenware store hosts a variety of cooking classes, the cornerstone of its educational program is Essential Knife Skills, held monthly in the gorgeous, spacious teaching kitchen at the Katherine Michiels School. The concept of the course is to teach basic safety and techniques for wielding a cook’s most important weapon, with each of up to 10 people getting to practice at their own station (and getting one-on-one attention). A bit more formal than the private cooking classes, the course is divided in half by a lovely cheese-and-cracker break. Although it’s geared toward — and useful to — anyone, this seems like an ideal class for the intermediate cook who wants to develop the ability to cook more efficiently and beautifully. (Parents take note: the company Apron Strings [415-550-7976, www.apronstringssf.com] also hosts classes for kids at this lovely location.)

1335 Guerrero, SF. (415) 647-2665, www.cooksboulevard.com

FOOD WIZ


Like Dellas, chef Marcus Gordon wants to teach that cooking should be fun and "anybody can do it." The native New Yorker hosts small classes (limited to five people) in the remodeled kitchen of his Noe Valley home, offering hands-on experience, tips and tricks, a shared meal after the class (including a cocktail — but no drinking during class), and even food to take home. Most importantly, he wants his students to realize they can make better-than-restaurant cuisine at home and to enjoy his recipes of foods "that really jump around on your tongue."

29th St. (between Church and Dolores), SF. www.foodwizsf.com

>>More Feast: The Guardian Guide to Bay Area Dining and Drinking