BB Guide to Cooking Classes

Participants got their hands dirty at a recent scone making class at Skillshare.

It’s officially fall and our thoughts have turned to root vegetables, braising and quality kitchen time. Want to take a class to bone up on those culinary skills that fell by the wayside with summer’s easy salads and barbecues? Brooklyn is full of cooking classes, with options for any budget, ranging from DIY to semi-pro. We’ve rounded up some of the best and grouped them from super casual and cheap, to more involved and pricier. The mellower classes tend to take place in ad hoc spaces and bars, the fancier ones have more equipment and dedicated kitchens. Turns out they all want you to be more comfortable in the kitchen and have fun.

Casual and Low Cost
On recent a rainy day at Brooklyn Brainery in Carroll Gardens, barefooted kefir-enthusiast Daniel Stillman wove his way through students sitting on folding chairs to a chalkboard where he drew the molecular structure of kefir grains. It’s all part of the casual vibe at the Brainery–a community learning space, accessible to anyone who wants to learn just about anything. Stillman talked about using kefir to create a Camembert-like cheese and discovering how it can be turned into clotted cream or be used as a buttermilk replacement for amazing pancakes. All the while, he offered in-the-know tips like, “In the summertime, it grows funkier and faster.” Attendees tasted, touched and smelled the kefir throughout the class, which finished with samples from a kefir-inspired meal.

While “Kefir: Milk to Cheese” is a demonstration class, many food-related courses at the Brooklyn Brainery are hands-on. Co-founder Jonathan Soma teaches many of these, including World Spices ($20), Soda Making ($40 for two sessions covering ginger ale, sassafras, root beer, and more) and Cooking Ethiopian ($35). Accessibility is at the heart of the Brainery, and Soma says that with cooking for newbies, his main concern is to help students conquer their fear of doing something wrong.

For more advanced students, Soma tries to introduce new ingredients or novel ways of using them. As he explained, “Fish sauce from Thai cuisine can fix up an underperforming soup, and berbere, an Ethiopian spice mix, makes a great stand-in for chili powder .”

Classes at the Brainery are super cheap (kefir was $15) and the range is incredibly wide–anyone can visit the website and suggest a topic for a class.

Skillshare is similar to the Brainery in concept, but differently branded–slicker with the feel of a tech start-up and a national scope. Instead of one central class space, classes are offered at a variety of venues.

As Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Skillshare co-founder, explained in email, “It’s a community marketplace where people find each other online but meet up in person to share what they know.”

Once you sign on to Skillshare, you can track and suggest classes, and have listings that might be of interest emailed to you.  Cathy Erway, author of The Art of Eating In, (and Brooklyn Based contributor) taught a sushi-making class ($35) through Skillshare, and said that their online tracking system is helpful to her as a teacher because she can better gauge interest level.

For her class location, Erway picked  a bar in Cobble Hill, 61 Local Public House. 
(Their upstairs room is also the site of upcoming sausage-making classes from Brooklyn Cured.) Before class, Erway reminded students that they could get a beer from the bar before getting to work.

“I like to loosen things up a bit and show how not formal it has to be. I’m not a chef,” she said. “I’m a home cooking enthusiast and I like to show one technique and let people riff off of it.” Erway demonstrated rolling sushi with seasonal vegetables before letting the class make (and eat) a variety of their own rolls.

Fort Greene’s Kara Masi, founder of Ted & Amy’s Supper Club, may be one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Talking about her food history, she said, “I loved cooking for my friends, but couldn’t really afford to do it up the way I wanted to.” In response, she started Ted & Amy’s Supper Club, dinners that she hosts at her home that bring together twelve to fourteen people for multi-course meals and an array of wines for a modest fee.

The dual interests of food and introducing people are also behind the classes that Ted & Amy’s now offers. It’s the same inviting home environment–at Masi’s place–but students do hands-on learning, not just eating. Classes are taught by local food bloggers, cookbook authors, food artisans, and private chefs–for instance, jam-making from Laena McCarthy of Anarchy in a Jar  ($40), pickling from Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange ($40), or dumpling and wonton making by Diana Kuan of Appetite for China ($45).

Jamie-Lynn’s Kitchen offers free demonstration cooking classes every third Monday of the month at Boulevard Books & Café in Bensonhurst/Dyker Heights (the next is October 17 at 7pm). During each class, Jamie-Lynn Mollo demonstrates three recipes and then students sample what she’s made. A recent class included three appetizers–a beet, string bean and goat cheese salad, a pineapple and lentil salad, and a hard-boiled egg and cherry tomato salad.

In addition to starting Jamie-Lynn’s Kitchen in Bensonhurst, Mollo is also the author of Feel Good Cooking, a book that emphasizes incorporating gratitude into your cooking. The book, which was released on Mother’s Day three years ago, is meant to get cooks to “take a minute.” If a recipe calls for three cracks of pepper, you’re supposed to think of three people you are grateful for. If you have a bit of lag time in the kitchen while something is cooking, recipes call for you to listen to your favorite song or to call your cousin and catch up.

The same generous ethos is at work at the free demonstration, where Mollo answers any cooking questions students may have on their minds. During a recent class students were interested in how to make creamy, yet still healthy dressings. Mollo suggested using smashed up avocados and avoiding mayonnaise.  She characterizes the food from Jamie Lynn’s Kitchen as eclectic, showcasing  “home cooking at its best and healthy cooking at its tastiest.”

Pricier, But Fully Equipped

Ger-Nis Herb and Culinary Center in Park Slope/Gowanus offers a range of classes, some taught by professional chefs, others by food artisans, and some by founder, Nissa Pierson.

Pierson designed the spacious and beautiful kitchen space herself. She fills it up with students, sometimes twenty-plus, and has a sense of humor about learning to cook.

“You turn your back sometimes for a second and there is a bucket of salt in something or your crème fraîche is butter, but I like that because that’s real and that’s how you learn,” Pierson said. “That’s what’s nice about 20 people in a class–somebody is going to make a mistake. “

Pierson, a culinary herb expert, incorporates herbs into many of her classes, where students learn how to use them as a flavorful substitute for salt and fat in cooking. Pierson stresses that at Ger-nis, they try to teach students to develop their own palettes and flavors, and not just follow recipes. Upcoming classes include Rejuvenating Ramen ($65) and Fun with Whole Grains and Lucid Food ($55), with Luisa Shafia, author of Lucid Food.

“We want people to leave here with a creative and artistic spirit toward food ,” she said. “It’s amazing to witness someone who comes in as a skeptic saying they can’t cook, and suddenly has ideas of what they want to do with Massaman curry.”

Making homemade pasta at the Brooklyn Kitchen.

Located on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, Brooklyn Kitchen is possibly the best known of Brooklyn’s cooking class venues. Their popular knife skills class is regularly sold out and has been dubbed the best cooking class in Brooklyn by New York Magazine. Taught by Brendan McDermott, a classically-trained chef, the class teaches knife safety, dicing, chopping, and a spectrum of other cuts–as McDermott puts it, cuts for dining by yourself, with family or on a date.

The level of instruction is high because, as Brooklyn Kitchen class coordinator Michelle Warner explained, “All our instructors have an audition and follow specific curriculum guidelines to maintain a certain level of expertise.”

Though the fresh pasta-making class ($65) and the basic knife skills class ($50) are among the most popular, Warner is excited about a class just added to the roster, Mystery Box ($65). Here, teams of students compete in a Chopped-like competition. The catch is the instructor is right there to answer questions–so if you see your basket and want to make polenta, but don’t know how, your instructor can tell you. Some recent mystery baskets have included pork loin, red okra, maple syrup and another of golden beets, pomegranate molasses and faux hanger steak–a cut of beef that is as affordable and more plentiful than hangers.

Warner also teaches some classes, including a cast-iron skillet class and a farmer’s market class ($85), where she and her class visit the farmer’s market, then head back to Brooklyn Kitchen and prepare a meal.
(Editor’s note–Yes, BB has a relationship with Brooklyn Kitchen–editor Annaliese Griffin is married to an owner of the Meat Hook, which is located at, and in business with, BK. It would be ridiculous though, to leave them off this list.)

At Abigail Café and Wine Bar in Crown Heights, chef Abby Hitchcock is gearing up to offer classes that make use of the restaurant’s kitchen. Hitchcock is following the cooking class model she’s been honing at Camaje in the West Village for the last eleven years, where a table of eight to ten divvies up a three-course menu, takes turns preparing each course in the kitchen, then enjoys their efforts over a leisurely dinner. For example, an autumn harvest menu ($95, or 2 for $175 ) will likely run for 3.5 hours including dining time. The menu might include corn chowder, stuffed pork loin, broccoli rabe, spaghetti squash, and a plum gallette. At Abigail, there will also be tapas-making classes and a wine tasting class ($40 for 8 wines).

Hitchcock says that over the years of teaching, she’s heard many concerns from home cooks and tries to address them in her classes. How to salt food properly, what kind of pan to use (not non-stick), and what kind of oil to use for which items (olive oil is not for everything) are some of her most frequently-addressed topics.

A Class in its Own Class

Students gather around the stove at Purple Kale.

Ronna Welsh, founder of Purple Kale Kitchenworks, has a novel approach to cooking classes. She created a course around re-conceptualizing her students’ approach to cooking to mirror the tricks that make a professional kitchen so efficient.

Having worked in restaurants, Welsh explained that her workshop is “an extraction of the way in which that world runs so well–or goes bankrupt fast.”

Instead of thinking about what they want for dinner, then going out and buying ingredients just for that one meal, Welsh teaches students to buy ingredients that they find compelling, and to then think creatively and flexibly about them. Welsh gets her students strategizing about how to use each part of an ingredient. So, if you like beets, you’re thinking not just of  the beets themselves, but also beet greens, and the juice left over from roasting beets. Welsh also wants you to think about ways to prep your favorite ingredients (roasted beets, beets pickled in their own juice, cleaned beet greens) so that they are ready to go when you get into the kitchen. The result is cost effective–you end up  not wasting anything and you end up being able to make many dishes, not just the one you were initially going for.  How does ricotta ravioli in a roasted herb-y beet juice sound?

The techniques Welsh teaches are  similar to the way restaurants set up mise en place each day. When it’s actually time for dinner, your ingredients are in usable forms, and you can create quick, delicious meals or if pressed for time, you can eat straight out the container. Welsh’s blog, 2minutestodinner unpacks her concept even further.

The cost of the workshop is $325 or $275 each if you sign up with a friend. It includes a Greenmarket lunch, an array of tastings, a 60-page syllabus, and a bag of sample provisions to take home. She also offers classes for parents who want to learn how to make meals that the whole family will eat.

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