Cooking 101 

Local cooking classes dish up fun

American family life tends to be centered around a) the kitchen or b) the television. It's therefore surprising that the Food Network didn't start earlier, since it seems a natural combination of the two. I personally love watching cooking shows, but the problem is: you can only watch. That's nice, but food is about the taste, right?

Local cooking classes fill that sensory gap. They're a delightful combination of the entertainment of a cooking show and the taste of a restaurant. Boise enjoys a surprisingly large number of cooking classes. Some cater more to knowledgeable cooks, some to kitchen novices. While most teach basic cooking techniques, some are more focused on the teaching aspect; others try to provide a fun night out. The mood of each class can vary from a serious cooking demonstration to a jovial cocktail party, depending on the location and the teacher.

They also range in price. Some are inexpensive—Community Education classes tend to be quite cheap, as do many of the classes offered at Easy Cookin'. Others are comparable to the price of a meal out at a fancy local restaurant—$40 per person will get you a four- or five-course meal with wine. I would have liked to attend all local venues several times, but in an attempt to not overburden my babysitter, I had to limit myself.

Kandor classes ($40 to $45) are generally demonstration classes by local chefs, with 15 to 20 participants. I attended two classes there, one on African foods taught by John Berryhill, of the eponymous café and catering company, and another on gourmet salads with Peter Blatz, owner of Cottonwood Grille. Both chefs commented that they love the friendly staff at Kandor, and it's easy to see why. They offer you wine as soon as you come in, and discreetly keep your glass filled all night. I felt like I should give a tip.

Berryhill is probably one of the most entertaining chefs in Boise. He has a predilection for mentioning the word "aphrodisiac" and he jokes a lot. The class was thoroughly enjoyable, far more fun than, say, a night out at a downtown bar. Berryhill teaches classes at his café as well, and they're probably just as fun. He clearly loves to cook, and encouraged all the participants to cook and enjoy themselves while doing it. His advice was to not always stick to recipes, but rather to find something that "you're passionate about."

In comparison, Peter Blatz's class felt more serious and informative. If you plan to attend a class with Blatz, I would recommend not drinking too much wine and taking lots of notes. Blatz is incredibly knowledgeable about his craft and shared a lot of techniques, information about food sources and even food safety tips. He is particularly fond of seafood, and featured it in three of the four recipes; he made me want to go to Cottonwood and order, well, fish. It's good to know what chefs love, because they'll likely make you love it too. (As an aside, Blatz encouraged everyone to buy fish at Reel Foods. If you haven't been to the tiny market off Americana, you should.)

Grand Gourmet's Five Star Cooking School ($35 to $45), the first to offer cooking classes in the area, was set up nine years ago with help from the Culinary Arts Program at Boise State. Toni Douglas, owner of Grand Gourmet, sees their cooking programs as an alternative to the professional classes at Boise State. Attending a series of classes should teach one the basic techniques necessary to be a good cook, says Douglas. Grand Gourmet invites celebrity chefs from outside Boise to give classes; this spring they featured famed resort chefs Gwen Ashley Walters and Michel Stroot. Offering classes year-round, their schedule lists the foods that will be taught during each class, so you know what to expect. I attended one of their popular sushi classes, taught by Sushi on the Spot owner Todd Wickstrom. He was thoroughly knowledgeable about sushi and actually made it seem easy.

According to Basque Market owner Dan Ansotegui, their cooking classes ($20 to $25) are "generally a social thing." All classes feature tapas (Spanish and Basque appetizers) and a tasting of wines from the Iberian Peninsula, with information about Basque culture. The length, price and cultural aspect make it a good bet for entertaining visitors from out of town, but make sure to call early to reserve your spot. I attended a class on Epi's Sizzling Garlic Shrimp taught by Chris Ansotegui, owner of Epi's Basque Restaurant. Ansotegui put people at ease by saying, "I'm not a chef, I just like to cook." She coached the "students" as everyone cooked their own batch of shrimp. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and many were encouraged at how easy it was. "For someone who burns water, this is pretty impressive," said one participant.

Easy Cookin' ($8 to $35) began offering classes at their new Overland location last month. They also have kids cooking classes for only $4. Though some of their classes are taught by local chefs such as Jon Mortimer, most are taught by local people who are simply good cooks and want to share their knowledge. This makes it less intimidating if you are a beginner. I attended an Easter breads class with Margie Sanders. Sanders was so pleasant and patient with our questions that I felt like I was hanging out with my neighbor in her kitchen. Except this kitchen featured a large counter, a six-burner gas range, and a large mirror that made everything very easy to watch. The class lasted about an hour and a half, during which time she baked three delicious breads that made the $8 well worth it. I got so excited that I bought some yeast and baked one of the recipes on Easter. My family was quite appreciative.

The best kept secret in area cooking classes is at Roth Distributing ($25). Jon Mortimer also teaches classes at Roth, featuring recipes he uses at his restaurant, Mortimer's. Roth Distributing, a national seller of high-end kitchen appliances, offers cooking classes in order to show off the appliances; of course, getting one of Boise's best chefs to cook the food doesn't hurt. The class was a huge bargain. Focusing on dinner and wine, the class featured five courses and five wines with a local wine distributor discussing the wines and food pairings.

To find out about upcoming classes, call early, as classes fill up quickly. Kandor (336-1336), Grand Gourmet (331-3500), Basque Market (433-1208), Easy Cookin' (323-8477) and Roth Distributing (378-4619).

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