Some of the most tantalizing new cooking courses being introduced by local chefs have little to do with what shows up between appetizer and entrée. They are about what the customer can take home - not leftovers, necessarily, but recipes and culinary advice.
Madison has a voracious appetite for cooking classes. Settings are commercial kitchens to fine dining restaurants. Most outlets combine entertainment and education, socializing and sustenance. The best turn a mere meal into an unusual getaway.
How to size up supply vs. demand? Half of the dozen March classes offered at All Through the House, Stoughton, were at capacity weeks ago. Two others had only one seat open. Business proceeds in a similar manner at Madison's Orange Tree Imports.
L'Etoile chef Tory Miller recently set up March 26 and April 16 "spillover classes" to accommodate a surplus of interest in his "classic rustic Italian" and cooking-with-the-seasons classes, respectively. Instructors say a helpful springboard for culinary instruction is nutritious, in-season ingredients that are grown locally. Forays into ethnic cooking also appear often. Consider the Whole Foods class lineup, which includes two-hour, $25 classes on the cuisine of India (March 13), Pakistan (March 20) and Indonesia (March 24).
The razing of Union South means Wisconsin Union Mini Courses that involve food will temporarily move to Breese Terrace Union, 1552 University Ave. The first such class in this space, "The Art of Nepali Cooking," is March 3.
"Once this space is open and we can show instructors the teaching kitchen, we hope to get more [food] courses offered," says Jay Ekleberry, program director. Hands-on learning with like-minded people is valuable in itself, he says, but "hopefully, you leave with the confidence that you can re-create the dishes in your own kitchen."
Noncredit, one-session classes through Madison Area Technical College include cooking with chicken, cooking for diabetics and baking healthy breads. Madison School & Community Recreation students need only invest $16 to learn how to cook for one, enlarge their spice cabinet or spruce up their breakfast.
Much more pricey is the occasional $150 Chef for a Day hands-on class with Wave Kasprzak, a former Madison chef, at the Dining Room at 209 Main, a limited-hours restaurant that he and wife Jane Sybers operate in tiny Monticello, 30 miles southwest of Madison.
Instruction is intimate, involving only four students, who arrive at 1 p.m. on a Sunday and learn to prepare a six-course dinner. Each student invites a guest to join them at 5 p.m.; the final feast includes matching wines, and the $150 fee includes the dinner guest's meal.
Kasprzak also occasionally offers two-hour cooking demonstrations. Students watch him work, then they eat. The cost typically is $60, and upcoming topics include Indian cooking, which offers advice on making curry powders.
"Some people have been cooking for years and want to get out of a rut and find new dishes that are easy to prepare and taste great," says Kim Walter of Stoughton's All Through the House. "Others want to try a new cuisine, ingredient or learn to use spices in new and adventurous ways." Instructors offer tips about where to shop for ingredients and techniques to make cooking or baking easier. Classes cost about $40 and last at least two hours.
"We like to think we offer something for everyone's tastes, and utilize ingredients that are readily available," Walter says. Sometimes class topics, such as soups and sushi, are a response to customer requests.
Huma Siddiqui of White Jasmine, which sells exotic and unusual spice blends, is among the guest instructors here and elsewhere. She also hosts White Jasmine Everyday Cooking, a weekly cooking show on NBC-15.
Shows are taped on Sunday afternoons, and people with reservations can attend and taste.
"We all get tired of making the same recipes over and over again," Siddiqui says. "From time to time, it is important to ramp up the palate and try some new flavors."
The most popular classes at Orange Tree Imports feature local restaurant chefs, ethnic themes, menus for entertaining, baking, knife skills or food/wine pairings. Gretchen Harrell, cooking school director, also has noticed a large increase in the number of men taking classes.
"I think the experienced home cook can always pick up tips from the professional chefs and caterers, and also learn about new cuisines and ingredients," she says.
Head 25 miles northwest, to Sauk City, and you'll find chefs from as far away as Colorado "say cheese" during cooking classes at the Carr Valley Cooking School, a test kitchen operated by an artisan cheesemaker whose products have garnered dozens of national and international awards.
"People all across the country are really trying to learn how to create a restaurant-quality meal in their own kitchens," says Sid Cook, master cheesemaker at Carr Valley Cheese.
A good chef will "put a new twist on common dishes and ingredients," he believes. Students pay $45 for three hours of instruction and eating.
Upcoming guest chefs include Christian "Goose" Sorensen of Solera Restaurant, Denver; Jason Gorman of Dream Dance, Milwaukee; Brian Jurkowski of Morels Restaurant, Middleton; and Kent Rathbun of Abacus and Jasper's restaurants, Dallas.
"We like to invite chefs from all over the country because it really does open the doors to what people like in different regions," Cook says. They also use his cheeses in class recipes.
Finally, don't forget the kids. Bean Sprouts' classes steer budding chefs of all ages to healthier cooking and eating. Where else can you learn to make soup and become a superhero at the same time?
- All Through the House
160 E. Main St., Stoughton, , 608-826-6986
- Carr Valley Cooking School
807 Phillips Blvd., Sauk City, , 608-938-2200
25 N. Pinckney St., Madison, , 608-258-2301
- Madison School & Community Recreation
Classes at Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St., Madison, , 608-255-8211
- White Jasmine Everyday Cooking
Airs at 11:30 a.m. Mondays on NBC-15, , 608-233-9566
- Wisconsin Union Mini Courses
Various Madison locations, www.wiscedu/mincourses, 608-262-3156