These Cooking Schools Focus on Fresh and Simple Cuisine
Mid-July, and the theme at the Healdsburg SHED in the heart of California’s wine country is pie, pickles and preserves. Inside the award-winning building—equal parts restaurant, café, fermentation bar, shop and community gathering space (a.k.a. the Grange)—is a weathered, 12-foot-long wooden table on which lies a mélange of rolling pins, pastry flour and pie plates. These are for sale, along with Mason jars and instructional books, baskets of seasonal fruit and gourmet sugars. The selection is carefully curated to inspire, and inspire it does. Patrons browse the goods and inquire within, delighted to learn that in addition to purchasing the wares, there are a range of classes available where they can learn to use them.
“Most of our students are interested in the whole picture of agriculture rather than just eating or following a recipe,” says Grange manager Stephanie Callimanis. “We teach food crafting—everything from how to understand how your food was grown and who grew it, to how to prepare it, and then how to bring that knowledge home with you.”
Cooking classes at SHED generally correspond with the ever- rotating monthly theme—you could sign up for a class on beekeeping or fermentation. It’s a curriculum that heralds a new direction for cooking schools, and today more than ever, schools such as SHED open their doors to all those who love food, aiming to deliver an inclusive, casual immersion. We found schools staffed by animated chefs eager to share their culture’s tastiest samplings and that welcome students of varying ability, focusing on imparting knowledge in a relaxed, supportive environment. Which is why learning to preserve California-grown fruit or to coax eggs and flour into authentic Italian pasta while on vacation sounds so appealing. These schools are fun: learn to braise your own lamb shanks, boil your own bagels and toss your own green salad in vinaigrette made from scratch. Visit the local market with your instructor (who speaks the local language and knows the purveyors) and learn to identify the best eggplant or prime cut of meat. Then lose yourself in the school’s kitchen as you gain skills that will last long after your vacation.
Fonte de Medicim at Osteria di Passignano in Tuscany
Matia Barciulli wants to simplify your cooking and inspire your spirit. Executive chef at Osteria di Passignano on the Antinori estate, a Tuscan destination that features a restaurant, wine cellar, cooking school, and wine shop, Barciulli coordinates all of the property’s cooking classes and teaches the majority of them. His philosophy is alluring: “You eat 21 meals in a week. Eighteen of them must be to survive—fruits and vegetables and all that good stuff. The other three must feed your soul. All of them must be delicious.”
To that end, the classes at Fonte de Medici introduce you to traditional Tuscan cuisinef: homemade pasta, sauces, chocolate and more. The courses showcase the simplicity of Tuscan cooking—“with two eggs and a bunch of flour, you can feed 10 people,” Barciulli says. While making pasta or gnocchi from scratch might be intimidating, anyone can do it.
“My job,” he says, “is to give the guests the freedom to move easily in the kitchen when they are home by themselves. I am here to make people happy, and through the creation of these dishes, through making their own pasta, I succeed.”
Barciulli insists that using select, choice ingredients is key to crafting nourishing meals. “We Tuscans are simple,” he says. “We use beautiful ingredients. They are fresh and natural, and we don’t overwork them.” Simple does not mean boring. Here you’ll learn how to incorporate chocolate into a range of dishes—both sweet and savory—and how to cook meat in a way that renders it tender and juicy. And you will do it all on the stainless steel countertops of Osteria di Passignano’s kitchen classroom in a rustic stone cottage.
Following class, tour the ancient cellars beneath the Abbey of Passignano and then dine on the fruits of your labor—with wine pairings, of course.
SHED in Healdsburg, California
A white apron, chef’s hat cooking school this is not. SHED, one of Sonoma County’s hottest destinations is not, in fact, even a school. Nor is it entirely a restaurant, a retailer or a farm. Rather it is a unifying space where you can taste fresh and seasonal food prepared from the surrounding farm’s bounty at the café, find a package of seeds and gardening gear in the shop and then take a class.
“Ours is a multifaceted experience with food and farming, the big picture of what the region offers,” SHED manager Stephanie Callimanis says. Founded in 2013 by Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton, SHED aims for the agrarian mindset lauded by Wendell Berry, which is “rooted in good cooking, good farming and good eating.”
Classes at SHED address a wide range of topics from biodynamic viniculture to preserving seasonal bounty and more. With a grain mill on-site, SHED offers whole-grain baking classes and soba-making classes using buckwheat. Fermentation classes give you insight into the processes taking place downstairs at SHED’s fermentation bar, which has beer and wine on tap along with kefir, kombucha and mead. Local and visiting chefs, such as cookbook author and executive chef Tom McNaughton of San Francisco’s Flour + Water, teach classes on their specialties. As enticing as the actual class content is SHED’s ambience. The 10,000-square-foot space, a modern steel-and-glass building with roll-up garage doors and an open floor plan, won the 2014 James Beard Best Restaurant Design Award. Callimanis says classes at SHED are casual and comfortable, and appeal to diverse skill sets.
River Cottage Cookery School in Devon, England
It’s easy to get distracted during a course at the River Cottage Cookery School. With 100 acres of organic farmland outside its windows and the ocean just beyond, you could get lost in the idyllic nature of it all. Fortunately what goes on in River Cottage’s classroom is just as intriguing as the scenery outside it.
“Everything is hands-on here,” says head chef Gelf Alderson as he ticks through the course offerings: “Catch and Cook” (fish), “Nose to Tail” (butchering and preparing all cuts of meat), “Build and Bake” (clay ovens and bread). There are many more; you could opt to learn cheese making or how to forage for mushrooms or take a class focusing on vegetarian cooking. Almost every ingredient here comes from River Cottage’s own farm. Ingredients that can’t be sourced on-site are from nearby farms, a delightful change from what most students are accustomed to at home, says Alderson. “Most of us are very used to our food arriving washed and wrapped in plastic looking perfect,” he says. “We want to take a step back in time to where you know the farmer who grew your vegetables or raised your animal.”
Most popular is a one-day class that covers a little bit of everything. The day starts with tea or coffee and treats from the kitchen before diving into bread making, preparing dough you’ll return to throughout the day—to knead, shape and bake. Next is the pudding course, followed by a session on meat that goes well beyond the ordinary. “We use ingredients that people don’t usually use, like the liver and kidney, also known as offal,” Alderson says. “We change the way people see those sort of cuts.” Next you’ll learn to cook fish and also make quick and tasty vegetarian snacks. “A simple carrot or cauliflower can be turned into something amazing,” Alderson says. For the grand finale, you’ll pull it together and add some final touches. And then you’ll eat it
Le Foodist in Paris, France
Located in the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter, minutes from the two open-air markets (Place Monge and Maubert Mutualité), Le Foodist is the dream of Frenchman Fred Pouillot. (Pouillot’s first career was as a chemical engineer.) Founded three years ago, Le Foodist offers multiple hands-on classes in a week, some with visits to the markets mentioned above. In addition, the school is a short Metro ride from the famous grocery store La Grande Épicerie and also from St. Germain’s covered market. (Depending on your class, you may end up at either location on a field trip.) Classes are intimate—11 students max—and foster the love of food that is so integral to French culture.
While all are welcome, you’ll feel most at ease here if you already know your way around a kitchen. “The vast majority of our students make food a central part of their travels and are quite well educated,” Pouillot says. “It’s very exciting because they are passionate about food and quick learners.”
Using raw, fresh ingredients, you’ll prepare classic French recipes that Pouillot has modernized or adapted to a class setting—Carpaccio of scallops and root vegetables with a curry vinaigrette, coq au vin in the Parisian style, potato mash in the style of Joel Robuchon, salmon tartare with a yuzu-based vinaigrette served on a turnip poached in a soy syrup or Mediterranean lamb stew with glazed vegetables. You’ll also learn the arts of plating and pairing wines with food before class ends with eating the meal you’ve helped prepare. “I love it when people have what I call an ‘a-ha’ moment—when they understand why things are done a certain way, or how to simplify their life in the kitchen by adapting a technique,” says Pouillot. “Students leave Le Foodist having experienced a true French meal.”