Dining

What's Cooking

We tried five local culinary schools for a taste of what they offer.

By
November 2008

For the novice...The Seasoned Chef Cooking School
Mexican Cooking Workshop
Cooking under instructor Charlotte Saenz is a bit like making a secret family recipe while grandma looks on—every step must be completed just so. After a good spiel on safety, Saenz slowly walks her students through each ingredient, recommending brands as she goes. Seated at the round tables in the immaculate kitchen, the 20 or so of us spend the first "cooking" portion of the class staring up at a massive mirror angled over the stovetop space while Saenz demonstrates—occasional volunteers required. Afterward, we split into small teams to tackle a menu item. And whether it's the pico de gallo or the sopaipillas, we leave the class experts at preparing that one dish, with the other recipes in hand. 303-377-3222, www.theseasonedchef.com

For the curious cook...Cook Street School of Fine Cooking
Thanksgiving Feast
The best part of John Park's Thanksgiving Feast class is the explanation behind each step of preparation and execution. (Why do you always slice your bird against the grain? Because it holds in the juices to retain flavor and moisture.) And there's no small number of steps when it comes to making a meal that includes smoked paprika and fennel seed roast turkey with onion gravy. Park's teaching style leans toward the watch-and-learn variety with occasional hands-on tasks. The 24 students who gather around the kitchen island in the gleaming brick-and-chrome space get an up-close-and-personal experience full of helpful how-to tips, like testing for viscosity in gravy: Run your finger over the gravy-covered spatula, and if it holds the line it's perfect. Duly noted. 303-308-9300, www.cookstreet.com

For the social butterfly...Culinary School of the Rockies
Caribbean Flavors
In CSR's cheery, large learning-kitchen in Boulder, the air hums with busy chatter and clanking cookwear as 15 students buzz around. Our randomly selected groups are each responsible for a few items off the four-course menu—maybe Puerto Rican caldo gallego or Jamaican jerk chicken with red banana chutney—and we find ourselves joking with strangers as we work our way through the tasks. Everyone has a job, whether it's tracking down ingredients, deveining shrimp, or chopping onions, and chef Michael Montgomery of Boulder's Tee & Cakes hops from station to station to monitor progress and offer up helpful hints. Afterward, the long, family-style dining table roars with laughter and discussion as we eat the fruits of our labor. 303-494-7988, www.culinaryschoolrockies.com

For those in the know...A Cook's Kitchen
Dumplings Galore
In a class just six students deep, chef-fromager-sommelier Elizabeth Woessner and television cooking personality Claudine Pépin (daughter of renowned French chef Jacques Pépin) flit around Woessner's personal Denver kitchen rolling ravioli dough and mixing pierogie filling. Neither instructor is married to the recipes she's provided, and they banter good-naturedly about techniques in the intimate kitchen as the wine flows freely. While successfully running the delicate dough sheets through Woessner's pasta machine is certainly satisfying, the bigger draw is the camaraderie we form with both our hosts. It's inevitable in this setting, and as we nosh on our apps and sip vino, conversation quickly turns to the inside scoop on Denver's foodie scene—a delightful topic for all. 303-861-4626, www.acookskitchen.net

For the couple...Mise En Place
Italian Cuisine
This cafe-setting classroom with bistro-style tables in the heart of LoDo offers the opportunity to jump in head-first or simply observe. With little direction (despite a charming introduction by guest chef Diego Coconati of Boulder's Seven on Pearl), some students amble toward the massive hunks of beef that will eventually become porcini-crusted sirloin steak with smoked Gouda polenta, while others claim the tiramisù station or begin mixing the demi-sauces. The lack of organization matters little, as most students are happy to enjoy the experience with a significant other. Wine and beer is available to purchase, and after the staff serves up our three-course meal we're happy to leave the (expected) 20 percent tip. 303-293-2224, www.miseenplaceschool.com