Whether you have always been passionate about cooking, or your culinary abilities are a bit lacking, you can refine and build on your home cooking skills in one of two ways.
Firstly, you can experiment and learn as you go. Don’t get me wrong, this will be one tough learning experience and there will be many failures along the way. But, in some ways, being a self-taught chef can result in more unique culinary ideas and methods, and it can be all the more satisfying to discover how to create groundbreaking tastes and use innovative techniques all by yourself.
Of course, you’ll need to have some basic cooking skills up your sleeve upon which to develop. These might have been taught to you by a parent, a grandparent, a mother-in-law or even a friend, however this elementary knowledge might also come from taking cookery classes at school or from having been taught introductory cooking skills in the past by an independent tutor.
Regardless of how you have reached the level of cooking you are at now, or how you go on to develop your desired skills, remember that you simply cannot achieve a good level of cooking without the help of others.
The food industry relies heavily on criticism, on inspiration and on developing ideas. As such, you will have to accept at some point that lessons learnt from other professional or novice chefs are inevitable and are extremely important to your cooking journey. After all, if you don’t open your eyes up to all of the culinary delights that are already being produced, how can you possibly expect to rival them or attempt to make even better-tasting dishes of your own? Just like any other subject or interest, you must know your field if you expect to have any chance at being on par with your peers.
Getting people to taste your food and tasting others’ is vital in learning to cook. Photo credit: mastermaq on Visualhunt.com
However, not everyone has the desire to learn to cook to be an amazing, internationally-recognised chef. For some, the ultimate goal is simply to be able to cook a nice meal for their loved ones, and to fill them with confidence when preparing weekly meals from scratch.
The Internet is a great way to learn any new skill, including cooking, with an array of information, instructions, videos and recipes at your disposal. You could argue that watching world-famous professional chefs cooking on the screen can teach you a lot about cooking methods. While it can definitely help you to visualise how to handle ingredients, truth be told, there’s absolutely nothing like tasting food first-hand, smelling the aromas and seeing it up close and personal whilst it is being cooked. This means therefore, that information you acquire from online sources, while still beneficial, should be taken with a pinch of salt and used in combination with another very important ingredient… the act of cooking in a real-life kitchen!
Whether cooking in a commercial space or simply cooking up a meal at home, get used to people watching you move around the kitchen and encourage their feedback when it comes to the all-important tasting sessions. As I have already mentioned, criticism is a key component to getting things right in the competitive world of food.
If you search online for help, you are sure to find a range of related articles to view and pin; things like ‘foods you should learn to cook in your twenties’, ‘skills every cook should know’, ‘basic recipes to learn how to cook’ or ‘learn how to cook by yourself (with pictures)’ are likely to crop up which may or may not appeal to you.
When it comes to the crunch, though, I would strongly recommend that, to learn how to cook in the best and most effective manner, the best way is to attend cooking classes in your area.
Successfully completing a cooking course can not only equip you with basic (or more advanced) kitchen skills, it can also help you to develop better cooking ideas and can even offer you an extra qualification to pursue, should you desire to enter the catering or hospitality industry as a profession.
Keep reading to find out more about the types of cooking classes you can be a part of, the various different tutors that you can hire, how much they cost and what you can expect from cooking lessons.
Are you a recent school leaver looking to complete cooking classes so that you can feed yourself whilst at university? Or a young adult moving out of the family home for the first time and in need of some cooking survival skills? Maybe you are a mature man or woman who enjoys cooking and baking as a pastime and want to expand on your existing skills in the kitchen?
Regardless of how you have come to the decision to take cooking classes, you are likely to want to know how you go about finding a suitable course or cooking tutor in your area.
There are many different calibres of chefs, as you will probably know from having watched chef personalities on the television or from having eaten in a gourmet Michelin-starred or Rosette-awarded restaurant. But do remember that those highly-qualified chefs are unlikely to offer classes, due to their busy schedules!
High-profile chefs like Gordon Ramsay are often too busy fulfilling their careers to teach others to cook. Photo credit: acme on Visualhunt.com
Having not heard of the cooking tutor running your class is no big deal, and doesn’t make them any less suitable for holding cooking classes. Just like mathematicians, it takes a very different person to become a mathematician than to teach about their subject, so keep this in mind when you look out for cooking classes to attend.
The best place to start is by looking online at local cooking classes. Here, you should find a good amount of information regarding the companies, schools or individuals offering classes, as well as an overview of what you might learn during the process. Your local county’s website may be a good place to visit too as they often list activities for the community.
One thing you’ll want to consider is whether you join a group session, where one-to-one time will be limited, or if you prefer to choose a private course whereby you can take more from it in the way of feedback, encouragement and advice.
Alternatively, if you are feeling overwhelmed by Internet searches, then why not head into your local library, tourism office or colleges in the surrounding towns to see if they have leaflets or can provide information about suitable cooking classes in the area.
As with most courses or classes, the prices will vary according to where you learn, when you go to classes and with who you are taught.
Private chefs in the capital are going to more pricey than cookery schools around the country, but again all will depend on the person/people taking the course and the class’ overall reputation and rating.
Prices will also be dependent on the level of course and the duration. As an example, the cost of a cooking tutorial at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford can cost anywhere between £185 (for a half-day intensive session) and £1,775 (for five consecutive days). For reference, this cooking school is run by Monsieur Raymond Blanc himself and is set in a beautiful Manor House, so this is probably on the higher end of the cooking schools spectrum.
You’ll find many other locations across Great Britain offering lower fees, like Llanerch Vineyard in Vale of Glamorgan where prices start at £25 for a demonstration or Swindon Park in North Yorks where a morning class can cost as little as £35.
However, if you still want to be taught by the best but for a smaller outlay, then why not consider The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath which is run by french dough expert Richard Bertinet and requires a budget of £165 for beginners classes or Padstow Seafood School, founded by none other than Rick Stein, which offers half-day cooking classes costing £95 and has financially viable residential options available.
If money is no object, then Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London is at your disposal with a £21,000+ diploma on offer, achieved over three terms! One very familiar past student is the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton herself, the epitome of class. It’s a class fit for royalty!
If you are set to begin a 12-week spell at a cooking class or culinary school, then you can almost certainly expect to learn a great deal of information about all things cooking. From vegetable prep to trimming meats, to gutting fish to making pastry, you’ll learn an incredible number of skills.
However, one very important thing that you will learn about during an extensive course is how to read recipes. It may sound simple, but dissecting recipes is actually a very skilful activity and requires a great understanding of gathering ingredients and taking direction.
One thing you will learn about recipe-reading is that everyone will interpret a recipe in their way, so the instructions you see before you are simply guidelines on how to make your own version of the dish you are setting out to cook.
In some classes, the guide will give you a recipe and ask you to re-write it in your own words to ensure that you demonstrate all of the processes in your own individual way.
Along with learning key recipes and how to read them, you will of course be taught how to treat food in the preparation process (including the consideration of food hygiene in relation to things like cutting boards, which any establishment with a kitchen must abide by). In addition, you will learn about cooking equipment; i.e. what each tool is used for and how it works.
This doesn’t mean to say that you will learn how to use commercial equipment like the water baths or blast chillers that you see each week on Masterchef: The Professionals, but instead you will learn about the importance of staple utensils like the essential paring knife, for example.
Knife skills are a very important part of cooking lessons. Photo credit: JD Hancock on VisualHunt
Technique will play a big part in your learning process. Your teacher will endeavour to pass on as much expertise as possible, like teaching you to create thick sauces packed with flavour or displaying how kitchen basics like butter, lemon, herbs and salt can be miracle ingredients.
The last and most important thing that a cooking class will teach you is confidence in your ability. Having taken in all of the techniques over the weeks and probably come face to face with a problem or two, you will no doubt learn that cooking is all about finding solutions to overcome any hurdles in the kitchen. For instance, it will give you the confidence to think on your feet when you are missing an ingredient or to be brave and add a pinch extra of spice.
While you may not have the time or funds to invest in a full-blown culinary school term, you can still expect to learn many of the above key skills on shorter courses, but in a slightly less intensive method. It may not be clear to you while you are learning, but you will take away a great deal of knowledge on kitchen processes, how best to use tools in the kitchen and, more importantly, that same vital confidence to go about your cooking without barriers.
Although many might say that confidence can’t be taught, it can indeed be gifted to you with knowledge. And confidence will not only make cooking more enjoyable, it will enable you to take more risks and use far more creativity than you would have otherwise been comfortable with.
While all classes will differ slightly in structure, which will be determined mainly by how much teaching time you have, many week-long courses will be organised in a similar way.
For instance, you can expect, if attending a 5 or 7-day course, to arrive at your chosen class at around 9am. You’ll probably be greeted with a tea or coffee and be informed of what you will be doing during the day ahead. Your tutor will most likely run through the recipes for the day, to get you excited to crack on with the practical elements of the day.
You may work on some savoury recipes over the course of the morning session, which you’ll then get to eat for lunch, followed by more demonstrations and cooking in the afternoon. You may find that a sweet dish is thrown in which you can try out as an afternoon snack with your tea but, in any case, any food you make but don’t eat is yours to take home.
The food that you cook with is provided by the cooking school, funded partly by your payment to the establishment. It is only in very rare cases that you will be given a shopping list to buy items for yourself. If a cooking tutor or school asks you to buy your own ingredients and bring them in, then you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.
You want to ensure that you have the same opportunities as others on the course, so don’t be shy to clarify which exact brands or types of ingredients you must look out for (as an example, a chestnut mushroom offers a very different taste to a portobello mushroom, so ‘mushrooms’ as an instruction is too vague in my opinion). If the cooking teacher is unsure of any of your basic food-related queries, then alarm bells should ring!
As an overview, you can expect to learn key skills at the start of your course, like basic knife skills and general cooking techniques, before leading on to more complicated aspects of cooking like how to follow recipes and how to use the confidence gained to compromise on ingredients.
For those enrolled on half-day or evening classes, your teacher will usually obtain fresh ingredients for you or themselves to work with and will provide a partial hands-on cooking class, which relies heavily on demonstration. Nevertheless, as a means of learning to cook a specific meal, this is no bad thing.
Shorter-style courses will usually focus on a particular element of cooking, perhaps even on one recipe alone.
Some of the types of independent cooking classes you can expect to find are those centred around working with chocolate, getting a taste of Italy, vegan cooking classes, cooking with herbs and creating bite-sized party foods, and decorating cakes, Antipasto Italian style, French cuisine, Gourmet cooking and How to cook pasta, to name but a few.
To recap on how best to find and choose your cooking tutor, you may wish to either consult the Internet or go to your local library or college to find out more.
However, in this section, I intend to focus on how you should choose the best course or cooking tutor for you, taking into consideration what it is you want to learn.
You may have recently thought to yourself; “I’d love to learn how to cook”. But, what exactly is being a cook? And what dishes, in reality, will you go on to cook in the real world? If your main priority is to be able to cook fancy foods in order to impress guests at your dinner parties, then you might be better off looking out for course that focus specifically on bite-size or party food.
If, on the other hand, you are looking to gain a better overall understanding of cooking food in the traditional western way, then you may be more interested in completing a beginner’s or intermediate’s course in general cooking. This will no doubt fill you with confidence in preparing tasty and well-balanced meals for your friends or family.
Finally, if you can’t get enough of The Great British Bake Off and want to try your hand at the art of cake decorating, so that you might one day be the winner of the best ‘showstopper’, then don’t settle for any cooking course. A course with a theme tailored to the cake decorating discipline will be the best choice for you, as it will be able to meet your expectations.
Cake decorating might be a good option for you if you want to start making cakes as a hobby. Photo credit: Rexness on Visual hunt
Hiring A Private Tutor
Alternatively, if you have your heart set on one-to-one classes, then consider hiring a private tutor to help you to achieve your goals. To make certain that the individual is a suitable teacher for you, then ask to see references from other clients, to see examples of their culinary creations, find out more about their cooking experiences and check out their website and social media accounts.
One-to-one classes rely on a good relationship between the two parties involved, so it is wise to make sure that the tutor is your kind of person, and that you won’t have any disagreements (hopefully not to do with cooking itself, mind you, as ultimately they are supposed to be the expert!).
Finally, although it shouldn’t be a problem if you do your research well and only use reputable tutors, schools or companies, hiring an individual can potentially have more risks than enrolling on an official course. As such, don’t skip any of the above checks, as to do so could result in you being scammed for your money.
I hope that the above information has helped you in your quest for a cooking class or tutor, and that you are now clearer on where you should be looking, what you should be looking for and what you can expect to achieve from cooking lessons.
Now, FIRE! (Chef’s speak for “start cooking!”)