- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

Carly Brewster, 25, of Alexandria, never learned how to cook while growing up. Now her typical weeknight meal at home consists of prefab food, such as pasta from a box with sauce from a jar. It's fast but not much fun.
"I really want to learn how to cook. It seems like so much fun," Miss Brewster says. "But I am totally intimidated by cookbooks. You have to see it [made], and you have to be able to ask questions."
A quick search at Barnes and Noble's Web site showed more than 37,000 matches for the search word "cookbooks," but, like Miss Brewster, many people say they need a more interactive and visual introduction to the art of cooking than they could get by just reading recipes from a book.
That's why cooking schools such as L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, which has been open for 26 years, and Sur La Table in Arlington, keep increasing their number of nonprofessional classes.
"When we started 26 years ago, we offered maybe four classes a week," says Patrice Dionot, co-owner of L'Academie de Cuisine. "Now we offer about 25 classes a week."
Miss Brewster took her first class about two weeks ago at Sur La Table. She, along with 14 other participants some beginners, some more seasoned cooks learned how to make pasta from scratch and to make four different sauces to go with the favorite Italian starch.
"My mother is Italian, but I never learned how to cook," Miss Brewster says. "Being Italian, I feel like it's mandatory to know how to cook pasta," she says.
So, it was natural that her first class would be on pasta making.
The $70 (the price of maybe two or three cookbooks) pasta class is hands-on, which means the 15 participants work on their own pasta dough and shape their own pasta. Four varieties were taught the day Miss Brewster attended the thin angel hair, the wide fettuccini, and the even wider pappadelle and lasagne.
Other classes offered at cooking schools such as Sur la Table are demonstration classes, much like the cooking shows on TV, where participants only listen to instruction..
First, Bonnie Moore, the former sous-chef at the Inn at Little Washington, shows the participants how to make the dough: Add one egg to your one-cup mound of flour, add a little olive oil and salt and then stir it together carefully.
When it gets difficult to stir, you start kneading the dough, Ms. Moore says. Add flour until the dough isn't sticky anymore. Then, run it through a pasta maker a kind of food-mangle press to make it thin and long.
"Watching her, I didn't think I would be able to do it; it looked so difficult. But it was actually pretty easy," says Kristine Miller of Alexandria, who worked her dough next to Miss Brewster.
"Learning by doing is so much easier than trying to figure out how to make something by reading a cookbook. Plus, this is interactive. If you have a question, you can just ask her," Ms. Miller says. "It's not like you can call Betty Crocker up."
Miss Brewster, who shot nervous glances around the room while working on her tiny ball of yellow dough, made a batch of angel hair that the teacher, Ms. Moore, was pleased with.
"She said it was perfect," Miss Brewster says, all smiles.
The pasta class is a basic cooking class, says Sally Nash, culinary program coordinator at Arlington's Sur La Table. The chain's cooking schools have increased from one to 14 nationwide in five years.
However, the pasta class is not the most basic.
That category is occupied by "How to Boil Water: The Basic Cooking Series," a popular class that teaches such cooking skills as boiling, poaching, steaming, blanching, sauteing, pan frying, deep frying, baking, roasting and grilling all of which are essential techniques if you are going to use a cookbook, Ms. Nash says.
"That class gets people started," she says. "A lot of people read a recipe and wonder what it means when it says 'blanch' this or 'saute' that."
Another popular class among beginner cooks is "Basic Knife Skills," which teaches participants how to use and care for knives, including how to sharpen them correctly.
Hands-on classes are more popular than demonstration classes at both Sur La Table and L'Academie de Cuisine.

No particular age group dominates the Sur La Table classes. Some of the participants are in their 50s with their children off to college and a lot more time on their hands.
A lot of people in their 20s and 30s also attend the classes, Ms. Nash says.
"This area is very young, and I see a lot of young professionals in our classes who just don't know how to cook," she says. "I think they are often overachievers, if you want to call it that, and everything they do, they want to do well."
Contrary to what some may think, the classes are popular among men too, Ms. Nash says. The pasta class, for example, had seven male participants and eight female members.
One of the main functions of the hands-on cooking classes is to familiarize people with the kitchen and food preparation enough to allow them to enjoy cooking, rather than be apprehensive about it, says Susanna Linse, public relations manager for Sur La Table in Seattle.
"The 'How to Boil Water' class is, I would say, a way to introduce cooking to people who have little or no cooking experience," Ms. Linse says. "It's to help them overcome their intimidation about being in the kitchen."

During the second half of the pasta class, Ms. Moore demonstrates how to make four different sauces to go with the pastas: gorgonzola cream sauce, roasted tomato sauce, lemon-parsley sauce and ricotta pesto sauce.
The participants watch intently as Ms. Moore whips up the sauces while giving specific as well as general instructions about cooking.
"Roasting tomatoes in the oven with a little olive oil is a great way to produce tasty tomatoes when they're really not that tasty," Ms. Moore says as she prepares the roasted tomato sauce.
Then she gives the participants advice on vegetable lasagne: Vegetables release a lot of water when heated, and to firm them up, use cheese and bread crumbs.
Then a pasta tip: "You don't want to pour cold water on the pasta, because the starch is what makes the sauce stick to the pasta," Ms. Moore says.
And a garlic tip: "If the garlic has started sprouting, take the green part out. It's bitter and it will make your dish bitter too," she says.
After the students have cooked the fresh pasta for a minute and mixed each of the four kinds with a different sauce, it's time for what some would consider the biggest reward of the evening: the meal.
"It looks awesome," Ms. Miller says, followed by a string of oohs and aahs among the other participants.
After an informal poll, Ms. Moore determines that the pappadelle with the ricotta pesto sauce was the hit of the evening.
"I love to teach because any time you can empower people it's a great thing," Ms. Moore says. "People are so intimidated by cooking. But there is no big secret. It's only food."


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