- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As job and stock market numbers waltz down the drain, fancy dinners on the town may be few and far between.

Not to worry. With the help of dozens of area cooking classes you can learn how to prepare the deliciously fabulous in your very own kitchen. Prices range from free to upward of $80 a session. The latter may sound pricey, perhaps, but in the long run you could save lots by learning how to cook on the cheap.

“People are amazed at how cheap some cuts [of meat] are and how delicious they can be if you prepare them right,” says Ralph Rosenberg, director of operations for downtown restaurants Zola and the recently opened Zola Wine & Kitchen, which offers cooking classes.

On a recent Wednesday, during the Dollar-Saving Comfort Food class, participants were surprised - while making beef bourguignon - at how much money they could save by using a cheaper cut of beef (for example, shoulder at about $3.80 a pound) compared with, say, filet mignon (about $16 a pound), Mr. Rosenberg says.

“There are a lot rewards in learning how to cook,” he says. “Saving money is one.”

Zola’s two-hour Wednesday class costs $70 a session or $250 for four sessions. The restaurant also offers classes in baking, wine and knife skills.

Speaking of wielding knives, at Sur La Table in Arlington, one of the most popular classes is the knife skills class, says Angie Lee, assistant culinary coordinator for the store.

“A lot of people are intimidated by the knife block they received as a gift way back when. They don’t know how to use it,” Ms. Lee says. “They want to be able to do what the Food Network people do.”

Most of Sur La Table’s classes cost between $69 and $79 a session; typically the price is higher if the ingredients are pricey.

There are also free, and almost free, classes in the area, such as those offered at Whole Foods Annapolis. Among featured topics are Greek, cheap and lean cooking, says Frances Vavloukis Chumley, culinary specialist for the store.

Cooking classes also can be found at various community centers and colleges in the area, such as Anne Arundel Community College (where many of the one-session classes cost $49) and Fairfax County Adult and Community Education (where many of the courses feature three sessions for $139).

While learning how to cook is essential - obviously - to any cooking class, enjoying the meal afterward with other class participants also is important. At least that’s the idea at Zola.

“We wanted to make sure the classes weren’t one-dimensional,” Mr. Rosenberg says. “Pair the meal with a glass of wine and good conversation, and it’s become more than just a class.”


Zola Wine and Kitchen: www.zolawinekitchen.com

Sur La Table: www.surlatable.com

Whole Foods: www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Anne Arundel Community College: www.aacc.edu

Fairfax County Adult and Community Education: www.fcps.edu

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