Whether it’s the economy, a desire to eat healthier, the need to learn the basics or inspiration sparked by television cooking shows, local cooking schools are filling their classes.
The interest is driven by people across the age continuum, from teens wanting to become vegetarians to young adults who realize they don’t know the basics, to seniors who want an alternative to their old recipes.
“People can’t afford to go out and eat as much, but they also are realizing they can do it at home easily,” said Nancy Hebb, director of the Bayview School of Cooking in Olympia.
“But I also get disturbed when I plunk down $20 for something that I know I can cook better at home,” Hebb added. “It’s not gourmet cooking, but just a higher-end version of the way they are used to cooking.”
For two decades, David Gabbe has been teaching vegetarian classes across the Northwest, including at Pierce College. Now living in Portland, the former Olympia resident said some students are drawn to his classes for health reasons.
“They have health issues, maybe blood pressure or they’re trying to lose weight,” Gabbe said. “They come to my class to learn how to use beans and grains or tofu to improve their health.”
Others are taking classes because they reflect the Northwest lifestyle, and to save some money.
“Beans, grains and tofu are a lot cheaper to buy than meat, salmon, cheese and the like,” he said. “But with the availability of fresh produce at farmers markets and health food stores, I find what I do fits in well with people’s living styles here in the Northwest.”
Hebb and David Dagley, owner of Jonz Catering in University Place, also credit the Food Network for prompting people to take classes.
“The exposure the Food Network has given to different techniques and styles has been good,” Dagley said. “It’s also increased the curiosity about food. They want to learn more about it.”
Dagley admits, however, that he had to change his approach to classes.
“At first I thought there was … curiosity about how we prepare food in a professional kitchen. But people don’t care about your knifework,” Dagley said. “It’s about what food is all about, people getting together with friends, sharing a couple bottles of wine, having some good food and having a great time.”
Here’s a look at three places in our area that teach cooking courses.
Bayview School of Cooking
516 West Fourth St., Olympia
Cost: Most classes range from $25 to $50, with some free offerings.
Cooking classes in the Bayview Thriftway have always been popular, said Nancy Hebb, school director. The change is the student demographic.
“What I have noticed is in our general classes, the numbers aren’t up dramatically. But of the people attending, more than half are new,” Hebb said. “I have really seen a lot of new faces, and seeing younger people who are very anxious to learn how to cook.”
She attributes the change to a lack of cooking education through school home economic classes.
“It is creating a real void in people’s culinary acumen. I had one young lady ask me what parboil was,” Hebb said. “So we’re going to offer a back-to-basics class this fall. It is necessary.”
Thursday classes offered by Pat Leslie, who once worked for the Washington State University Cooperative Extension, were so popular with seniors that a second free class was added.
“I think they are getting tired of their old cooking habits. They’re also hearing so much about super foods such as omega-3s and antioxidants,” Hebb said. “They want to learn how to cook with these types of foods, plus fresh and organic foods.”
When the monthly class started, as many as eight people attended. That number now reaches 90, Hebb said.
601 S Pine St. No. 102, Tacoma
Cost: $65, includes recipes and instruction, lunch with a glass of wine, tax and gratuity.
Owner and chef Charlie McManus has been offering classes ever since Primo Grill opened nine years ago. He now does about 20 classes a year, usually on Saturdays.
“People take them because they want to be able to cook better,” he said. “Also it’s a form of entertainment to watch a chef. It’s a fun learning experience.”
McManus offers classes that focus on regional (Mediterranean) or seasonal foods (Copper River salmon) or techniques for making dishes like risotto or pizza.
A grilling class offered each spring also is popular because it mixes technique and shopping tips, and recipes.
“I show people how to set up a grill, how to get the most out of their grills, the best tools, and then go through some recipes,” McManus said. “I also show the participants how to fillet a salmon, what to look for in fish in the market and how to grill salmon. I share different recipes for salmon and steak and different finishes for it so you have a great presentation at home.
“People are interested in gourmet food and cuisine. They take the classes because they want to learn something and have some fun.”
Pierce Community College
Continuing Education program
Puyallup Activity Center
210 West Pioneer, Puyallup
Cost: $39 per class.
With David Gabbe’s classes, Pierce College is an option for those wanting to learn more about vegetarian eating.
“People are getting more into organic, healthy cooking, looking for meatless alternatives. Part of it is the health kick, people are into low-fat, healthy meals,” said Kathleen Beaumont, the school’s program manager.
Gabbe is the author of five books, including “David’s Pure Vegetarian Kitchen,” “The Going Vegetarian Cookbook” and “Why Do Vegetarians Eat Like That.”
“He gets into expanding your options for you menu, including things that would appeal to nonvegetarians,” Beaumont said.
Among Gabbe’s Pierce class offerings are “Vegetarian on the Go” and “Vegetarian Thanksgiving.”
“He also does a vegan cheese class using tofu and other products to come up with the cheese. I’ve had tofu egg salad, and it’s really wonderful. It’s made without eggs and without mayonnaise,” Beaumont said.
While most students are older than 30, Beaumont said, she’s seeing a lot of teenagers who are interested in learning to eat vegetarian and parents of vegan teens who have no idea what to feed them.
“It part of the greening of America, eating more organic foods, part of the movement to live healthier and be more aware of where our food comes from. And it tastes good,” Beaumont said.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640