What’s cooking in Baltimore? From sushi to Thai food to homemade pasta, pretty much every cuisine under the sun. Lucky for us, Charm City is blessed with an array of classes for fledgling cooks and experts alike.
People are heading home to the range for a couple of reasons. “The meteoric rise of the Food Network helped fuel foodie awareness and enthusiasm,” says Jay Blotcher, a media specialist for the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a leading training ground for chefs.
But 9/11 was a factor, too, even today. “We’ve had a seismic shift,” Blotcher says. “It really did shake us up to the point where people want the security of home-cooked meals again. People want to get back to basics.”
With that in mind, we went in search of the best cooking programs in the Baltimore area. And we found a veritable smorgasbord of classes, sure to bring out the inner chef in everyone. Ready . . . set . . . cook!
Note: This version of the story contains classes and recipes that did not appear in print.
Chef’s Expressions at the Gramercy Mansion
1400 Greenspring Valley Rd., Stevenson, 410-561-2433
The classes, taught by chefs Jerry Edwards and John Walsh, are dinner theater and culinary lesson all in one. “This class is more of an observation class,” says Edwards, who runs cooking demonstrations as a companion to his successful catering company, Chef’s Expressions. “The idea is to get people excited, to give them a good meal and good drinks. We are there to entertain, and while they may learn things along the way, we are not there to turn them into chefs—we don’t need the competition.” Occasionally, however, the duo competes with one another. “We are culinary soul mates,” cracks Edwards. “John likes to say, ‘Never trust a skinny chef.’ I like to say, ‘You are only as good as your last meal.’ And both of us have total joie de vivre.”
CUISINE: A variety of classes, including Middle Eastern-inspired dishes and homemade pasta. DETAILS: Classes are held from 6-8 p.m. about six times a year; upcoming classes include “Poulet and Poisson,” “Celebrate the Pig,” “Hearty Pasta & Soups.” Single classes: $60 (including wine pairings); three classes, $160; six classes, $300. Participants receive a take-home recipe book. Capacity for up to 60 people. INSTRUCTOR: Jerry Edwards and French-born chef John Walsh. COOKING TIP: “The recipe is only half the story,” says Edwards. “Technique is the key. How hot was the pan? How long did it sear? How whipped are the eggs?” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Being able to cook is a natural-born talent,” believes Edwards. “Just as a musician can hear the music without playing, I can taste a dish just by looking at it.”
Cooking at Pierpoint with Nancy Longo
1822 Aliceanna St., 410-675-2080
With her classes at Pierpoint Restaurant, Nancy Longo’s mission is to take the fear factor out of the kitchen. “I’ve had some people tell me they’ve taken classes with the ‘Frenchies’ and been screamed at the entire time,” says Longo, who started her classes in 1990 and has more than 500 students a year. Though her classes are more laid-back in style, they’re also reminiscent of what you might find in a professional culinary institute. “I teach technique,” she says. “If I’m teaching a fish class, for instance, I teach how to gut and debone a fish. We’re not just making pâté. You don’t come to my class to make something cute in one hour.”
CUISINE: Indian, Southwestern, barbecue, modern American, sauces, holiday cooking, vegetarian, gluten free, and classes for kids.DETAILS: $75 ($65 in advance); discounts for taking more than three classes and for students. Includes a group meal with wine and beer; classes capped at 10 and last up to three hours. INSTRUCTOR: Nancy Longo, a James Beard nominee and a graduate of Baltimore International College. COOKING TIP: “If someone has written a book, and they are a credible author, follow the directions,” Longo says. “Don’t just add soy sauce to a dish. You have to be an anthropologist and understand borrowed cuisines and spices that go together.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The most surprising thing about teaching?” she says. “I’ve had 8-year-olds in my class who knew the history of garam masala and how to make hollandaise. We can thank the Food Network for that.”
5850 Waterloo Rd., Columbia, 410-465-2399
“Ten years ago, I started cooking classes thinking I was going to write a cookbook,” says Donna Crivello of Donna’s. “When I was still in the space at The Baltimore Museum of Art [now home to Gertrude’s], I was talking to a publisher about recipes for home cooks, and there was interest, but I never had a deadline, so it never got done.” Having so many tried-and-true recipes in her repertoire prompted Crivello to start teaching. “People take classes for a variety of reason,” she says. “Some people go home and try to cook what I’ve shown them or modify what they’ve seen. For others, they’re just happy to get out and socialize.”
CUISINE: Single-session demonstration classes on soups, pies and tarts, holiday dishes, salads, dressings, and vegetarian dishes. DETAILS: $50, includes samples of the recipes that are prepared, wine, and take-home recipes; most Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. INSTRUCTOR: Former Sun food stylist turned eponymous restaurateur Donna Crivello. COOKING TIP: “You don’t need to have tons of equipment or special ingredients to be a good cook,” Crivello says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “My goal is to help everyone learn to cook without a recipe and without having to run to the store for every ingredient,” she says.
For the Love of Food
20 Clarks Ln., Reisterstown, 443-865-0630
Diane Bukatman has an impressive culinary resume that includes an apprenticeship at the famed Le Cirque restaurant and teaching gigs at the New York Restaurant School and French Culinary Institute. But after years of teaching for others, Bukatman decided to start her own cooking school. “I love sharing a passion for food,” says Bukatman. “But I didn’t want to teach in a place where I had to administer tests.” Twelve years ago, she founded For the Love of Food, a culinary school she runs out of two professional kitchens in her Reisterstown home. She likes the challenge. “To teach cooking, you have to be part cooking teacher, part actress, and part stand-up comedian,” she says.
CUISINE: The focus is on promoting kitchen confidence through technique and the how’s and why’s of cooking; other classes offered include Thai cooking, sushi, pasta, and knife skills. DETAILS: “How to Think Like a Chef,” a six-class series costs $425; some classes are single sessions; a meal is included; BYOB; some equipment used is available for purchase. INSTRUCTOR: Diane Bukatman. COOKING TIP: “Never cook when you’re in a rush and love what you’re doing,” she says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “For me, when I’m cooking, something opens up,” she says. “When I’m having a hard time breathing, and I’m cooking, it’s like, ‘I’m there now.’”
Roland Park Country School, 5204 Roland Ave., 410-323-5500
Culinary classes at Roland Park Country School’s Kaleidescope give students an opportunity to whip up delicious dishes and also bond over food. Recently, after a popular Thai cooking class ended, the class convened at Thai Arroy with teacher Ang Robinson. “They all had fun and made new friends,” says Judy Comotto, director of external programs at Roland Park Country School. “People are looking for ways to make connections with other people—to share their culinary and often their life experiences.”
CUISINE: Single-session and multi-session cooking classes on topics from gluten-free cooking and Thai cooking to Ayurvedic healing Indian cuisine and appetizers for entertaining. DETAILS: Varies according to class. INSTRUCTORS: Teachers include nationally known writer Jules Shepard (gluten-free cooking), area caterer Kerry Dunnington, and Thai cooking teacher Ang Robinson. COOKING TIP: “[The key] is having a curiosity and willingness to learn and explore new foods and cuisines and make it your own somehow,” Robinson says. “It’s limitless.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “These classes are only going to grow,” says Comotto. “The baby boomers want cooking classes. They are not going to rock into old age the way that generation before did.”
1390 Lancaster St., 410-522-3200
A class at RA Sushi features a sushi lesson and a history lesson (no pun intended) rolled into one. “We include a brief history of sushi so students understand the tradition,” says restaurant manager Andy Gaynor. While students learn assembling tips and tricks, Gaynor and sushi chef Aldon Blackwood allow plenty of latitude for mistakes. “Everyone messes up their first roll,” says Gaynor, laughing, “The main goal is to keep it light and have a good time.”
CUISINE: Participants learn sushi basics, including how to make shrimp and salmon nigiri, California rolls, and “tootsy maki,” a RA specialty. DETAILS: $32 per person/$60 per couple; take-home sushi mat included; classes offered once or twice a month and capped at 18 to 20 students. INSTRUCTORS: Former sushi chef Andy Gaynor and chef Aldon Blackwood. COOKING TIP: “Cooking the rice correctly is key,” says Gaynor. “You don’t want it to be too mushy or too hard, and the timing is crucial.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The sky is the limit with sushi,” he says. “That’s what makes it so much fun.”
Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center
914 Stiles St., 410-866-8494
In 1996, the late Rev. Oreste Pandola came up with a recipe for revitalizing a downtrodden corner of his Little Italy community. “There was a school around the corner from St. Leo’s parish that had closed, and it was wasting away,” explains Rosalie Ranieri, principal of the Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center. “At the same time, the Reverend saw senior residents with idle time. He decided to open an adult learning center.” Pandola passed away a year after the school opened in 1997. The center named in his honor is now host to hundreds of local residents who enroll in a variety of classes, including painting and Italian language. But the cooking classes tend to draw the biggest crowds. “My challenge is to empty the building every night,” Ranieri says. “No one ever wants to leave.”
CUISINE: Italian; includes learning how to make mozzarella, ravioli, gnocchi, sauces, breads, sausages, Easter treats, and Limoncello. DETAILS: Average class cost is $10; the next session of classes begins March 8. INSTRUCTOR: Various instructors, most of whom are Italian home cooks in Little Italy. COOKING TIP: “When it comes to cooking, just follow your instincts,” says Joe Platerote, who teaches a pasta course. “There is no one way to cook.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The interest in cooking classes is part of a return to people’s culture and their roots,” Ranieri says. “They want to make recipes that their mothers and grandparents made.”
1417 Thames St., 443-681-5310
Long before Jerry Pellegrino became the consulting chef at the new Waterfront Kitchen and host of WYPR’s Radio Kitchen, he was enrolled in a molecular genetics Ph.D. program at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “I never finished my thesis,” he says, “but I always enjoyed the teaching.” Pellegrino, a lifelong foodie, went on to teach cooking basics at Federal Hill’s defunct A Cook’s Table before offering a cooking program at the now closed Corks—his Federal Hill mainstay for almost 15 years—and now at Waterfront Kitchen.
CUISINE: Classes include pasta-making, knife skills, how to make chili, and pairing food with wine. DETAILS: The classes are $59 and held in Waterfront Kitchen’s state-of-the-art kitchen. INSTRUCTOR: Chef Jerry Pellegrino. COOKING TIP: “Cooking is mostly practice,” he says. “Jacques Pépin has this famous quote. When asked, ‘Why do you make the best prime rib?’ he says, ‘Because I have prepared so many of them in the past.’” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “I went into this business for the instant gratification,” he says. “As a scientist, it can take years to prove something. When I cook, people tell me they like it right away. I like the pat on the back.”
Whole Foods Culinary Center
200 Harker Pl., Suite 100, Annapolis, 410-224-2042
“Our kitchen is laid-back,” says culinary specialist Frances Vavloukis, who teaches at the cooking school. “It’s not all stainless steel. It’s meant to be inviting and is designed to feel like you are coming to my house for dinner.”
CUISINE: Gluten-free cooking, date-night cooking class, “Chefs in the Kitchen” summer camp, Greek pastries, knife skills, Mediterranean cooking, and surf and turf. DETAILS: About 12 single-session and multi-session classes are offered each month, including hands-on and demonstration classes and lectures; demo classes, $30-35 for a single session; hands-on class, $50-65 for single session (includes a meal). INSTRUCTORS: Frances Vavloukis, a Philadelphia Restaurant School graduate and personal trainer, teaches the majority of classes; some classes taught by Whole Foods staffers and area experts, including food photo stylist Rita Calvert and Culinary Institute of America graduate Robert Chaisson. Guest chefs have included Hell’s Kitchen winner chef Rock Harper and Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star finalist Tom Pizzica. COOKING TIP: “The key to being a good cook is not to stress about it and to practice,” says Vavloukis. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “For me, cooking is a high,” says Vavloukis. “In the way that some people like to paint, I like to create using herbs and spices.”
The Dogwood Restaurant
911 W. 36th St., 410-889-0952
In response to repeated requests from diners, chef Galen Sampson started cooking classes at The Dogwood Restaurant two years ago. “We speak with our guests pretty regularly,” says Sampson, “and in talking to them, they all wanted to know when we were going to start a class, so we did.” Sampson, a former electrical engineer who also runs a cooking apprenticeship program for his staff, hopes to share his enthusiasm for his trade. “I had no passion for what I was doing as an engineer,” he says. “When I was growing up, everything revolved around the table, and my parents were the first generation to leave the farm. With my classes, my goal is for people to get an idea of how to put flavors together, to understand why things don’t work out, and to have a good time. We try to make it fun and festive.”
CUISINE: Classes are offered quarterly and include demonstrations and some hands-on cooking. In the past, they have focused on Indian, Asian, low-country, holiday cooking, and “Cooking with the Seasons,” including grilling and outdoor smoking. DETAILS: $78 per person (including tax and gratuity) includes wine; classes are held the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. INSTRUCTOR: Galen Sampson, whose culinary bragging rights include stints at Utah’s five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge, Virginia’s famed Homestead, and Baltimore’s Harbor Court Hotel. COOKING TIP: “Commit to using fresh products and, whenever possible, shop at the farmers’ markets,” says Sampson. “Cook in the season. Don’t buy strawberries in February.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Cooking is an art form that everyone can do,” he says. “You can create things for other people, make them smile, and feel good with your hospitality.”
300 S. High St., 410-752-4515
Eight years ago, Germano’s Trattoria hosted school children from Fort Garrison Elementary School in Stevenson for the restaurant’s first-ever pasta-making demonstration for kids. The field trip was such a hit, owner Germano Fabiani decided to make it a regular ritual. “The kids love to throw flour at each other,” he says. “We don’t advertise, but we must be successful because after all these years, the buses keep coming.”
CUISINE: Italian; pasta-making demonstrations primarily geared toward kids. DETAILS: $17.95 per person for lunch, gelato, and demonstration; by appointment only. INSTRUCTOR: Italian-born Germano Fabiani. COOKING TIP: “Making pasta couldn’t be simpler,” he says. “You add equal amounts of eggs and flour and maybe a touch of salt.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The demonstrations are all hands on,” he says. “We help the kids get messy, and they learn that cooking is fun.”
Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant
720 B Aliceanna St., 410-659-0099
Patrick “Opie” Crooks’s first cooking demonstration at Roy’s in Jacksonville Beach, FL, was a bit incendiary. “Everyone makes mistakes, especially in front of a crowd,” he says. “On my first day on the job, the other chef didn’t feel like doing a demonstration. He said, ‘You do it.’ I was cooking lobster pot stickers on a camping stove, and, the next thing I knew, I lit the tablecloth on fire.” He’s learned a lot since then. These days, Crooks cooks in Baltimore for everyone from actor Mario Lopez (who was in town to promote his TV show Extra) to former Orioles Rick Dempsey. In addition to doing demonstrations, his goal is to demystify Hawaiian fusion fare. “The purpose is to get the guests involved,” Crooks says. “I want them to learn what curry paste is. I want them to learn what lemongrass is, and I don’t want them to be intimidated by our cuisine.”
CUISINE: Hawaiian-fusion inspired demonstrations of various Roy’s menu items as well as special-request dishes; past classes have included Parmesan-encrusted mahi mahi with blue-crab bisque, smoked salmon ravioli, and vanilla-bean crème brûlée. DETAILS: $55 per person (including multicourse meal) for up to 50 people; classes held monthly. INSTRUCTOR: Patrick “Opie” Crooks, a young Ron Howard look-alike who attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Atlanta. COOKING TIP: “The balance of salt, pepper, and acid are the key to good cooking,” Crooks says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Cooking is fun,” he says, “and that’s what we are trying to demonstrate with this class.”