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Spring /Summer 2009

Chef Heaven

Learn to cook amid the bounty of Wine Country

By Mandy Behbehani

"I was 32 when I started cooking," Julia Child famously said. "Up until then, I just ate."

For those of you who want to go from consumer to chef, the secret may be cooking classes. And where better to learn than in Wine Country, a confluence of fresh produce, innovative cooking, and stunning scenery.

Classes run the gamut from a four-hour hands-on Mediterranean dinner with noted San Francisco chef and TV personality Joanne Weir, to a one-day getaway culinary tour with three of your best girlfriends. And don't worry: Typical students are not pros but range from home chefs who know their way around an herb-encrusted pork loin to rookies who can barely skin a potato. And there are classes for kids, too.

Below is only a sampling of available classes. Go to for more.

Executive Chef and Culinary Director Brian Streeter has been teaching for 20 years at this scenic Rutherford winery's cooking school, where classes emphasize seasonal food paired with Cakebread wines. (800) 588-0298, .

Which Came First? Chicken and Egg Cooking
Spring egg and chicken recipes-nothing more. April 25, $175.
Fun factor: Hearing from Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farms, whose pasture-raised chickens have garnered many devotees.
Yum factor: Experiencing the difference between pasture-raised chickens versus those from an industrial farm.

Kids Cooking Class: Exploring the Vegetable Garden
Kids get dirty in the garden, pulling up the bounty of a summer harvest and then turn it into lunch for Mom. Ages 7-11 years, July 21, $75.
Fun factor: Lunch on the pecan patio.
Yum factor: Vegetables good enough that kids will eat them.

Green Zebras, Purple Cherokees, Tigerella, and the Black Prince
Create a menu that features heirloom tomatoes. August 22, $175.
Fun factor: Learning how to make tomatoes sing.
Yum factor: Tasting the two-dozen varieties of tomatoes grown in the gardens.

Hugh Carpenter's six-day insider's tours of the region include trips to Napa Valley's elite small wineries, private kitchens, and homes. Participation cooking classes utilize recipes from Carpenter's latest book. July 12-17, September 20-25, $2,100, (707) 252-9773, .
Fun factor: Croquet tournament at Meadowood. Visits to Viader, Spottswoode Winery, and the new Palmaz Vineyards.
Yum factor: Dinner at the Carpenter home.

A graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, Julie Logue-Riordan is known for her combo farmers market/cooking class events, which give students access to exclusive experiences such as tasting limited-production cheese. (707) 227-5036, .

Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class
Students browse the market and learn how to select the season's vegetables, then return to the kitchen to prepare them. Every Tuesday and Friday, May through October, $195.
Fun factor: Grazing your way through the farmers market.
Yum factor: Private tasting at the Oxbow Wine Merchant or at Groth Vineyards.

A Taste of France in Napa
Students learn a French menu that may include creamy leek-and-potato soup followed by rockfish in saffron vanilla sauce and spinach with a hint of orange. April 17, $135.
Fun factor: Learning to pronounce vichyssoise.
Yum factor: Eating Logue-Riordan's chocolate Queen of Sheba cake.

Although most of the educational programs offered at the Culinary Institute of America's St. Helena campus are for the aspiring professional, a full complement of classes is available for the home chef. (707) 967-1100,

Street Foods of the Middle East
Students will create such favorites as shawarma and falafel. April 11&25, $75.
Fun factor: So that's how you make falafel!
Yum factor: A dessert of sweet cheese curds on rich dough drenched in syrup.

A Taste of Northern California
John Ash, named cooking teacher of the year in 2008 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, helps students prepare signature dishes. May 19-20, $1,995.
Fun factor: Mornings in the kitchen and afternoons visiting wineries and artisans.
Yum factor: Drinking wines that have helped shape the area's cuisine.

Flavors of the New Spanish Table
Learn how to make authentic Spanish tapas. June 13 and 27, $75.
Fun factor: Students can dine at the Wine Spectator Restaurant with access to a special fixed-price menu.
Yum factor: A kaleidoscope of exotic flavors including piquillo peppers, saffron, anchovies, and paprika. Olé!

These hands-on cooking classes are taught in the kitchen at CasaLana, a Mediterranean-style bed and breakfast in Calistoga owned by Lana Richardson, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. (877) 968-2665, (707) 942-0615,

Five-Day Boot Camp for Cooks
Geared toward advanced cooks, this class emphasizes working from master recipes to develop your own. April 20-24, $1,450.
Fun factor: Excursions could include a garden tour at the Culinary Institute of America.
Yum factor: Five days of eating seasonal items such as roasted asparagus soup and grilled tenderloin with a plum glaze.

Three-Day Culinary Learning Vacation
Beginning and intermediate cooks make stock, learn pan reduction sauce, and bake tender pastry. May 20-22, $695.
Fun factor: Mastering rich, light génoise cake.
Yum factor: Making and eating a garden vegetable soup with picks from the gardens.

Wine Country Class: Summer Grill
Students learn about marinades, brines, rubs, sauces, and salsas. July 25, $175.
Fun factor: Whipping up exotic items such as achiote spice rub.
Yum factor: Making and eating balsamic-glazed grilled fruits.

At this academy near Sonoma's historic plaza, the home chef can learn everything from basic cooking skills to Moroccan cuisine and Southern soul food. (707) 933-0450, .

Southern Soul Food
Chef-instructor Moaya Scheiman prepares authentic soul food. April 24, $85.
Fun factor: Practice your Southern drawl as you make quail with grilled grits, black-eyed peas, field greens, and red-eye gravy.
Yum factor: Sweet potato tart with coconut pecan crust and bourbon crème anglaise.

Chef's Table With Joanne Weir
Produce a five-course Mediterranean dinner, with recipes from Weir's new book, Wine Country Cooking. July 30, check website for price.
Fun factor: Getting the chance to learn from a James Beard award-winning chef, cookbook writer, and television personality.
Yum factor: Sonoma Valley wines.

In 2003, Donna del Rey began a roving cooking school in Healdsburg. Last year, Relish Culinary Adventures found a permanent home. (877) 759-1004, .

Pasta-Making Party
Chef and food writer Lia Huber teaches two basic doughs for home pasta-making, plus accompanying sauces. April 18, $79.
Fun factor: Rolling, cutting, and stuffing sfoglie (pasta sheets). Flashbacks to Play-Doh.
Yum factor: Supping on pappardelle with rabbit ragu.

Cheese-Making Workshop
Cheese-maker Sheana Davis demonstrates a variety of easy-to-make-at-home cheeses, including chèvre and crème fraîche. April 19, $85.
Fun factor: Squeezing the whey from the curds like Little Miss Muffet.
Yum factor: Taking home a cheese torta.

Three-Day Artisan Food and Wine Tour
In partnership with Healdsburg hotels, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sonoma County food and wine scene. May 11-13, price varies.
Fun factor: Me, a winemaker?! At Lambert Bridge Winery, students blend, bottle, cork, and label wine-and take home their own Bordeaux blend cuvée!
Yum factor: A six-course wine-pairing dinner at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen.

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