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Let's Get Cooking 

The Old Pueblo has a wealth of classes where anyone can hone their culinary skills

There is no denying that the Food Network has influenced the way Americans think about food.

Today, chefs are treated like superstars and have legions of fans. Bookstores are filled with ethnic cookbooks, special-diet cookbooks, one-ingredient cookbooks and cookbooks for kids; the list goes on and on. Men, thanks in part to Emeril Lagasse, have come out of the pantry and can be found discussing recipes that are about more than just than barbecuing.

People want to learn to cook. One of the most popular ways of doing so--besides watching food-related shows and buying cookbooks--is by taking a cooking class.

Enrollment in culinary programs and cooking classes has increased in recent years. And, if what the people who run the various schools in town say is true, Tucsonans are following the trend.

Culinary classes fall into basically three different categories: professional programs, where those who want to pursue a hospitality career can earn a degree or a certificate; demonstration classes, where a chef prepares a meal while others watch; and participation classes, where attendees cook under the guidance of a teacher/chef.

In the Tucson area, all of these types of classes are offered. Below is information about some of them.

Pima Community College

Various locations

206-6468; www.pima.edu

Pima Community College has had a hospitality-management program for more than 20 years, but only in the last six or seven years has someone who wants to pursue a career as a chef been able to earn a certificate or associate's degree in culinary arts. Both tracks require an interview with a culinary arts faculty member before enrollment.

This culinary arts program is divided into blocks and, depending on the student's schedule, can be completed in as little as one year. Classes cover everything from food history to baking to restaurant operations.

Pima also has the Center for Training and Development, where students can learn the basic skills to help them obtain a job at a restaurant.

For those not looking to start a new career, Pima has continuing-education classes that cover a wide variety of cooking-related topics. The classes, offered throughout the year, are usually one-session classes. The classes are held not just on the various Pima campuses, but also in restaurants and places like the Chinese Cultural Center. Recent topics include "Once a Month Cooking" and "Simple Gourmet for One." Classes usually cost between $29 and $59.

Culinary Concepts

2930 N. Swan Road, No. 126

321-0968;

www.culinaryconcepts.net

Price: $45-$450 (for certification classes)

This midtown company has been teaching cooking classes for more than 14 years. Founder Judith Baigent Berger is a classically trained chef who earned her credentials in New Zealand and Europe. Baigent also has a small staff of chefs who each bring their own talents and interests to the classes.

The classes at Culinary Concepts all include hands-on participation; offerings include a certificate program and regular demonstration classes.

The certificate classes last between five and nine weeks. (Note: These are not the same as the certificates offered at Pima). The demonstration classes are extremely popular and more casual in nature. Lasting only one evening, recent classes have covered "Desserts With Flair" and "All About Chicken." Classes range in size from 10 to 25 students who prepare eight to 10 recipes. Of course, students get to eat their results and take home the recipes. There are also popular kids' classes.

Cuisine Classique

1060 W. Magee Road

575-0875;

www.cuisineclassique.com

Prices: $35-$60

Cuisine Classique is perhaps the grand dame of Tucson cooking. Started in 1983 by Bob and Mardi Burden, the company once included a retail store that has since closed, although many products can be found on the Web site.

The classes are held in the Burdens' kitchens at their Oro Valley home. The indoor kitchen is a fully equipped professional kitchen, and the one on their patio is outfitted like a French country kitchen. Mardi, a self-taught chef, does much of the teaching, but Bob is definitely part of the scene. There is also a cadre of talented guest cooks with an array of talents and skills.

Cuisine Classique has workshops, demonstration classes and participation classes with topics ranging from knife skills to something called "An Evening in ... " during which participants can enjoy the food of various regions around the world.

During the three-hour classes, participants will cook between six and 12 dishes. At the end of all that hard work, students sit down together to enjoy the food and some appropriately paired wines. Copies of the recipes are included.

The Burdens also host road trips, called Cocina del Mar. As the name indicates, the five-day trips are all about seafood in Mexico.

Loews Culinary Institute

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

7000 N. Resort Drive

615-5495 (Flying V Bar and Grill);

www.loewshotels.com

Price: $50, including tax and gratuity

This program at Loews Ventana Canyon is relatively new to Tucson; the resort started offering these unique classes in March.

Loews looks to the stars for inspiration, using the appropriate zodiac sign. For example, in June, which is mostly ruled by Cancer the crab, the chefs demonstrated how to make crab cakes and other crab dishes.

The demonstration classes are held every Wednesday in the Cascade Lounge and are taught by various members of the resort's professional staff--including highly trained chefs and sommeliers. There can be anywhere from six to 25 people in the classes, but because the Cascade Lounge is in the heart of the lobby area, passers-by are often attracted by the enticing aromas to take a peek.

The classes are designed as demonstration classes, but if someone wants to help cook, they are encouraged to do so. The classes start at 11 a.m. and end around 1 p.m., although the staff has found that people often have so much fun that they linger a little longer to ask questions, share ideas and sip a little more wine. Recipes are included.

Tubac Culinary School

50 Avenida Goya (at Plaza de Anza), Tubac 398-8501;

www.tubacculinaryschool.com

Prices: $35-$86 (more for the week-long Kids' Camp)

Classes at this newcomer to the cooking-class scene start with a champagne toast. From there, the staff takes students around the world through demonstration classes. Executive chef Noah Aguilar and his staff come from around the country and bring with them a wealth of talent.

The dinner classes are held just about every night of the week and are taught by the knowledgeable and passionate staff. Dinner classes for grown-ups include a seven-course meal, wines and the aforementioned champagne toast. Most classes are limited to 16 people. Breakfast and lunch classes are also offered on some days.

Kids can get in the act with the week-long Kids' Camp. The camp costs $150, although there are a few scholarships available. The Tubac Culinary School will also work with groups for fundraising.

Williams-Sonoma

2905 E. Skyline Drive

615-3595

Price: $45

When the Williams-Sonoma store opened in La Encantada nearly four years ago, cooking classes were a part of the package. The Tuesday-evening classes are taught by Chef Tracey Nahrwold, a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and a former chef for the Clipper Cruise Lines.

These demonstration-only classes are held in the store. The classes last about two hours and cover topics ranging from basic skills to desserts and pastries. They are designed to ensure participants--be they novices or advanced cooks--take home lessons they can apply to their daily lives. Three to four dishes are prepared and shared.

Classes are limited to 16 students, and reservations need to be made well in advance. Although there is no Web site about the classes, there is a detailed brochure available at the store. No wine is included due to lack of a liquor license.

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