Foodies can enjoy a night out with cooking classes at many favourite restaurants.
Does spending a couple of hours in a classroom sound like an exciting evening out? Maybe not, but if there’s food and wine involved, going back to school becomes a lot more enticing.There are plenty of fantastic places to eat in Calgary, but sometimes we foodies want to mix things up or get bored with a standard restaurant meal. That’s why cooking classes are becoming an increasingly popular option for food lovers who want an interactive night out. The opportunity to pick up a few skills to try at home is the icing on the proverbial cake.Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market (3326 17th Ave S.W., 403-727-7627) started its Sauce Social Hour evenings a little over a year ago. Each event sees patrons participating in a learning experience of some sort, be it a hands-on tortellini-making class or a guided Scotch tasting. For those that haven’t been, Sauce is a nice sit-down Italian restaurant, but in front of the dining room there’s a large space that houses a small grocery store, a café/coffee bar and an extensive deli counter with seating throughout. Sauce owner Jenna Bazzana saw that the deli space was underutilized in the evening hours and decided to start holding classes in the space.While Bazzana emphasizes that her classes do have a legitimate instructional component, like most other restaurant-based cooking classes, they are designed to be fun — this isn’t supposed to be a serious chef school. Participants sip on wine and interact with one another as Bazzana and one of her chefs, Mish Hobbs, visit each table to help them along with their hands-on tasks.“You always learn something when you’re there,” Bazzana says. “We try to keep them moderate as far as the skill level goes, because most of the time it’s home cooks in attendance. There are some people who come who love to cook and they’re there for the social aspect. And there are some people who don’t cook much and want to learn the basics.”
Sauce Italian Market owner Jenna Bazzana runs cooking classes that teach skills but also provide a fun night out. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
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And this seems to be the trick with this category of modern cooking classes — yes, you will pick up some skills that you may or may not use at home, but more importantly, it’s a creative date idea, a way to reconnect with a group of friends, or a chance to meet new people with food-related interests. Very few of these classes require a lot of heavy lifting and more often than not, instructors ply their students with plenty to eat and drink.There are a number of places in Calgary that offer casual classes similar to those at Sauce. The Cookbook Co. Cooks offers some fairly serious skills classes for hardcore home cooks, as well as more entry-level classes, couples’ classes, specialty dinners and demo classes, often led by local food industry luminaries. ATCO’s Blue Flame Kitchen has a similarly mixed bag of courses, with plenty of hands-on sessions as well as the more casual Lunch ‘n’ Learn demo classes, which typically focus on a regional cuisine or specific style of cooking.For something slightly more heavy duty, over in Kensington, the Cuisine et Chateau Interactive Culinary Centre offers a number of classes, ranging from bread making to a French cooking demo that culminates in a fancy four-course dinner. And, for those who want to learn where the pros learn, SAIT’s Culinary campus offers a number of one-off sessions for casual home cooks.
Learn how to make the perfect macaron in classes at Lindsay and David Rousseau’s Ollia Macarons and Tea.
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One sector in Calgary that seems particularly primed for hands-on classes are bakeries, especially those that specialize in seemingly impossible-to-make patisserie items. Blame it on the Great British Baking Show or its Canadian counterpart — but the pull of learning how to make something impressive like a genuine macaron can be very tempting. To satisfy this, Ollia Macarons and Tea offers a Macaron 101 class to teach sweet tooths how to make the infamously finicky French cookies. On a similar note, the new Black Sheep Patisserie on 17th Avenue S.W. (if you haven’t checked it out, stop in if only to get one of their stunningly beautiful raspberry croissants) offers a class in how to make classic French madeleine cookies. That weekly class includes a $20 gift card to spend in the shop, plus some extra in-class goodies.This is, of course, just the tip of the cooking class iceberg — keeners can learn how to roll sushi at various Kinjo locations, how to cook game meat at The Shooting Edge gun shop and how to make fresh pasta at the Spice Chica in Kensington — just to name a few other classes in town. There’s a lot to learn out there, but as Sauce’s Bazzana says, most people are just searching for an outing that goes beyond their regular routine.“People are just looking for a reason to go out,” says Bazzana. “And if a restaurant can provide that, by all means, they should do it. It increases sales and is a great way to introduce new people to your business.”Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth