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The Joy of Cooking Classes

Playing with food is serious business in the Finger Lakes. Cooking classes taught by talented chefs abound to showcase the region’s culinary bounty. Offerings range from tastings to skills workshops to demonstrations to hands-on cooking classes and all infuse education and entertainment. This variety also extends to both experienced home cooks and novices. Kids get in on the fun too as many locations offer classes designed with young chefs in mind. With so many unique options and locations to explore, let’s get cooking.
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Get your culinary DIY on with these local learning places

Written by Erin McMurrough

Playing with food is serious business in the Finger Lakes. Cooking classes taught by talented chefs abound to showcase the region’s culinary bounty. Offerings range from tastings to skills workshops to demonstrations to hands-on cooking classes and all infuse education and entertainment. This variety also extends to both experienced home cooks and novices. Kids get in on the fun too as many locations offer classes designed with young chefs in mind. With so many unique options and locations to explore, let’s get cooking.

NEW YORK KITCHEN

New York Kitchen, formerly known as The New York Wine and Culinary Center, has been offering farm-to-table cooking classes at its attractive Canandaigua outpost since 2006. Chef Matt Wooster, the lead culinary educator, says the recent rebranding better reflects the multifaceted center, comprised of a restaurant, tasting room, multiple event spaces and culinary classrooms, including a tiered amphitheater ideal for demos, and two hands-on kitchen classrooms.

At a class titled Upstate NY Classics, Chef Rosita Caridi- Miller kicked off the evening with some kitchen basics. Participants at each workstation chopped, sautéed and baked their way through two recipes and, upon completion, sampled each other’s dishes paired with a glass of New York wine.

Fairport resident Baktash Bootorabi signed up for his first cooking class specifically to learn how to prepare chicken riggies. “I Googled, chicken riggies, and found this class,” he said. “That night I saw all of these other classes that looked good and also signed up Pop Culture Classics, Cooking with Beer and Cooking for 1 or 2.”

Insider’s Tip: Classes can be a creative first date—arrive early and order a glass of local wine in the Tasting Room to calm your nerves and add some swagger to your cooking.

Cost: $20–$85; upcoming classes include Chef’s Table and Cooking with Guglielmo.

COLTIVARE

Coltivare, an extension of Tompkins Cortland Community College, launched a community culinary class series called Second Saturdays in the fall of 2018. Spearheaded by Executive Chef Patrick Blackman and Director of Operations Jason Sidle, the classes are held in The Culinary Lab equipped with state-of-the-art cooking stations.

A rare second Friday class, led by Sous Chef John Corbin and assisted by Amanda Bisson, assistant professor of culinary arts, focused on pickling and fermentation. Each pristine stainless steel work table was set with an apron, a recipe printout, three Mason jars and pickling ingredients (salt, garlic, sugar). Sous Chef Corbin began the class with an overview on pickling and explained how it extends the enjoyment of the region’s produce.

During the demo, guests munched on house-made pickle spears, sampled Corbin’s signature hot sauce and sipped a warming cocktail of house-infused whiskey. Then participants measured ingredients and used the gas range to create pickle brine.

A second demo focused on kimchi and malolactic fermentation. Chris Stephany of Watkins Glen signed up because he enjoys pickled and fermented food. He said, “This class has influenced what I am going to plant in my garden next year.”

Insider’s Tip: Wear sensible shoes since you may be standing the entirety of the class.

Cost: $50; upcoming classes include Lean Mean Protein and Big Easy Bites.

171 CEDAR ARTS CENTER

Cooking classes at 171 Cedar Arts Center are held at the stylish Drake House in Corning and take place in two spaces: the Studio Theatre and the kitchen.

According to Marketing Manager Mitchell Smith, the culinary arts are integral to the center’s mission and the classes “are designed for anyone interested in eating.”

171 Cedar Arts teamed up with Chef Brud Holland to create a hands-on Studio Theatre series called All About … focusing on different topics like Soup & Bread and Salad & Dressings.

In the kitchen, Chef Louise Richardson leads a hands-on series called Wrap It Up, including a Phyllo Dough Appetizer Workshop. Richardson’s inspiration “is to get people to use materials they may find intimidating, like phyllo and puff pastry, so they feel comfortable using them at home.”

Dedicated to advancing the culinary program, 171 Cedar Arts recently made a large investment in new kitchen equipment and Program Manager Kristi Burns is excited to grow the partnership with local chefs.

Insider’s Tip: Bring a pen and notepad because when Chef Holland drops knowledge, you’ll want to take notes.

Cost: $36–$48 with discounts available to members; upcoming classes include All About … Flavor & Spice and the monthly Young Chef Cooking School led by instructor Nithya Krishnan.

AURORA COOKS!

Aurora Cooks! opened in January 2019 and is a new addition to the Inns of Aurora resort properties. The demonstration kitchen inhabits what was formerly Dorie’s Bakery and the aesthetically beautiful space gleams with a white design and includes high-tech touches like video monitors.

Cooking, demo and tasting classes are led by Taste Curator Grace Mattingly. When speaking about her role at Aurora Cooks!, the vivacious Mattingly simply says, “I love to feed people.”

At a Butter Tasting class, guests were invited to take a seat at the sleek kitchen countertop and enjoy a glass of wine as they listened to Mattingly describe four different butters, including a local sample from Hillcrest Dairy in Moravia, NY, as well as a sheep-milk butter. Fresh bread, radishes and Marcona almonds served as tasty accompaniments.

As a cooking class at Aurora Cooks! wrapped up, guest Stephanie Williams of Auburn sighed, “This is just what my heart needed.”

Insider’s Tip: Choose your welcome beverage wisely because expert host Mattingly stealthily tops up your glass during class.

Cost: $15–$100; upcoming classes include Tasting Chocolate and Brunch at Aurora Cooks!

SEASONAL KITCHEN

Seasonal Kitchen has been offering intimate, demo-style cooking classes inside Ginger Howell’s Pittsford home for 50 years. Founder Ginger, a 90-year-old spitfire, was joined by her sommelier daughter Holly Howell five years ago and today the pair team up to delight guests with approachable recipes and good humor.

At a recent class entitled A Casual Holiday Gathering students sat at the family kitchen table to watch Ginger prepare ragout of beef with cranberries, ham roll appetizers and meringue mushrooms. While the food was cooking, Holly introduced guests to a flight of flavored vodkas, including 1911 Honeycrisp Vodka, and demonstrated how the flavors could be incorporated into holiday cocktails. Guests moved to the Howells’ living room to enjoy holiday punch and appetizers before dinner was served.

Karen Santucci of Pittsford has been attending classes at Seasonal Kitchen for 30 years and explains, “This has become my second family. The classes are a fun, fulfilling part of my life.”

Insider’s Tip: Seasonal Kitchen does not have any signage— making it feel like a speakeasy for foodies.

Cost: $55–$75; upcoming classes include Let It Snow and Winter in Vermont.

Erin McMurrough moved to the Finger Lakes from NYC in 2012, intending to stay for a six-week harvest internship. Her plans changed after she fell in love with the region and a vineyardist. She dreams in sparkling wine.

This article originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Issue of the magazine.

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