Technically, a recreational cooking class is not required. You can just as easily learn how to cook a particular dish from following a recipe book or watching culinary shows you like on channels like Food Network or HGTV.
However, the one drawback that simply reading cookbooks or sitting in front of the TV watching celebrity chefs like Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver or Giada De Laurentiis prepare a meal is not really going to cut it unless you already have basic culinary skills. Can you honestly say you can prepare a complicated dish with complex flavors just by watching Paula Deen do it on her show if you don’t even know how to handle a knife properly?
This is where recreational cooking classes come in. One benefit you will get from attending a recreational class is you get schooled in the basics of culinary. Fumbling through the kitchen without any idea what you’re doing will more likely than not end in disaster. But if you at least have a grasp of the rudiments on how to cook, you can do anything and expect a perfectly edible meal in the process. This is one undeniable help you can learn from attending a recreational class. To quote culinary student Aaron Spurling from his interview with Arielle Nelson of America’s Test Kitchen:
“My knowledge of proper kitchen equipment has vastly improved. I’ve steadily re-equipped my kitchen with proper knives, pots, pans, small appliances, etc., all as recommended by the school. It’s been expensive, but well worth it because I now have the best-equipped kitchen of anyone in my circle, and there’s virtually nothing I’m not prepared to cook. My knowledge of cooking techniques has improved immeasurably. I’ve learned everything from sautéing, to roasting, to braising, to stir frying, to grilling, to making soups and stocks. The list goes on and on.”
Another benefit from a recreational class in a more or less formal setting is you get to become more organized in the kitchen. Recreational cooking does not have to be as time-consuming as it usually is. In his interview with Epicurious.com, Sam Sifton doesn’t exactly talk about the benefits of going to a recreational cooking class, but he did stress the importance of being organized:
“[T]he other thing… is this French idea of mise en place, or having everything you need to make the meal set up before you start cooking, so that you’re not caught in some maelstrom of activity where everything is chaotic and hectic.”
Did you know that when you know how to cook well, you can actually save more money and eat healthier meals? This principle touches upon the heart of Cooking Matters, a nationwide hunger-prevention program that aims to teach lower-income families in the US how to prepare healthy and delicious food no matter how limited their budget is. In the words of professional chef and author CeAnn Klug, one of the Cooking Matters instructors:
“What we’re doing is not only showing them how to cook, but also [how to use] ingredients that they might be able to get at a food shelf, and bringing those home and really knowing how to work them…. If they don’t know how to prepare it in a way that their family is going to want to eat it, they’re going to look for other sources. That may be processed foods in grocery stores; it may be going to fast-food restaurants or going out to eat more. And that adds up, in calories and fat, and also in dollars.”
Lastly, learning how to cook in the more formal setting of the recreational cooking class inspires self-confidence. Again, to quote Aaron Spurling on recreational her recreational class:
“It has greatly increased my confidence in the kitchen. Before studying with the school, I could only dream of the fabulous meals I wanted to make, but the idea of actually making them seemed far too daunting. Long and complicated-looking recipes just intimated me. Since studying with the school, though, all that fear and sense of intimidation has evaporated. I can now look at virtually any recipe and know with calm certainty that I can handle it with no problem. That change is priceless.”
You can learn how to cook with just a recipe book or a subscription to a food channel on cable, that’s for sure. But reading a cookbook or watching celebrity chefs perform their magic won’t guarantee that you’ll be able to replicate the magic in your kitchen, not without the basics already firmly entrenched in your head. Attending a recreational cooking class, on the other hand, will.