Homework: Cooking Schools Share the New Orleans Culinary Experience
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who think a clutch of plastic beads, a hurricane glass and an obscene
T-shirt are the best they can bring back home from a trip to New
Orleans clearly haven’t experienced one of the city’s
distinctive cooking schools.
Anne Gormly has, and after a lunchtime class
at the New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis St., 504-525-2665),
the Georgia College and State University vice president was able
to whip up a menu of Cajun dishes for a charity event when she
“We couldn’t find crawfish back
home, but everything came out great anyway,” she says. “Everyone
is still talking about that meal here.”
The Crescent City’s rich culinary culture
is an essential part of the travel experience for many New Orleans
visitors, and cooking schools in the French Quarter and elsewhere
offer a unique way to tap in to that culture. If going to school
isn’t quite your idea of a vacation activity, don’t
be put off. These programs offer “students” a fun,
interactive curriculum covering a few recipes in about the time
it takes to watch a movie. The best part: participants get to
dine on the multi-course meal they have just learned how to prepare.
Frank Leo, general manager of the New Orleans
School of Cooking, says guests appreciate the value of a cooking
class, which at his operation includes instruction, take-home
recipes and a three- or four-course meal for $20 to $25. The
school has been around for 25 years and holds three-hour or two-hour
classes daily in a renovated 1830’s -era molasses warehouse,
as well as hosting private classes for groups of 25 or more.
Returning visitors sometimes book a reservation
months in advance, Leo says, while a rain squall or an especially
hot day in the French Quarter will generate more spur- of-the-moment
visitors looking for an interesting indoor activity.
Cooking Around Town
The continuing culinary culture of New Orleans
relies as much on the skill and creativity of its chefs and food entrepreneurs as it
does on the canon of Creole cookery, and those chefs and promoters are hardly
hemmed in by tradition. In fact, a growing cadre of cooking schools and gourmet experiences are flourishing in the city post-Katrina and offering visitors and local foodies many delicious opportunities to expand their culinary horizons. Here are a few notable players operating not far from the French Quarter:
In the House on Bayou Road just outside the
French Quarter, The New Orleans Cooking Experience (2285 Bayou Road, 504-945-9104)offers half-day classes, series
classes and luxury cooking school vacations featuring traditional
Creole recipes and menus taught by noted New Orleans chefs like Frank Brigsten and Gerard Maras.
Cooking School began as
a praline stand in Jackson Square before evolving into a large
theater-style cooking school and restaurant in the Riverwalk Mall (1 Poydras
St., 504-586-8832) offering classes on weekends and by appointment. A view of the Mississippi
River as well as the chef instructors is an added bonus here.
Savvy Gourmet hosts its classes, restaurant, catering kitchens and retail store in a trendy space on the Magazine Street corridor uptown (4519 Magazine, 504-895-2665) Local foodies have flocked to the classes and events promoted in Savvy Gourmet's breezy irreverent style.
Culinaria (1519 Carondelet St., 504-561-8284) offers classes, demonstrations and culinary explorations in food, wine and spirits in a handsome restored mansion one block off St. Charles Avenue.
Ian McNulty is a freelance food writer and
columnist, a frequent commentator on the New Orleans entertainment
talk show “Steppin’ Out” and editor of the
guidebook “Hungry? Thirsty? New Orleans.”