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Hands-On Culinary Classes

Dec 12, 2019 06:37PM

What's cooking?

BY JEFF LYTLE

There is a smorgasbord these days for Southwest Florida residents and snowbirds who want to learn more about tastier and healthier meals. Although the closest university-level curriculum for professional chefs is in Sarasota at a Keiser University campus, classes abound locally for amateurs and entry-level professionals. The following is a sampling of public and private educational opportunities. See if they suit your taste. 

FORT MYERS

Take food and add fun—like date night or dinner party in the kitchen. Aptly named Kitchen Social offers hands-on cooking classes in a comfortable, homey atmosphere conducted by professional chefs, and also offers team-building events. The mostly evening classes cost between $50 and $70.

“I am entrepreneur who has taken disappointing cooking classes for several years,’’ says owner Charlie Rangle. “I always thought I could do it better and decided to put my money where my mouth is, and I have hired incredibly talented and entertaining chefs.’’ For schedules and registration, check out kitchensocial.com or email info@kitchensocial.com.

Norman Love and his award-winning team of pastry chefs have a sweet idea. Cooking with Love consists of 13 hands-on classes on how to bake classic pies, pastries, cookies, cakes, chocolate confections and more. “At the end of the night, each of our students is able to bring home their fresh-baked creations such as artisan confections or exquisite desserts to share with their families,” says Love.

Classes begin in March and run through September. Each class is from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Fort Myers Norman Love Confections Chocolate & Dessert Salon. Cost is $95 per person, plus tax, per class. For reservations, call 866-515-2121 or visit normanloveconfections.com.

Lauren Daniels opened Little Chefs in Training two years ago, combining her passion for children (she has four of her own) and smarter eating. “Food is the center of conversation for most of our lives,’’ she explains. “If parents and the community provide opportunities for children to cook, then it will increase the chances for a healthier lifestyle.”

Her business model is wide and inviting. “We offer cooking and baking classes in a group setting with a maximum of 12 students per class after school and on weekends,” she says. “We have an array of weekly summer camps. Birthday parties and Girl Scout events are a huge hit. Families are involved in our ‘Parent and Child’ cooking classes held once a month. We also have a ‘Family Cook-off Birthday Party’ theme.”

Prices include $50 per child for birthday parties and about $25 for cooking and baking classes that last up to two hours. A full-time week of summer camp costs $350—including lunch and apron. For more info, go to littlechefsintraining.com.

Shell Point retirement community is a hot spot of cooking education. Resident David Lee interviews Shell Point chefs as they demonstrate a specific recipe on the daily TV show, Shell Point Today. Cooking classes are led by the chefs through The Academy of Lifelong Learning.

The academy offers about 80 classes each semester, also on subjects such as finances, computer technology, travel, art and more. The Healthy Eating Group meets monthly to enjoy a special “healthy” menu and to learn how to make it.

Lee Health stages cooking classes at an unusual venue—a commercial complex on Winkler Avenue that serves as a regional medical supplies depot for the LeeSar distribution network. The FARMacy RX Cooking Series includes teaching knife safety; cooking techniques such as sautéing, roasting, steaming and simmering; and how to identify nutrient-dense, unprocessed whole foods.

It also teaches how to use herbs, spices and blends for flavor; planning diets with proteins from animal and vegetable sources; choosing healthy carbohydrates; and knowing various types of fats. Students get to savor the results of the cooking demos. Call 239-468-0050 for info.

 BONITA SPRINGS

Nearly century-old Shangri-La Springs resort is celebrating its first full season after extensive remodeling to its lodging and kitchen. Executive chef Allen Fisher plans to share cooking tips featuring organic fruits and vegetables grown in the resort’s 5-acre garden. They’re the same ingredients on the menu at its 86-seat Harvest & Wisdom restaurant, whose motto is “Eat wisely, live long.’’

Classes are being planned monthly from February to April. Likely sessions could include a wine-pairing class for couples for Valentine’s Day; food basics such as stocks, knife skills, etc.; and cooking with sauces, searing, roasting and braising. Information is at shangrilasprings.com.

ESTERO

Ruth’s Chris Steak House at Coconut Point hosts cooking demonstrations on how to prepare some of the restaurant’s favorite menu items, such as crab cakes, barbecued shrimp and filet seared in butter. General manager Aleks Kunov conducts the classes with executive chef Randy Partington. Kunov says the occasional tutorials are held in season at lunchtime. Call the restaurant for more information at 239-948-8888.

Lee Health is meeting its goal of making its Estero campus very inviting: Healthy Life Center Coconut Point puts an accent on wellness with two teaching kitchens where registered dieticians demonstrate nutrition, meal preparation and how to take control of diets. Call 239-468-0050 or visit leehealth.org.

CAPE CORAL

In Cape Coral, you may not find a hands-on cooking class, but healthy diets are among the varied program topics presented by Lee Health at its Healthy Life Center. Call 239-424-3210 or check out leehealth.org.

SANIBEL ISLAND

The Culinary Education Center of Sanibel at The Sanibel Community House offers hands-on cooking lessons and demonstrations, and children’s classes and camps. “Join chef Jarred Harris to fine-tune your culinary skills, learn new baking and cooking techniques, explore flavor profiles from around the world, or discover what the visiting chefs are teaching in the state-of-the-art kitchen with high-efficiency appliances,” the center says.

Cooking demos are $25 for members and $30 for non-members; hands-on workshops are $45 for members and $55 for non-members. Both kinds of sessions last two hours. Children also can learn to bake and cook every first Monday of the month from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. for $50. For schedules and registration, contact Harris at kitchen@sanibelcommunityhouse.net.

NORTH FORT MYERS

Farm to table? Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm kicks it up a notch. The 101-acre plantation-style property organically and holistically raises much of the meat and produce featured on its 90-seat restaurant’s menu—or sold to go. (Reservations are required for the Thursday to Sunday brunches, and Friday dinners.)

“Our certified, 100-percent grass-fed Longhorn cows, pastured Red Wattle pigs, and pastured Dominique, Australorp and Silver-Laced Wyandotte chickens are heritage breeds,’’ says Rose Odell King, who founded the farm in 2013. She brings a unique résumé as a former sheep farmer, French Culinary Institute-trained chef, certified sommelier, and food and wine columnist.

Limited classes will be offered in spring; dates and times to be announced. Beginning cheese-making, using milk from the farm’s cow, Brie, is $55. It includes a glass of wine and tasting of a special honey-whipped ricotta. A butchery class will cost $100. Participants will learn basic techniques and how to break down primal cuts at home; includes wine and food tasting. Restaurant recipes are featured at rosy-tomorrows.com.

LEE COUNTY

Lee County public schools offer culinary programs in seven high schools (East Lee, Lehigh, Island Coast, Cape Coral, Oasis Charter in Cape Coral, Estero and Lee Virtual), the Lee Adolescent Mothers Program and two post-secondary centers (Cape Coral and Fort Myers technical colleges).

The high school programs train up to 1,200 students annually in grades 9 to 12. Program leaders Rita Davis and Melissa Johnson say graduates are eagerly recruited by the local hospitality industry, which donates money and staff time at the schools.

Students are offered a top-to-bottom exposure to real-world skills such as safe food and equipment handling, and cooking everything from entrées and appetizers to desserts. Some schools, such as East Lee, stage their own cooking competitions and take part in community events such as the annual taco cook-off in downtown Fort Myers. Successful high school students can graduate with certifications in food safety and kitchen management, which are recognized statewide.

Judy Johnson, who is in charge of the next level of public culinary instruction at the technical colleges in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, says the nearly year-long curriculum produces food industry leaders—chefs and managers—rather than helpers.

There is a $4,700 fee, she says, although the program has access to public and private scholarship grants for qualified students. New classes start each year in January and July. Most of the students are adults—a high school diploma or GED is required—who already are working in food services.

She explains that students are focused and motivated. They’re taught by staff and guest chefs to prepare and present any dish—from meat and fish to fruits, vegetables, pastry and other

baked goods. And students get practical experience from producing hundreds of meals a day at the affiliated Southwest Florida Public Service Academy, which trains first responders and corrections officers.  

Jeff Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.