Food & Drink

What do you give the cook (or wannabe)?

Teaching a class at The City Kitch in University City, chef York Winstead uses a rolling pin to prepare a pie crust. The dual-purpose business functions as a commercial kitchen as well as a teaching facility for the newly curious.
Teaching a class at The City Kitch in University City, chef York Winstead uses a rolling pin to prepare a pie crust. The dual-purpose business functions as a commercial kitchen as well as a teaching facility for the newly curious. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Eric and Kacey Cressey certainly know how to have a good time.

A young couple with their first baby on the way, they spent a Friday date night last week grating carrots, goosing shortening into measuring cups and patting pie crust with their hands.

The Cresseys drove from their home in south Charlotte up to Mallard Creek Church Road for their second class, this one on holiday baking, at The City Kitch.

“This is our big night out,” Eric, 30, admitted. The lone male besides class instructor York Winstead, he was happy to join a group of 14 women, mostly small groups of friends, for an evening of mixing cake batter, assembling pies and stirring up fudge.

No, seriously, Eric really seemed to enjoy himself.

“I’m excited about this carrot cake,” he insisted. “I’ve never made that.”

Here in the final countdown of the perfect-gift panic season, a cooking class may be just the thing for someone on your list.

We don’t do demos. You can watch that on TV.

Dave Hegnauer, The City Kitch

The City Kitch, owned by Johnson & Wales University instructor Carrie Hegnauer and her husband, Dave, is there for you. The business, in a building that used to be a cafeteria, serves two worlds – it’s a commercial kitchen facility for food businesses and food trucks, and a teaching kitchen that can accommodate groups who want to learn a few cooking skills.

“We get discovered every week,” says Dave Hegnauer. “ ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ ” The business focuses on hands-on cooking classes for people who want to learn techniques to create affordable, doable food at home.

“We try to keep (classes) under 20, to keep it hands-on,” he says. “We don’t do demos. You can watch that on TV.”

Cooking classes tend to split into two styles: There’s the demonstration style, where you sit and watch a chef, usually working at a table with a tilted mirror overhead. Those are often available at restaurants and are focused more on watching your favorite chef and then eating (and drinking) a little.

Then there’s the hands-on style, where you tie on an apron, pick up a knife and get your own hands on the food. Those are usually found in facilities around town, like The City Kitch, that have enough space for groups of people working together.

While many cooking schools hold team-building events for companies and social events for organizations like church groups, you also sometimes end up working with strangers. That has its uses: At Friday night’s class at The City Kitch, Winstead emphasized team work in addition to techniques like rolling and shaping pie dough, knife skills and mis en place – getting everything ready before you cook.

Even in a large group where many people didn’t know each other, the class became a social mixer as people rolled, cut and arranged food. While most people came wearing flat shoes and Christmas sweaters, Kelly Jones came decked out in heels and a snazzy black apron with pearl straps.

Jones was out with several friends from her church, and she was going to make the most of it, even if it meant teetering at a stovetop in stilettos.

“When else do I get to go out on a Friday?” she said, laughing.

Get cooking!

If a cooking class sounds like the perfect gift, here are eight places that can fix you up. Most offer gift certificates.

Charlotte Cooks, at Central Piedmont Community College. Most classes are held at the Van Every Culinary Arts Center on the central campus. Days and hours vary, including many evening classes. Mostly 3-hour hands-on, with a few shorter demonstration classes, plus multiday series and boot camps. $58 to $123, more for longer camps. www.cpcc.edu and search on Charlotte Cooks, or call 704-778-3002.

Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, at Atherton Market, 2104 South Blvd. Alyssa Gorelick teaches hands-on classes for five skill levels, with a healthy/sustainable focus. Most are 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. $60 to $65. Details: www.chefalyssaskitchen.com or 704-817-7568.

Chef’s Choice, Johnson & Wales University, 801 W. Trade St. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. Technique and cuisine-based; all hands-on in the campus’ kitchen labs. Mostly $150, includes recipe booklets and all ingredients. www.jwu.edu/chefschoice/clt or 980-598-1085 to get on the mailing list.

The City Kitch, 9545 Pinnacle Drive. Hands-on adults, teens and kids classes, plus group events. Mostly $45-$65; days and hours vary. Details and registration: www.thecitykitch.com.

Cocoa Lab at the Ritz Carlton, 201 E. Trade St. Hands-on dessert classes with limited class sizes, Adult and teen classes available. Mostly $90 to $100, including free parking, apron and a 10 percent discount in Bar Cocoa afterward. Schedule and registration: www.ritzcarlton.com or 704-547-2244.

Flour Power Kids Cooking Studios, Quail Corners Shopping Center, 8438 Park Road. Classes and cooking camps for ages 2 1/2-18, including special-needs. Minimum purchase: 6 classes for $199 or 8 for $239 (except for the Friday night kids-night-out events, which are $39 and include dinner). Most are Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings. Details: 704-759-4337 or www.flourpowerstudios.com.

Salud! Cooking School at Whole Foods, 6610 Fairview Road. Includes hands-on, demonstration, kids and teen, and wine and cheese tasting classes. $40 to $60; $120 for date-night couples classes. Weeknight and weekend classes available. Registration and schedule: www.wholefoodsmarket.com/salud.

Sur La Table, SouthPark, 4400 Sharon Road, and Northcross Commons, 9129 Sam Furr Road, Huntersville. Mostly cuisine-based hands-on and demonstration classes. $40 to $70. Schedule and registration: www.surlatable.com.

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