Firstly, choose a cookery course that interests you.
There are literally hundreds of different cookery courses out there catering for those interested in anything from macrobiotic cookery to people who want to be able to prepare their own sushi.
Pick a type of food that you really enjoy. Perhaps one that you love to eat but wouldn't have a clue about cooking. For example, a lot of people love a good curry. But how many of us would have a clue about how to start making one from the raw ingredients? Cookery courses can also be a way of getting guidance from experts in a specific cookery field. For instance, Indian food is more than just about curries. It is heavily regional and by choosing a chef that specialises in a particular region or style of food will increase your knowledge and also improve your cooking skills.
What level should I do my cookery course at?
There are numerous levels of cookery course available to the budding food student. Cookery courses that will take you from literally not being able to cook an egg to those which will train you up to a professional standard. Where do you think the likes of Gary Rhodes and Thomisina Miers learnt to cook? These two well known chefs are probably a good example of how cookery schools are changing the way many professionals learn to cook. Gary was educated the traditional way by going straight from school to catering college & then through varies apprenticeships by cooking in commercial outlets
Thomasina on the other hand was one of those people who took a passion for cooking & then successfully turned this passion into a new lively hood by retraining as a full time chef. Thomasina Miers subsequently went on to win Masterchef in 2005 but only after first taking a cooking course at Ballymaloe Cookery School near Cork. She has now set up a very successful Mexican restaurant Wahaca cooking food based on Mexican street food.
Professional cookery schools
The increasing interest in cooking as as career has spawned a whole range of cookery schools where budding chefs can improve their cooking skills to a professional level. Take for example
Tante Marie which will enable you to a full time cookery course leading to a Cordon Bleu diploma a cooking qualification with international recognition. As well as high end professional cookery courses there are more niche cookery schools such as the Artisan Cookery School located in Nottinghamshire.
I had the pleasure of visiting this establishment recently which is set in the spectacular setting of the Welbeck Estate in the estates former fire station. This cookery school aims to teach it students some of the lost skills of artisan food preparation. The facilities are superb. There are several wood fired brick ovens for artisan bread making. They have a separate facility for artisan cheese making. The cookery school is very well equipped and they have there own demonstration lecture theatre. The advance diploma in artisan food production covers 4 main food areas: bakery, cheese making, brewing and butchery. The full time year long course isn't cheap at £14,000 but students should then be equipped to set up either their own artisan food business or work within a related part of the food industry.
Shorter cooking courses
The cooking courses I referred to above relate to a serious financial and time commitment from a student. However, most people just want to learn a bit, improve their cooking skill and most of all have some fun. In which case there are loads of cookery courses out there for you.
Cookery courses can start from anything from a couple of hour demonstration where the student just basically watches the chef prepare the food. This allows the cookery student to prepare notes and study an expert cooking. Then at the end most cooking demonstration sessions will allow the cookery student to taste the food. Some cookery courses actually allow the student to take the food home as well. Frequently, the cookery school will also supply the cookery student with notes and recipes to take home.
If this all seems a bit passive & you are the kind of person who likes hands on learning. Don't worry, there are plenty of cookery courses where the cookery student gets to practice their cookery skills as well as watching the chef demonstrate new techniques or recipes. These type of cookery courses tend to take place over half or full day sessions with the cookery student getting to eat or take home the finished product.
Longer cookery courses are often available and these should be in depth enough to allow you to build up some serious cookery skills.
Where are cookery courses held?
In the last few years there has been an explosion of purpose built cookery schools. These cookery schools are often set in converted barns or industrial premises. The level of facilities they have can vary considerably so make sure you check them out thoroughly before you sign up for the cookery course. These style of cookery schools are on a much larger and professional scale compared to the traditional home spun cookery school which take place in the cooks farmhouse kitchen. You may like the more professional approach or prefer the intimacy of the homely location to take your cookery class. It's all about personal taste!
What do I need to bring to my cookery course?
Most cookery courses will provide their cookery students with everything they need. This means that the cookery school will provide the student with: aprons, the raw ingredients, knives and other equipment required to prepare the food. This means that the cookery student just needs to bring their enthusiasm to the course and they are then ready to go.
How many people will be on my cookery course?
Numbers vary on cookery courses but really there shouldn't be more than 12 students to each cookery teacher. Less students can be better, depending on the type of food being prepared. However, where you are going on a cookery demonstration numbers of students are likely to be much higher. Expect up to 30+ students depending on the layout of the cookery school. Some well equipped cookery schools like the artisan school of cookery actually have demonstration theatres with there own TV screens and cameras so that students can observe up close what the cookery teacher is doing.
How much will a cookery class cost?
Cookery courses aren't cheap. However, what you get for your money is expert tuition and a life skill and experience. For a full days cookery course you should budget on between £100-200. If you are just looking to do a half day which might be perfectly adequate to cover the cooking of certain dishes or types of food then expect to pay between £75-100.
If you opt instead for a cookery demonstration then you will pay less because you are not paying for the food or other equipment. A full days demonstration may cost as little as £45 and up to £75 depending on the chef who is demonstrating and the cookery school.
There are longer cookery courses which consist of a number of separate cooking classes spread over several days or weeks. These tend to work out cheaper per cooking class but can still represent a considerable outlay. For a weekend course budget on about £250. If a full week or series of cooking classes over several weeks then you might be talking of a thousand plus.
The advantage with the longer classes is that you should start to get into serious cooking and developing a specialist knowledge of the subject you are studying.
If you are lucky your cookery course might not cost you anything at all. Many of the cookery schools will offer vouchers suitable for birthdays or other gifts. You might therefore not have to pay a penny for your cookery course if you have a very generous partner or family.
Food, culture and history are all linked
When you start on a cookery course you will often find that you will end up learning much more than basic cooking skills. Learning about a countries food often reveals much about it's history and it's culture. This means that often a cookery student will end up with much more than just a serious of recipes to take home.