Saturday, November 24, 2012

Teach a Man to Fish....

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with family, friends, traditions, good food, and gratitude.  Gratitude is a skill we can all use practice in cultivating.  It has an amazing way of drawing even more goodness in to our lives.  I am grateful for many things, and in my passion for food I am grateful for the opportunities that abound in the Madison area for learning how to make good food in the comfort of my own kitchen.  

Most of us are familiar with the proverb, 
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."   
Cooking is akin to fishing in this case and is a skill not to be underestimated.  How many times have you been intimidated out of preparing a healthy, delicious, low cost meal for yourself?  Or said, "I don't like to cook," when really you mean "I don't know how to cook."  None of us enjoy doing something we don't know how to do or feel intimidated by. When done mindfully and sustainably, the benefits of cooking for yourself and others are deep and far reaching.  Not only does it save you money and keep you healthy, but it also fosters relationships, improves your local economy, and serves the land, water, and animals around you.  

I am often asked if and where I like to take cooking classes.  My answer is, "Of course" and here is a list of the "where" that are available to all of us!

In Madison
  • Offer an array of season appropriate classes in their community rooms. 
  •  In addition to learning how to cook American and ethnic dishes, the classes cover a wide range of topics such as meal planning, shopping on a budget, alternative eating styles, and nutritional coaching.  
  • They offer a lot of classes that teach you how to really "do it yourself," like basic canning, fermentation (think kraut & yogurt), planting seeds, garden planning, raising backyard chickens, baking bread, and making cheese.  
  • The classes are always taught by professionals or members of the community who have developed an expertise in the particular field of learning.  
  • Classes are very affordable and are open to members and non-members alike.  
  • Periodically check the co-op's website to see what classes are coming up, or if you become a member owner you will get their monthly, The Reader, newsletter which lists all upcoming classes in addition to other great articles and information.  

Orange Tree Imports:  Orange Tree Imports 
  • A lovely specialty shop that has been a staple in Madison for over 35 years.  Even if you aren't interested in the classes, Orange Tree's unique offerings of specialty gifts and culinary products make it worth a visit.  
  • Cooking school classes are very popular and fill up quickly.  Their former method for signing up, which included deadlines and a lottery system, has given way to a first come first served online registration.  
  • Class lists are released on a quarterly basis and although you can periodically check their website for updates, I recommend simply getting on the list to receive their e-newsletter so you don't miss your opportunity.  Classes for the winter session (which starts Jan. 9th) were just released on Nov. 19th and some are already full.  
  • Orange Tree classes are a little more upscale, usually include a glass of wine, and always include a 10% shopping discount throughout the store the night of the class.  
  • They don't offer any real DIY classes, but you do learn how to make some delicious and impressive dishes as well as meet local celebrity chefs, food experts, and store these folks make up the ever changing group of class instructors.  

The Kitchen Gallery:  Although they don't yet have their class kitchen built, it is in the plans for The Kitchen Gallery to one day offer cooking and DIY classes.  As another locally owned specialty kitchen store I feel it necessary to mention them.  The owners are lovely people who care very much about their community and local food system.  Their store is worth a visit the next time you are downtown and keep checking their website or sign up for their e-newsletter for updates on classes.  

Underground Food Collective:   Underground Food Collective 
  • The fantastic hands-on meat based classes they have long offered now fall under the Underground Meats umbrella.  Their classes are not for the faint of heart and are for people serious about learning how to build a relationship with their food.  
  • Underground offers a wildly popular Whole Hog Breakdown Class where you get to learn how to break down your very own hog then take home all of the cuts you created to stock your freezer.  Truly "teaching a man to fish...."  
  • I haven't found a consistent and reliable method for keeping up to date on Underground events.  They do offer an e-newsletter and can be found on Facebook, in addition to checking in on their website periodically.  
Did you know you can save yourself some serious cash on the healthiest most sustainable meat around, if you buy it in whole pieces and learn how to do some basic butchering yourself?  Boned chicken breasts and thighs cost significantly more than bone in cuts, or better yet than a whole chicken (on a per pound basis).  Save some money and buy that locally, organically, sustainably raised chicken by taking it home and parting it out yourself.  (Just to be clear this doesn't mean you have to dispatch and dress the comes to you dead and ready to go.) 

One of my most favorite classes with Underground was a Duck Butchering class where we each got our own duck and then were walked through properly cutting it in to all the useful pieces we recognize.  We then learned how to cook said parts.  We were treated to so much food, instruction, and take home meat that is was the best money I had spent in a while.  

FairShare CSA Coalition (formerly MACSAC) & Fitchburg Fields:  For the ultimate in DIY and seasonal cooking classes, particularly instruction on how to manage the sometimes overwhelming bounty of your CSA share, FairShare and Fitchburg Fields are your answer.  
  • FairShare's classes begin in June and go through the growing season.  Their classes are now long over for the year, but keep them in mind next year as you begin your summer food planning.
Fitchburg Fields also offers classes appropriate to the time of year and only during the growing season.  
  • Their offerings extend beyond cooking and preserving to include gardening workshops as well.  
  • This is a grass roots organization run by a group of passionate people who are dedicated to the promotion of  sustainable living and regionally based food systems through education and hands on learning.  
  • You can visit their website, sign up for their e-newsletter, or follow them on Facebook to keep abreast of all they have to offer or to get involved. 

Slow Food Madison:  Slow Food Madison   
  • Offer an ongoing variety of local store and food producer tours, and periodically offer DIY classes on a variety of subjects.  
  • Are currently working on putting together a very special French inspired cooking class series. 
  • Check their website, sign up for the e-newsletter, or follow them on Facebook to keep up with what's coming next.   

Whole Foods:   Whole Foods 
  • Although a corporate chain in the natural foods category, they offer a nice array of classes.  Though I'm not sure that they offer the same level of DIY type classes, they do offer a selection of kid's cooking classes
  • Whole Foods classes can be found on their website as well as in a flyer available for pick up at each checkout aisle.  
Outta Town!
Dining Room at 209 Main:  Ready for a trip to the country?  Been wanting to explore some of our area's small towns?  The Dining Room at 209 Main in tiny Monticello, WI, is the perfect excuse to do just that.  
  • Monticello is located about 30 miles south-west of Madison, and just 5 miles south of beautiful New Glarus.  Wave Kasprzak and Jane Sybers are the husband and wife duo who own and run this fantastic upscale restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  If you haven't yet made the trip to Monticello to dine with Jane & Wave, put it at the top of your dining "to do" list.  
  • Jane & Wave offer cooking classes January through March.  
  • These classes are uber-popular with folks who are in the know and I'm experiencing one of those tough situations where when you find something wonderful, you want to tell everyone about it, but all the while know that in so doing, it's going to make it more difficult for you to participate.  
  • Wave's classes are intimate small groups, always include wonderful wines (courtesy of sommelier Jane), and fill up VERY quickly.  
  • In this case you must be on the mailing list to be notified of the upcoming class roster...which should be coming out any day!
  • Wave also offers custom private cooking classes for small groups if that is a better fit for your schedule or needs.  I can think of many ways a cooking class like this could be a unique way to celebrate with friends and family.  
  • And, if you are already a fan of his cooking, Wave put out a cookbook last year that is filled with fantastic recipes you can recreate at home.   
The highlight of Wave's class roster is the Chef for a Day offering.  
  • It is the ultimate in cooking classes and is the one I've participated in most ardently.  It involves a full day of meal preparation in a very small group followed by a delightful multi-course dinner (that you spent the day preparing) complete with accompanying wines.  It is a spendy proposition, but worth every penny and is so much fun.  

All Through the House:  All Through the House 
Another lovely specialty shop located in nearby Stoughton, WI.  I have been to the store, but have never taken a class.  I have always heard nice things, which is why I'm including them in my list. 
  • They offer a fun variety of classes (including some DIY), often offer wine samplings, and include a shopping discount at the store.  
  • They also have a beautiful set up for observing the classes.  Guests sit at a comfortable bar that over looks the cooking area.  Easy for viewing and eating!  
  • Again, the classes at ATtH are very popular and fill up quickly.  They are currently working on their next session of classes, so if you want to be kept up to date sign up for their e-newsletter.  For a look at what was offered this last session click here.
So there you go.  I'm sure there are some that I don't know about or have forgotten, but this is a pretty substantial list and now you have no more excuses.  Cooking can be fun, and learning how to do it will go a long way to helping you enjoy the process.  If you already enjoy cooking, all of the above places will offer you a way to hone your skills or break out of a rut.  If you have a favorite cooking class experience or want to share a place that I've missed, please tell us about it in the comments!  I love hearing from you.

All my best to you as we move in to a very busy holiday season.  Remember to stop and take a breath, enjoy the moment, and keep your focus on the important things in, friends, and good food. ;)


  1. This is a great list! I've only taken one cooking class in Madison, and would love to take more...not that Milwaukee doesn't have good options, but I like any excuse to visit Madison :)

  2. Thanks Karis! I love that you love Madison. :) I actually have quite a list of places in Milwaukee I'd like to visit, I just have to make the time to get there. Thanks for reading!!

  3. I'm grateful that you are writing this blog, Alyssa! What a nice rundown of classes. So many choices. I must admit, I have never taken any of the classes Madison has to offer (though I did teach one for mini-courses many years ago!). Maybe that should be one of my New Year's resolutions ;-)

  4. Lisa, thank you so much! That means the world to me. :) Let's find some classes to do together!