Chef Brian Ross, owner of The Asheville Kitchen, is clear when he says his cooking classes are hands-on. “In the French macaron class, everyone has their own station and makes everything from start to finish,” he says.
But not everyone who attends his classes follows through. “I had a guy in a class who knew how to cook and had a blast. When he was leaving, I reminded him to take his recipes and he laughed and said, “I’m never going to make this at home!’”
Not surprisingly for an area so passionate about food and farm, there is a plethora of cooking workshops, demonstrations and classes available, both rooted in regional cuisine and spanning the globe, suited for both experienced home cooks and complete novices.
The most challenging task for the culinarily curious may be finding an opening — classes fill quickly, and many listed on individual websites have already sold out. All instructors urge interested participants to contact them directly by phone or email as new classes are frequently added when the first sells out, and custom classes for self-formed groups can almost always be arranged.
Thankfully, with the holiday entertaining season approaching, there is still time to learn how to bake a pie and create an impressive spread of hors d’oeuvres. Here are a few of Western North Carolina’s many options, some tried and true and some rather new to the scene:
The Asheville Kitchen
Ross says his Asian cooking classes — among them Bao + Bahn Mi, Ramen and Thai Street Food — are among the most popular, but at this time of year, he also tries to accommodate special requests for holiday-focused themes, such as additional coconut cake or pie classes. “Last year I had a group of 16 who just made Christmas cookies,” he notes. theashevillekitchen.com
If your idea of amore is Italian food, Wally Maria Mazzucco Wyatt has a place for you in her kitchen. Originally from Italy, just north of Venice, she met her Waynesville-born husband at the nearby U.S. Air Force base and moved with him to the Asheville area 30 years ago. New American friends who loved her food asked for recipes but were frustrated when it came to execution, so she began offering classes in their home in Weaverville, where she can accommodate as many as 10 in a class and at her table. “A class is four dishes and about four hours depending on the menu,” she says. “It is hands-on, but I have people who want to sit back and drink wine and watch me work, and that’s fine, too.” discoveritalian.com
Asheville Mountain Kitchen
Ofri Gilan’s home kitchen is indeed in the mountains, but her decades of cooking experience are worldly. “I have traveled and lived in many places,” she says. “I teach Asian, European, anything from the Mediterranean and, of course, American, as long as it’s healthy.” As her business has grown, she has segued from open sign-ups for classes to working with pre-organized groups and building a class to meet their interests. “I get a lot of corporate groups, families — including children 8 and over — and bachelorette parties,” she says. Classes last about three hours, and the fee of $350 covers five people and includes an apron, appetizers, drinks and a meal of five or six dishes. ashevillemountainkitchen.com
Lenore Baum says she and her husband built their house in Weaverville around the kitchen, and she builds her classes on gluten-free, vegan, plant-based whole foods, using no cane sugar, dairy or meat. “My classes are not just cooking but teaching a healthy lifestyle,” she explains. “I’m studying herbal medicine, so I’ll be incorporating that into future classes. We grow our own food, so it is very pristine.” She says the fermented foods workshops she teaches every spring are her most popular. lenoresnatural.com
The Farmer’s Hands
Meanwhile, out on Ariel and Sebastiaan Zijp’s Madison County farm, the cooking classes he instituted four years ago have steadily grown in number, types of cuisine and popularity. “I’ve been a professional chef since I was 19 in high-end restaurants in Canada and New York,” he says. “I wanted a less exhausting life but also wanted to continue doing food. I had taught some classes in the past and loved it.” The couple started hosting a farm-to-table monthly supper club on their farm six years ago, and the demand for classes grew from those. “We do two a week and can create custom classes when requested. We recently added a pho class that is really popular, and I’m working on a Mexican menu. Classes are a combination of demo and hands-on, and then we all sit to eat.” thefarmershands.com
Seasonal School of Culinary Arts
When Susi Séguret describes her monthly Appalachian Culinary Experience classes as hands-on, she means it. Taking place on her 200-plus acre farm in Madison County, students not only cook the food, but they gather it, too. “It’s a seven-hour stretch,” she says. “We meet at 2 in the afternoon, wander the trails on the farm, collect what’s available, come back to my kitchen, prepare, cook, then sit down together for a multicoursed wine-paired meal at my long table.” She also offers an annual weeklong intensive summer session at Warren Wilson College with classes, foraging and wine-paired luncheons. schoolofculinaryarts.org
Ashley Capps’ pastry classes
Ashley Capps, the Buxton Hall Barbecue pastry chef known for her classic, old-school pies, is determined to show the much-maligned fruitcake some love. “I grew up with that fruitcake we all hated,” she says. “When I started getting into old Appalachian cookbooks, there were so many recipes for preserved fruitcake or boozy fruitcake. When I worked at Rhubarb, I made preserved fruitcakes in October, and we’d put it on the charcuterie board in December. I started making them for Buxton, and people actually buy them!” On Sunday, Dec. 1, she and her friend and fellow pastry chef Cynthia Payne will teach a preserved fruitcake class at the Walnut Schoolhouse in Marshall. “We’ll use local flour, local eggs, have an arsenal of dried fruits to pick from, and they can choose the liquor they want to use,” she says. On Sunday, Dec. 8, she’ll partner with Walnut Schoolhouse baker Brennan Johnson for a class on rye breads and smoked, cured fish. On Saturday, Dec. 21, Capps and her partner, chef Travis Schultz, team with pie baker Keia Mastrianni and her partner, farmer Jamie Swofford, for an experiential/educational winter solstice dinner and the next morning, a baking workshop. Follow Capps on Instagram at acallcapps for times, sign-up announcements and baking classes planned for 2020. Visit walnutschoolhouse.com for additional baking classes by Johnson.
Demetria Honeywell overcame her pie anxiety working at Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in New York City. She now wants to encourage others to conquer the crust through classes she will offer at Half Moon Market in Black Mountain, which she and her husband Justin Honeywell recently purchased. She has developed an avid following for her beautiful decorative cut pies, and she intends to share those skills and offer kids baking classes in the market’s café, though start dates are still uncertain. “I’m due to have my first baby any minute,” she says. “I hope to post my workshop schedule on my website soon. It’s a little up in the air right now.” woodlandkeep.com
Editor’s note: Susi Séguret writes a regular column about food for Xpress, Appetite for Life.