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When it comes time to decide what to do for the weekend, dinner and a show can become the default. But when looking for something creative to do with a date or a fun way to catch up with friends, there is an often-overlooked option—cooking classes and wine tastings.
“We have people walk in almost daily and say, ‘I didn’t know you were here,’” says Diane Sheya, culinary director at Viking Cooking School in Salt Lake.
Eat, Drink, Learn
Most cooking classes are for the “nonvocational cook,” Sheya says, adding that people with zero to average cooking skills are encouraged to join the fun. “It’s for people like you and me interested in cooking Thai food or grilling or a night out with your husband or girlfriends. It’s just a fun place to come.”
Heather Smith, culinary director at Orson Gygi, says cooking classes can be a nice alternative to a restaurant because not only do guests learn new skills, but it’s a more relaxed atmosphere. Restaurants can sometimes make you feel rushed, but with a class guests have several hours to fix and eat a great meal, Smith says.
Attendees also get a chance to talk to people they came with and whoever else might be in the cooking group, Smith says, making it a fun time to catch up with friends or make new ones.
Another reason cooking classes are so popular is the versatility, says Kristen Daniel, City Creek Harmons event coordinator. The Utah-based store frequently has people who attend on date nights or for girls’ night out, but Daniel says people often attend for corporate team building sessions, family nights, reunions and even birthday parties centered around cooking.
“Basically if someone comes to us and says, ‘We want to do this.’ We try and do it even if it’s really out there,” Daniel says.
Salt Lake’s Kiler Grove Winegrowers hosts events ranging from neighbors having dinner to book signings to a Great Dane rescue fundraiser. Each event depends on the group, says Co-owner Mike Knight, adding that everything from wine tasting and education about pairings to a small, private event with friends or clients is possible.
On the Menu
Though classes run the gamut of types of food being prepared and wine tasted, there are some basics of what you can expect.
Many classes give hands-on experience. Both Smith and Sheya say people attending classes get to do the food prepping and cooking under supervision of the chef. Some classes are aimed at helping those without experience gain basic skills; others work better for people with a basic knowledge of cooking.
Daniel says some Harmons classes are hands on, while others are demonstration classes where students watch a chef prepare the meal they will get to enjoy.
At all cooking classes, students get the recipes that were prepared, so they can recreate the meals at home. And some classes give the students extra recipes so they can continue experimenting in the kitchen.
Harmons’ wine tastings pair several wines with cheese or other food. The classes help people know how and with what to serve the different wines, and people are encouraged to take notes about what they tasted and whether they liked it, Daniel says.
With wine tastings at Kiler Grove, Knight says it’s really up to the guests. Anyone is welcome to stop by and taste wine when the winery is open. During events Knight says he’s happy to arrange catering, create pairings and educate people about the different wines. But Tasting Room Manager Rhea Cook says if guests want to bring their own food, Kiler Grove can also recommend wines.
Classes are also more affordable than many people realize, Daniel says. Depending on the class and who runs it, the two-and-a-half to three-hour long events are generally between $35 and $99 per person. For series, long classes or specialized meals, it might be slightly higher.
Kiler Groves charges $150 to rent the winery for 25 people or fewer and $175 for 25 to 50 people, with most of the cost going to an alcohol permit, Knight says.
And part of the value in cooking classes is the variety, adds Daniel. Not only do the various schools rotate topics and types of food, but different chefs teach the same subject differently, she says. So courses are something people could go to over and over again at different locations and for different meals, learning new things every time.
“It’s very interactive,” Daniel says. “It’s fun, super upbeat, everybody in the classes is fun and energetic. It’s something to do differently with going downtown.”
Sheya says people get the added benefit of gaining new skills that they can put to work at home. And even the people who are skeptical end up having a good time. “Cooking is really the hot item these days… We’ve had husbands come in with their wives, kicking and dragging, and by the end of the night they’re having a blast,” she says.