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First Course

Five top restaurants whose chefs offer intriguing single-subject cooking classes

Spend an hour in a kitchen with a chef. You’ll learn more than you would by watching the Food Network for a lifetime. In that spirit, we found five top restaurants whose chefs offer intriguing single-subject cooking classes. Some are hands-on affairs that test your culinary mettle; others are laid-back demos that straddle the line between lesson and standup comedy routine. Either way, the learning curve is steep, the alcohol flows freely, and you get a nice parting gift

Vong’s Thai Kitchen
(6 W. Hubbard St.; 312-644-8664)
CURRICULUM Pad Thai with crab and shrimp; three-course lunch with mimosas ASSIGNMENT Sit back and sip mimosas while chef Luis de Alba preps the dish over a portable wok. A few brave students step up and try it themselves. SHOW AND TELL The chef demonstrates how to flip the pad Thai; mine ends up all over my wrist. TEACHER’S RULE “You can’t flip timidly. Go for it.” GRADUATION GIFT A goodie bag of dry pad Thai noodles, fish sauce, crushed peanuts, chopsticks, and the recipe. One lucky student walks away with a Jean-Georges cookbook. NEXT CLASSES Thai fish (September 13th), Thai curry (November 8th); 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. TUITION $50 (all-inclusive)

SushiSamba Rio
(504 N. Wells St.; 312-595-2300)
CURRICULUM Sushi and Saké 101 plus a five-course dinner that includes edamame and sea bass anticuchos with miso glaze ASSIGNMENT Saké sommelier Mark Ryan leads a five-saké tasting, and sushi chef Shigeru Kitano performs his art. Each student tries to roll his own. After five glasses of saké. SHOW AND TELL In one smooth stroke, Kitano slices the skin off a yellowtail. TEACHER’S RULE The Japanese don’t use mayonnaise; hot saké is one of the cheapest alcohols in Japan. GRADUATION GIFT A paper place mat listing the sakés we tried, from junmai-ginjyo to nigori, and a booklet on sushi and saké NEXT CLASSES Third Tuesday of each month; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. TUITION $75 (plus tax and tip)

Heaven on Seven
(111 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-263-6443)
CURRICULUM Chef-owner Jimmy Bannos conducts a demo and tasting of Creole caesar salad, gumbo, barbecued shrimp on cornbread squares, collard greens, panéed sesame-crusted chicken breast, and blond and dark roux. ASSIGNMENT Stay focused while your hurricane is topped off all evening. SHOW AND TELL Bannos’s stories are as interesting as the dishes. “I’m a texture guy,” he says, regarding the roux for his addictive gumbo. “We’re all going to be eating baby food in 20 years.” TEACHER’S RULE Don’t use Parmesan that comes in a green can. GRADUATION GIFT A packet of recipes and a string of Mardi Gras beads NEXT CLASSES First Friday of each month (excluding September and holidays); 7 to 10 p.m. TUITION $75 (all-inclusive)

Le Titi de Paris
(1015 W. Dundee Rd., Arlington Heights; 847-506-0222)
CURRICULUM Chef-partner Susan Maddox and her staff lead a hands-on sauces class (velouté, aïoli, beurre blanc, hollandaise, béarnaise, béchamel). A four-course wine dinner includes a potato-crusted bass with lobster-béarnaise sauce. ASSIGNMENT Students rotate around the massive kitchen as chefs lead them through each sauce. Prepare to get dirty and marvel at how much butter and cream you’re using. SHOW AND TELL Maddox makes mayo from scratch and insists students do the same before they graduate to the rest of the sauces. TEACHER’S RULE If the sauce breaks, add egg yolks to fix it. Also, whisk in a back-and-forth motion—not in a figure eight. It’s a wrist workout. GRADUATION GIFT A pack of recipes; samples of aïoli and beurre blanc to take home NEXT CLASSES Knife skills (September 14th), bistro favorites (October 12th), breads (November 2nd and 9th); 1 to 5:30 p.m. TUITION $78 (all-inclusive)

(W Chicago–Lakeshore, 644 N. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-255-4460)
CURRICULUM Filipino cuisine: grilled chicken adobo, pinakbet (a squash and vegetable stew), kilawin (tuna and coconut milk seviche), and a green mango, tomato, and onion salad ASSIGNMENT Executive chef Kristine Subido whips up the Silk Road dishes while students sip coconut coolers (coconut rum with peach schnapps and pineapple juice). SHOW AND TELL Flat-screen TVs simulcast the cooking class, but it’s still hard to see what the chef is doing. the lesson Learn from your elders. The kilawin recipe came from Subido’s grandfather, and her mother has served as a guest chef. GRADUATION GIFT A recipe packet and a stamped “Wave passport” NEXT CLASSES Turkish cuisine (September 6th), Lebanese cuisine (October 4th); 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. TUITION $45 (plus tax and tip) (Prices and dates are subject to change.)

Illustration by Serge Bloch


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