THE JOY OF COOKING CLASSES
A quick and dirty guide to Reno-Tahoe’s best culinary instruction.
Written by Jane K. Callahan
Photos by Shaun Hunter and Jen Schmidt
Lara Ritchie, culinary director at Nothing To It!, gives instruction to students. Photo by Jen Schmidt
With the abundance of farm-fresh produce available at area farmers’ markets and farm stands, it’s a good idea to learn how to transform it into delectable dishes. When you’re yearning to use a long-neglected saucepan, sharpen your knife skills, or find a new way to use chicken breasts, you can choose from an amalgam of cooking classes that can prepare you for a new kind of date night or even help you embark on a new career.
The coronavirus pandemic has driven us all to spend more time in our kitchens, so now that classes have resumed (with additional safety protocols), this is your chance to expand your repertoire!
Consider any (or all) of these cooking classes held around the region.
Nothing To It! Culinary Center
225 Crummer Lane, Reno • 775-826-2628 • Nothingtoit.com Great for: Foodies who like to socialize
Opened in 1995 at the behest of the founder’s friends, Nothing To It! has become a culinary pillar for Reno-Tahoe food lovers. Boasting a gourmet deli and storefront selling the best and latest cookware, Nothing To It! has one of the most comprehensive class calendars for the budding chef, from basic techniques to exotic cuisine, which culinary director Lara Ritchie describes as “for the home cook.”
“Our most popular classes are any Italian, French, or Thai class. Sushi classes and our couples’ cooking classes also are in demand,” says Ritchie, a former sous chef with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
The kitchen, a 6,000-square-foot culinary center, was constructed for maximum participation from every student; each student group has its own burner and oven to enhance collaboration and the hands-on experience.
Casey Bell turns his group's pour-over peach cake out of the skillet during his cast-iron cooking class at Nothing To It! Photo by Jen Schmidt
“What makes us a bit different from other cooking classes is that each group makes the whole menu,” Ritchie says. “Usually, when you go to cooking schools, one station makes the entrée, one makes the side dish ... you’re not making the whole meal, so it’s not a complete picture.”
Aside from its international classes, NTI’s clientele is as varied as its courses, ranging from its Kids Cook! and Teens Cook! classes to Girls’ Night Out, date night, and private classes. Ritchie says attendees’ motives all are different, from trying something new to embarking on lifestyle changes.
In addition to hosting the occasional guest chef, Nothing To It! also has started offering team-building classes for company managers who want to give employees new ways to work together.
“It’s a unique way to team build if you’re tired of doing trust falls,” Ritchie says. “Even if you don’t cook, you still eat. It’s something people can create and enjoy together.”
Nothing To It! instructors will accommodate diet restrictions, but they ask that participants let the staff know ahead of time so they can prepare the necessary substitutions. Ritchie warns that for less-common allergies, it may be best to avoid some more specific classes. (People with pepper allergies should skip the Thai class, for example.)
Look for additional COVID-19 safety precautions instituted for class sessions, which include masks, socially distanced cooking stations, plenty of hand washing, and sanitizer provided at all stations. Participants will dine outside as weather permits.
For more details and a class calendar, visit the website.
2292 Main St., Ste. 3 & 4, Genoa • 775-392-4417 • Sierrachef.com
Great for: Families and those who care to cook with locally sourced food
Sierra Chef plays a big role in the local community, from its farmers’ market to its contribution to history (the founder’s great-great-uncle invented the Ferris wheel). There are few food-related offerings Sierra Chef doesn’t cover, from hosting brunches to letting school-aged students grow their own ingredients nearby as part of the business’ youth culinary camps.
Cynthia Ferris-Bennett started Sierra Chef in 2015, a natural evolution from running her storefront in Genoa. The store’s emphasis on fresh food and quality ingredients (it sells everything from soups to Italian baked goods, which includes peanut butter biscotti for dogs) has translated to the cooking classes.
The COVID-19 pandemic led Ferris-Bennett to close Sierra Chef for an extended period of time to ensure it was ready to operate safely and responsibly. She reopened in July, but because of the hands-on nature of the classes and students’ close proximity to each other, she opted to put cooking classes on hold. At the time of this writing, Sierra Chef is only offering private classes, and, whenever possible, classes may be held outside on Sierra Chef’s Garden Patio for additional safety. Ferris-Bennett hopes to restart classes in the fall.
Typically, Sierra Chef’s menu of classes runs the gamut, from learning how to cook with cheese to making ravioli (which Ferris-Bennett says is easier to accomplish than one might think). Regional cuisines covered in classes for adults include Latin street tacos and French favorites such as coq au vin — though the most popular class involves making pasta from scratch. Young chefs also have opportunities to learn with Sierra Chef’s youth-oriented cooking classes. Class sizes typically are capped at about 12 people, a number that ensures everyone gets to do everything.
“This isn’t a demo class; it’s very hands on, and it’s a working kitchen, so there’s stuff going on around [participants],” Ferris-Bennett says.
Sierra Chef makes every effort to accommodate enrollees’ dietary needs whenever possible, and its commitment to fresh, local ingredients is a draw for many.
Follow the website for the latest details on class availability.
Truckee Meadows Community College Culinary Arts
7000 Dandini Blvd., Reno • 775-674-7917 • Tmcc.edu/culinary
Great for: Those who are interested in pursuing chef careers or just upping their at-home culinary game
TMCC culinary student Clare Steppat ladles vegetarian chili. Photo taken in spring 2020, prior to COVID-19 mandates for masks and social distancing. Photo by Shaun Hunter
TMCC caters to every breed of chef, from solid beginner to food-service professional — and it offers an unmatched 8,000-square-foot kitchen.
“People come by to see our facility and say, ‘I want to come play in here! I want to cook here!’” says Karen Cannan, TMCC culinary arts professor. “We have a large kitchen and a large program, but it still always feels like a tight-knit group.”
While TMCC will offer a full schedule of classes in the coming months, some classes may become a hybrid of in-person and online learning due to the pandemic.
Generally, the maximum class size is 18 people. The college’s courses are accredited by the American Culinary Federation, meaning participants can earn college credits while they cook. But aside from the official course catalog offerings, TMCC hosts special-interest Community Education classes that don’t require prerequisites and introduce participants to various cuisines and cooking techniques. Find classes such as Principles of Baking, Aromatics/Restaurant Experience, Saucier, Pastry Arts, and many others. Those playing with the idea of opening their own food businesses might find The Business Chef useful.
Cannan says that while the breadmaking class sees the highest demand, the school always is churning out new courses. Keep an eye out for upcoming special interest classes such as a Sonoma culinary tour, vegan meal prep class, and, potentially, a canning class. For seasonal classes (learn to make a gingerbread house in December!), look under CUL 195 or CUL 198 in TMCC’s course catalogue.
Cannan explains that instructors take exceptional care with students’ dietary needs and restrictions at the start of each class series and will make necessary ingredient swaps so that everyone can participate. Participants should know that, at the time of this writing, TMCC is holding cooking classes in person, but in larger spaces that enable social distancing, and masks are required.
Jane K. Callahan is a Reno-based writer who taught herself to cook and is always searching for exotic new recipes on Pinterest.
These Reno-Tahoe establishments also offer cooking classes. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, activities may be postponed or cancelled. Please contact these places directly or visit their websites for the most current information.
11357 Deerfield Drive, Ste. C, Truckee • 530-414-9724 • Kitchencollab.co
10046 Donner Pass Road, Truckee • 530-582-1040 • Restauranttrokay.com/events
The Saucy Culinarian
Private chef teaches classes in your home.
530-314-1489 • Thesaucyculinarian.com/cooking-classes
The Tahoe Dinner Bell
Private chef teaches classes in your home.
530-903-1743 • Thetahoedinnerbell.com/ice-sculpting
The Summit, 13945 S. Virginia St., Reno • 775-853-6877 • Williams-sonoma.com/pages/store-events/store-events.html