At some point in your twenties, it becomes apparent that in order to survive (without decimating your bank account), you’re going to need to learn how to cook. And along with that, you want to develop your palate and become a more sophisticated taster and drinker—so that you can enjoy the things you cook, and also appreciate the meals out that you do choose to splurge on, right?
But looking at the wide array of food and drink classes around New York City, the options can seem daunting, not least because they’re typically quite expensive. To help you all out, I’ve done some research, taking classes around the city in order to further my own food and wine writing. Here are my recommendations for the city’s most worthwhile and engaging opportunities for gastronomic education.
Courtesy wallyg's flickr
MURRAY'S CHEESE The educators at Murray’s Cheese are serious professionals—they include sommeliers at the city’s best restaurants, and Certified Cheese Professionals (disclosure: during the process of researching this article, I applied to be a wine instructor at Murray’s and got hired!). The Murray’s Wine and Cheese 101 class ($70) should be a primer for anyone who wants to understand how to be good taster, period.
You’ll not only come out of the 90-minute class understanding the basics of wine- and cheese-making, you’ll develop a sense of how to approach tasting in general, and how to discuss what you are perceiving. With these super-nerdy instructors guiding you, the pairings will be adventurous—like a juniper-smoked cheese from Catalonia alongside a nice full-bodied Rioja. But above all, the classes are fun and relaxed. There are themed classes as well.
Murray's Wine and Cheese 101 class is held at 254 Bleecker Street, (888) 692-4339; website
BROOKLYN KITCHEN If you’re getting into cooking—or are a natural in the kitchen—then I cannot stress enough how important it is to know basic knife skills. The Brooklyn Kitchen is the place to get schooled on how to properly select and hold a knife, chop and dice vegetables, and do more advanced techniques once you have the basics down (de-bone a chicken, why not). These are serious cooks and butchers who love sharing knowledge. Take their Knife Skills class ($75), and it will give you so much more confidence in the kitchen. Plus, they’ll give you a beer toward the end of the workshop.
Brooklyn Kitchen is located at 100 Frost Street, Wiliamsburg, (718) 389-2982; website
LEAGUE OF KITCHENSLeague of Kitchens launched in early 2014 as a cooking school for people who want an intimate, culturally-rich food experience, in someone’s actual home. These workshops are about much more than knife skills or learning classic French sauces; they are for people who want stories, culture, and authentic, unguarded interchange alongside instruction. And the instruction itself is meant for the home cook, rather than the professional.
The idea behind League of Kitchens started when New York City resident Lisa Gross realized that her family’s Korean American culinary heritage was at risk of disappearing. Currently, League of Kitchens employs eight instructors who were recruited through extensive outreach, via nonprofits, community organizations, language schools, and so on. They are all exceptional home-cooks and completely self-taught.
League of Kitchens is located in people's homes throughout Queens and Brooklyn
IN VINO Keith Beavers is a hilarious, wine-obsessed nerd who will make you feel right at home in his cozy East Village restaurant that serves Italian food and wine. Over delicious wine and cheese, you’ll taste through wines, hear stories about the regions they come from, and discuss the basics of wine tasting. Beavers offers a different theme each week—Orange Wine, "A Tale of Two Montepulcianos" and Italian Wine 101 were recent options—and the classes are always a wealth of information and, at $20, a total steal. But what’s more, they’re totally casual and they have that classic East Village vibe, almost as if Beavers was the fourth Beastie Boy who got kicked out for drinking too much Chianti.
CHELSEA WINE VAULT For just $25 you can get a serious wine education in an hour from the staff at this excellent wine shop in the Chelsea Market. It’s a pretty nice way to spend a weekend afternoon. The classes are themed, such as “American Wines,” but they are also designed to provide a general overview of wine and how to taste.
You’ll taste four wines, and be given a hand-out with information about each bottle and space to take notes. You can sign up in advance, or get a seat same-day if you show up early enough (the class fits 30). Perhaps the best way to take advantage of these classes, since they are short and relatively cheap, is to go to one per month, and in between taste on your own and read introductory wine blogs—that’s a recipe for developing some serious wine knowledge.
Chelsea Wine Vault is located at 75 9th Avenue inside Chelsea Market, (212) 462-4244; website
CORKBUZZ For more structured wine education, look to Master Sommelier Laura Maniec, who offers a wide array of classes at her two Corkbuzz wine bar locations. In my opinion, everyone who wants to learn more about wine should try a blind tasting at some point. Doing this in Corkbuzz’s classroom would be the ultimate learning experience, because Master Somms are trained to really understand the mechanics of tasting and identifying wines blind, in what’s called the “deductive process.” You’ll develop a sense of how experienced tasters perceive a grape’s flavor profile and a wine’s uniqueness, and learn a sophisticated vocabulary for discussing these variants. Although this $75 class is labeled as “recreational” (Corkbuzz has four levels of classes, and recreational is the most introductory), it would also benefit people who have some wine knowledge already. Oh, and there will be a cheese plate.
Corkbuzz is located at 13 East 13th Street (646-873-6071) and also inside Chelsea Market at 75 9th Avenue (646-237-4847); website
MILK BAR If you’ve always wanted to wear one of those cute little kerchiefs that Christina Tosi is sporting in all her cookbook headshots, now is your chance: you’ll get your own patterned headscarf when you step into the educational kitchen at Milk Bar in Williamsburg. Although you will walk away from these 90-minute Bake the Book classes ($95) with your own Milk Bar style cake, what happens here is more about assembling than actually baking.
You’ll be given a cooked cake, and then the materials with which you’ll build a cake according to the Milk Bar template: lots of cream, a liquid soak, and crunchy bits, all layered together in a round mold.
The energetic instructor will tell you all about Milk Bar’s history, and what makes their baked goods so damn irresistible. The best part about the class is that you’re encouraged to snack the entire time. Plus, you’ll get to make truffles as a side project. It’s a super fun way to get inspired about baking.
Milk Bar is located at 382 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, (347) 577-9504 ext 1; website
THE FLATIRON ROOM Bourbon vs. rye—even if you do know that Bourbon is made with at least fifty-one percent corn, there is still worlds more to learn about the cultures of these two incredibly important spirits. Let the good folks at the Flatiron Room help you understand what distinguishes these two grain spirits from each other and more during the American Whiskey 101 class ($85). You’ll probably be the most impressive person at the bar or party next time when you’re able to say, “Oh, that’s made with a Prohibition era recipe, using a pot still.” Expect to develop an expensive Bourbon habit after taking this class; start saving up now.
The Flatiron Room is located at 37 West 26th Street, (212) 725-3860; website
ASTOR CENTER Mezcal fever is full-on and it’s time to get in the know. Try Astor Center’s Mezcal vs. Tequila tasting class ($79), offered by Tess Rose Lampert, who will explain the differences between the two spirits and talk about how to taste and evaluate spirits. Lampert will talk about the different histories of these agave-based spirits, and how they are made differently today. The two-hour class takes place in Astor’s impressive tasting facility, and includes a welcome beverage, six tasting pours, and a cheese plate to soak up all that booze. As well, Astor offers a Tequila Cocktail class for people who want to learn how to play bartender.
Astor Center is located at 399 Lafayette Street, (212) 674-7501; website
BITTER AND ESTERS If you’re into beer but lack the vocabulary to talk about it, or even have a hankering to dive right into making your own, look to Bitter and Esters's Brewshop 101 class ($55) in Prospect Heights. You can walk into one of these classes knowing nothing about beer, and walk out three hours later as an accomplished brewer. The class, led by a seasoned brewer, makes a five-gallon batch of beer together. To get the most out of the class, opt for a “brewing essentials starter kit” ($150.26) as part of your class. You’ll learn about extract brewing, malts, grains, yeasts, and how to avoid or troubleshoot the most common problems. Doesn’t that sound so nerdy and amazing? Bitter and Esters also offers advanced classes so you can improve further once you get your brewing off the ground.
Bitter and Esters is located at 700 Washington Avenue, (917) 596-7261; website
TOBY'S ESTATE Every Saturday at 10 a.m., Toby’s Estate on North 6th Street in Williamsburg holds a public cupping (that’s what coffee tastings are called) for $10, designed for coffee lovers of all levels. You’ll use a little spoon to taste coffee straight, without any milk or sugar, to evaluate different varieties from various regions. A coffee cupping is a great way to achieve a deeper appreciation of how your favorite breakfast beverage develops unique flavors, plus you won’t feel so ridiculous paying five bucks for that pour-over if you have some understanding of how coffee can represent a region’s terroir. The class is limited to just five people, so reserve in advance on their website.
Toby's Estate is located at 125 North 6th Street, (347) 457-6160; website
BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE Okay, I know: you’ve been making coffee at home since you were, like, nineteen. Why would you need someone to show you how to do it? The reason is, we’ve simply become more sophisticated coffee drinkers, and there is a plethora of new equipment on the scene to ensure the most elevated caffeine imbibing experience in the comfort of your own apartment. So, why not get into it? Blue Bottle’s Chelsea location offers regular (free!) classes, which focus on a different equipment each time—such as Aeropress or Chemex. It helps, of course, to know which one you prefer, since you’ll be getting tailored instruction to that machine. Stick around after the class for a free public cupping.
Blue Bottle Coffee's Chelsea outpost is located at 450 West 15th Street; website