Whether pursuing a life as a professional cook or a behind-the-scenes mover in culinary arts and restaurant management, the students at JNA Institute of Culinary Arts have honed their craft with professionalism and skill for more than 20 years. Students learn real-world lessons in a demanding professional setting, from running a kitchen to pleasing food critics with menus sung in four-part harmony. JNA shows off the fruits of these labors at its onsite restaurant, where the food is both prepared and served by students. The restaurant boasts a seasonal menu, gracing plates with items that have ranged from housemade gelato to cornmeal-dusted scallops.
Years ago, Joyce Nichols suffered a loss that triggered emotional overeating, leaving her 30 pounds overweight. Thanks to her professional background in fitness, she knew that she needed a weight-loss plan healthier than a crash diet, a dependence on supplements, or a resolution to carry a set of fun-house mirrors around with her at all times. So she started developing a set of recipes reminiscent of her grandmother's comforting cooking, yet lighter and rich in fat-burning ingredients. She put a bikini in her kitchen to remind her of her weight-loss goal.
Today, a trimmed-down Joyce shares the knowledge she's gleaned at her studio, The Bikini Kitchen, during classes that are part nutrition lesson and part motivational coaching. Groups prepare four-course dinners of brunch menus, learning to make dishes such as coconut-encrusted chicken with sweet dill sauce, heirloom-tomato bruschetta, or fried chicken. Joyce's kitchen is cozy yet spacious, with warm-hued cabinets, wood floors, and separate stations to accommodate guests with nut allergies.
Aiming to make exotic cooking an approachable feat for even the least experienced chef, Let's Cultivate Food employs friendly chefs who perform culinary magic in private kitchens, traveling up to 25 miles from Conshohocken, Philadelphia (extra fee for highway tolls, bridges, and city parking) to your home. With a variety of themed menus to choose from—including sushi-making, exotic stir-fried rice, and soups—cooking-party hosts can set their food preferences before a duo of chefs arrives with all the necessary fresh ingredients. Participants then learn to cook dishes, such as Pad Thai or BLT spring rolls, before enjoying each dish in the comfort of their homes and the familiar grooves of a favorite chair.
Little Hands Art Studio's owner and teacher, Jessica Heisen, equips budding artisans with the supplies and know-how to explore their own creativity with delectable results. Heisen’s classes for adults, children, and intergenerational duos guide students as they bake cupcakes and top them with decorations such as fondant, mini marshmallows, frostings in piped pastry bags, and cookies hit by a shrink ray. Beyond the regular classes, Little Hands hosts private birthday parties for youngsters and, on Thursday and Sunday nights, grownups-only workshops, which encourage participants to bring their own wine and mingle as they create pastry art that reflects their inner muses’ 401(k)s. The studio also teaches children how to whip up afternoon snacks such as pastas and muffins, and conducts occasional beading and other art classes.
Run by Anna Maria Florio, the daughter of Italian immigrants, La Cucina at the Market imparts vital culinary arts to its students in intimate, informative classes. Students plunge their hands into the world of handmade pasta in Making Handmade Pasta: Easy as 1, 2, 3, which runs through the art and science of noodle and sauce. In classes of up to 15 people, pupils knead, roll, and slice pasta dough to infuse homemade Italian entrees with a personal touch. Nascent noodle artists acquire the art of lengthy fettuccine and broad pappardelle, and afterward pastacrafters will be able to construct an edible sculpture of a penguin in formalwear using bowtie-mimicking farfalle.
Philadelphia calls Madame Saito the Queen of Sushi, and it's easy to see why. Armed with formal culinary training from Le Cordon Bleu and the Ritz Escoffier in Paris and experience from apprenticeships under premier Tokyo sushi chefs, she has committed the last 26 years to spreading her love for Japanese culture and contemporary fusion cuisine. Although she leaves time in her schedule to manage Tokio Sushi Bar—her sushi restaurant with French culinary influences—, The HeadHouse Cafe, and to conduct an annual sushi-making competition, Madame Saito counts education as one of her highest priorities. She regularly commits her quadrilingual tongue to demystifying the art of sushi during classes for aspiring chefs and casual students alike, teaching them how to hand roll maki and slice fish into perfectly uniform dodecahedrons.