With its gleaming marble demonstration counter, wooden cabinets topped with carved grapevines, and overhead televisions, the teaching kitchen at Nothing To It! Culinary Center would look perfectly at home on a film set. Instead, it sets the stage for the school’s master chefs to share the secrets to baking a flaky, golden pie crust or simmering a fragrant Moroccan stew with more than 500 students each month. Under the helm of Culinary Director, Chef Lara Ritchie, a graduate of New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont, expert gourmands constantly add new hands-on and demonstration classes to their already encyclopedic schedule. Budding Boyardees hoping for a comprehensive approach can take the eight-level techniques series, which starts with knife skills and finishes with advanced techniques such as rendering an emulsified aioli or soft-boiling an egg with telekinesis. Pupils interested in more specific, contained lessons join hot-topic sessions, which delve into gluten-free cooking or sausage making, or international classes that explore Lebanese cuisine’s spices or Spain’s rustic charcoal-fired meats. Over the holidays, the 6,000-square-foot center fills with apprentices who learn to craft seasonal edibles such as truffles or gingerbread houses.
Nothing To It! also feeds visitors feasts they don’t have to cook. Its Napa Valley–style Gourmet Deli layers sandwiches with lavish ingredients such as imported cambozola-cheese pesto and flavors salads with creamy curried-mango chutney.
After growing up in the Basilicata region of southern Italy and training in fine Florentine restaurants, Sergio Mirabelli exported his culinary talents to America. A year later, in 1995, he and his wife, Francesca, opened their first eatery on Oakland's restaurant row. Sergio's Steak and Seafood is the Mirabelli family's latest dining establishment—another outlet for the traditional cuisine of Sergio’s childhood. “My family were hunters and we know how to cook game," Mirabelli told Art Garcia of the Folsom Telegraph. He and his Sicilian chef prove this daily by crafting specials built around wild game and fresh seafood in addition to housemade pasta and sauces.
Mirabelli and his wife typically roam the restaurant, greeting guests at the door and making people feel at home; Francesca has even started offering cooking classes where students can learn how to bake biscotti. And their gregarious personalities have won over customers and critics alike. The cozy eatery was ranked the No. 1 Folsom restaurant on TripAdvisor, and Mirabelli has appeared several times on CW 31 Good Day Sacramento's Dishin' With Tina. Even Sacramento magazine got in on the action, hailing the restaurant's "generous portions of lusty food" and old-style Italian ambiance, which is created in part by tapestries depicting scenic, Mediterranean-like landscapes, and in part by analysts predicting the fall of the Roman Empire.
Tearing into a perfectly charred, sauce-covered rack of ribs satisfies the stomach, and the knowledge that you made them yourself feeds the soul. Students can do just that in classes held by the nonprofit organization California BBQ Association, which shares all of its proceeds with children’s charities throughout the state. The course catalogue includes beginner and advanced classes led by pit masters such as Ric Gilbert, an inductee to the association’s hall of fame, and Harry Soo, a contestant from the first season of TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters. Fees cover the equipment and food needed to prepare dishes, freeing students from having to stop at a barbecue-sauce river and fill up some water bottles on their way to class.
Inspired by the slow-food movement, the instructors at Community Tap and Table encourage everyone to make food deliberately and from scratch. Their events include techniques for such projects as curing bacon at home, canning and preserving food, and making tea-smoked salmon. Several of their cooking classes include beer pairings, and glasses of craft brew clink together during a foodie book club, punctuating chatter. Customizable private parties bring beer and food into the comfort of clients’ own homes, where they and a few friends enjoy cooking and pairing lessons from staff chefs wielding local ingredients. A portion of Community Tap and Table’s proceeds funnels straight back into funding farm-to-table projects or job-training resources for students.
Napoli Culinary Academy founder and international chef Hassi Sadri—whose infinite pizza knowledge earned him the head judge position at the international pizza competition in Las Vegas—leads culinary initiates along with his staff during fun-filled cooking classes, whether for fun or to achieve a culinary-arts diploma. During hands-on classes, groups of students learn useful tidbits on how to cook a variety delectable dishes. Academy students along with professional executive chefs serve lunch and dinner in the Napoli Culinary Academy Café and cater special events while showing off skills crucial to their future careers as gourmet chefs, from carving meats to plating entrees.