Is it a coincidence, or the start of a major trend? All three area community colleges are adding brand new cooking classes this fall. And two of them, Mercer County Community College and Middlesex County College, have even added new facilities in which to instruct home chefs. The director of each school’s community education programs has a slightly different explanation for the sudden popularity of cooking instruction in an area where nearly every restaurant is jammed on nearly every night of the week.
"People are looking for a magic bullet," says Lynn Lederer, director of professional and community programs at Middlesex. The driver, in her opinion, is the fact that busy working adults need to get something edible on the table from time to time, and need help in figuring out how to do so quickly and easily.
Still, no matter how easy the task can be made, she has an intriguing theory as to why some working women haven’t picked up even basic skills. "Cooking is like typing used to be," says Lederer. "Women don’t want to learn for fear that they will have to do it all the time."
When the task can no longer be dodged, a solution that is not too time-intensive must be found. This year Middlesex is offering a quintet of basic courses to show the way, but Lederer is working on a more ambitious idea.
"A concept I would really like to develop," she says, "is an opportunity for people to come with the ingredients for a week’s worth of meals. They would make dishes for the microwave or the freezer."
While Lederer is keying into the basic survival aspect of cooking, Yvonne Chang, her counterpart at Mercer, has a brand new demonstration kitchen in which to schedule her classes, and is thinking that her students interested in trying their hands at more sophisticated fare. She thinks that a surge of interest in all things culinary has come from television. "It’s that Food Channel," she says.
She has seen the phenomenon before. Last year she added an interior design class to her fall line-up and it "filled up like crazy." In no time at all there was a waiting list. For this fall, many more interior design classes have been added. "It became an overnight success," she says. The reason? "The HGTV Channel," says Chang. "It started the whole remodeling craze with programs like Extreme Makeover."
But while Mercer is catering to aspiring cooks with its artisan breads and ravioli abbondanza courses, it is also keeping the reluctant inexperienced cooks Lederer has identified in mind with courses that teach "quick, easy, and delicious recipes."
At Raritan Valley, Kristy Vukoder, director of corporate and continuing education, also is offering brand new cooking classes. She is finding that, although cooking is popular, it apparently pales when compared with imbibing. "Cooking is hot," she says, "it’s the in thing." That being the case, she was confident that the cooking classes would fill up immediately. But, she quickly found out, "everyone wants wine tasting."
Mercer also offers wine appreciation, and finds that it is a wildly popular subject. "We just bought wine glasses," says Chang. Previously, the instructor, Bruce Smith, brought glasses from his own collection, and then took them home and washed them. Taking pity – "the glasses were heavy!" – Chang suggested that the college would be happy to buy plastic glasses. The concept fell flatter than an over-age Merlot with Smith, and so Chang purchased real glasses – and added another wine appreciation course.
In the unpredictable interplay of personal and work interests, the cooking and wine appreciation courses were largely intended for personal enrichment, but have already crossed over to the area of job and corporate interest.
"A corporation has already used the new kitchen to make a CD to go along with a textbook," says Saveria Symons, a Mercer spokesperson. The corporation does not want to be named.
Raritan’s Vukoder has been surprised to find that many of the people signing up for wine appreciation are not recreational oenophiles, but rather are wine store employees who need more information to tend to their increasingly sophisticated customers. She is finding the same thing in her floral arrangements classes. Intended for home gardeners, the courses are drawing people who would like to work for a florist, but who need more training.
Whether for work, entertaining, or help in getting a meal on the table at night – and pairing it with a complementary wine – the new domestic arts classes debuting this fall are meeting needs that all three continuing education directors sense among the hyper-busy residents of central New Jersey.
Cooking at Mercer
Classes are held at Mercer County Community College, Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, 609-586-9446 (www.mccc.edu).
"No fear series: bread basics," Anne Lumberger, chef, $49. Saturday, September 10, 9 a.m.
"Fat busters series: saute pan," Douglas E. Fee, chef, $45. Wednesday, September 14, 6 p.m.
"Wine appreciation," Bruce Smith, three sessions, $65. Wednesday, September 14, 6:30 p.m.
"Dessert and wine pairing," Anne Lumberger, chef, $68. Friday, September 16, 6:30 p.m.
"Ravioli abbondanza," Claire A. Berg, RD, CCC, CCE, $39. Thursday, September 22, 6 p.m.
"Sensational singles- enjoy cooking with other singles as you prepare and share various courses," Douglas E. Fee, chef, three sessions, $53. Friday, September 30, 6:30 p.m.
"Fat busters series: awesome appetizers," Douglas E. Fee, chef, $45. Wednesday, October 5, 6 p.m.
"Start the day off right," quick elegant breakfast dishes, Claire A. Berg, RD, CCC, CCE, $39. Monday, October 10, 6 p.m.
"No fear series: pie dough," Anne Lumberger, chef, $49. Saturday, October 15, 9 a.m.
"Wines of France and Chardonnay," Bruce Smith, three sessions, $65. October 19, 6:30 p.m.
"Italian-American cooking," Donna M. Squillaro, $48. Thursday, October 20, 6:30 p.m.
"Artisan breads," Claire A. Berg, RD, CCC, CCE, $39. Monday, November 7, 6 p.m.
"Cheese and wine," Anne Lumberger, chef, $78. Monday, November 7, 6 p.m.
"Italian peasant & old world cooking," Donna M. Squillaro, $48. Sunday, November 13, 6:30 p.m.
"Italian pasta sauces," Donna M. Squillaro, $50. Thursday, November 17, 6:30 p.m.
"No fear series: cakes from scratch," Anne Lumberger, chef, $49. Saturday, November 19, 9 a.m.
"Global appetizers," Claire A. Berg, RD, CCC, CCE, $49. Thursday, December 1, 6 p.m.
"International holiday breads," Claire A. Berg, RD, CCC, CCE, $42. Friday, December 9, 6 p.m.
At Middlesex College
Classes are held at MCC’s campus at 2600 Woodbridge Avenue in Edison, 732-906-2556 (www.middlesexcc.edu).
"Fall chicken favorites," G. Kabak, $45. Saturday, September 24, 1 p.m.
"Vegetarian cooking: no-cook, quick & easy," C. DeLorenzo, two sessions, $99. Monday, September 26, 6:30 p.m.
"How to be a vegetarian," C. DeLorenzo, $20. Tuesday, October 11, 6:30 p.m.
"Sensational soups and sandwiches," G. Kabak, $45. Saturday, October 15, 1 p.m.
"Appetizer adventure," G. Kabak, $45. Saturday, November 19, 1 p.m.
Cooking classes are held at A Taste of Tuscany, 475 North Bridge Street in Somerville. Wine classes are held at Discover Wine on Main Street in Somerville. 908-218-8871 (www.raritanval.edu).
"Discover Wine, two sessions, $5. Wednesday, September 21 and 28, 7 p.m.
"A taste of Tuscany – appetizers to enjoy," $50. Wednesday, September 28, 7 p.m.
"Pasta! pasta!," $40. Tuesday, October 18, 7 p.m.
"Discover Wine II – take it to the next level, two sessions, $r5. Wednesday, October 19 and 26, 7 p.m.