A few years ago, I had this burning desire to attend culinary school. I wanted to learn how to cook, but I didn’t necessarily want to become a chef or work in a restaurant kitchen. When I found out that attending culinary school can cost $35,000 (more or less depending on the program) each year, I had to settle for something less. My whole goal was to cook for my own family, so I needed to learn how to cook for cheap. Real cheap.
If you are at a point where you would like to improve your cooking skills, but you don’t have the time or money (or desire!) to attend a culinary school, here are some fabulous resources to help you. They are all either free or very inexpensive relative to cooking school, and many of them can be done in the comfort of your own kitchen. Ready to learn the difference between a santoku and a chef’s knife? Let’s do this!
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Online Cooking Courses
There are plenty of cooking websites that claim to be the best. Unfortunately, many of them are lacking in one area or another. I have either used the ones listed below or they look like the most promising.
This is probably the very first website I ever used when I was first learning how to cook. At the time, it did not have a cooking school, but each recipe had very useful comments from other users and I was able to see if a recipe was worth making or not. If you want to learn the basics, Allrecipes Cooking School looks like a great place to start. There are 13 courses with 3 to 7 lessons within each course. The total cost is $97, a real steal if you ask me.
America’s Test Kitchen
America’s Test Kitchen has been testing recipes for a long time, and they have both a cooking school and a member-exclusive website. There is a two-week free trial for both and after that it costs $34.95 per year. There are step-by-step instructions, hundreds of recipes, and 400 hours of video, just to name a few of the features.
Cook Smarts is not one I have used, but after clicking around the website for a while it looks like it could be very helpful to anybody new to cooking. You’ll want to start with the Cooking Basics where you learn about cooking tools, pantry essentials, and building blocks to cooking. There are even more free resources if you keep scrolling down the page I linked to. The biggest reason someone would visit this site is probably for the meal plans.
When you are learning to cook, you don’t want to rely on recipes. You should learn techniques and habits and this website seems like a great place for that. The first phrase you see when you visit Foodist Kitchen is “Learn to cook without recipes in 30 days.” I’ll tell you what, this is a program I would love to try. I rely too heavily on recipes, and I’d love to just be able to cook anything without needing a recipe. It costs $99 and there’s a 60 day money back guarantee. It seems like it’s definitely worth looking into.
Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science
Maybe what you really want is to learn the science behind cooking. This Science & Cooking course is from chefs and Harvard researchers and it’s 100% free. The course is 14 weeks long, with each week taking up about 3-6 hours of your time. This may not be a beginner’s course, but if you have the time it looks very informative.
Smart Kitchen is for cooks of all levels. It teaches you the basics and adds upon those until you are learning some very technical stuff. With access to over 500 hours of lessons, you will likely learn something new every single time. There is a 7-day free trial, so don’t miss that if you decide to use this site. After that the cost is $9.99 per month or $99 per year. You are not locked in and can cancel at any time.
I first found out about TopChef University through Groupon. The original price to have access to the University was $249 at the time. I decided to pay for a year membership because it was only $49 through Groupon. That’s quite a steal, and I think it was worth every last cent.
Currently, the cost for a monthly membership is $24.95 and a yearly membership is $199.95. You can try it for free for 24-hours to see if it’s the right program for you. The class is taught by chefs who are on the popular show TopChef. I have never seen it myself, but there are some great chefs that come from that show.
There are videos and written recipes to help you get through each lesson. I would recommend this option to people who need to learn the basics of cooking on to the more complex. You learn how to make a stock, a perfect pan sauce, and so much more. The videos are very easy to follow and the chefs try to add personality to each one.
Some people rely completely on videos to learn stuff. My husband is one of them. He won’t read a book to save his life! Below you’ll find out ways to watch cooking shows that can teach you basics and give you plenty of useful tips for the kitchen.
Cooking shows are everywhere these days, but I really like the ones on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Our first apartment after we got married had free basic cable, so we watched cooking shows a lot. I gleaned a lot of great cooking tips from these shows. These networks both have videos and short tutorials you can watch anytime on their websites.
YouTube is a wonderful resource for finding just about anything you want to learn. If you can’t find a video by searching, start with one of the channels below. They might have something up your alley. For each of the following channels, I’ll link to their channel on YouTube, so if you click on them, make sure to have the volume on your computer at a reasonable level since there is a video that starts playing as soon as you click. Also, once you get there, you’ll want to click on the “videos” tab to see what each channel has to offer.
Dave Beaulieu (No Recipe Required)
Cookbooks and Magazines
Many cookbooks and magazines are full of tutorials and tips that can give you more cooking knowledge. You’ll have to be choosy because many of these books and magazines only give you recipes. I used to get Food Network Magazine, and I learned a lot from flipping through it. The books I’ve listed below are packed with awesome tips and tutorials. I have not actually read them word for word, but I know that they are great for learning something new and not just following recipes.
Joy of Cooking* by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker – This book is one that I have borrowed many times from the library. It’s incredibly thick and full of wonderful information.
Le Cordon Bleu’s Complete Cooking Techniques* by Jeni Wright – I recently inherited this book from my mom. It is jam-packed with wonderful information that can guide the most uneducated of cooks.
Learn to Cook 101 by John Choisser – I ran across this book when I landed on the website Cooking Dude. I have never read it, but the reviews on Amazon seem like it would be a great book for learning something new about cooking.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – I have never read this book, but the reviews on Amazon are pretty excellent. Apparently the book teaches Americans how to cook the French way.
If you enjoy listening while you do other things, especially in the kitchen, podcasts are probably the route for you.
The Stella Culinary School Podcast is great for anyone wanting to learn basic cooking techniques. The first few episodes are Basic Knife Skills, Stocks, Blanching, and Basic Starches. There are at least 22 episodes and the reviews are excellent.
Start Cooking by Kathy Maister is a wonderful resource if you would rather listen to learn. It looks like the podcasts are mostly recipes, though, so if you’re looking for basic techniques this may not be the right place to start.
Perhaps you need an actual class setting to learn how to cook. If that’s the case, check in your area to see if there are cheap cooking classes at a community college or even a grocery store (as is the case where I live). It might be fun to take a class with your spouse on date night.
Relative or Friend
Don’t forget to consider people you know who can cook and are willing to teach. Perhaps your grandmother, father, neighbor, or best friend spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Join them once a week! Start by watching what they are doing, and then ask them if you can join in to help.
My mother-in-law cooks really well. She actually doesn’t care for it, but she’s done it for 40+ years, so she is a great resource for me as I try to cook Argentine dishes that my husband grew up eating. I learned how to cook a wonderful pasta sauce by watching her cook it a couple of times. I wrote down approximate amounts of ingredients as well as steps she did to make the sauce. My first 10 or more attempts were awful, and I kept wondering why it wasn’t turning out like hers. I think the truth is that it takes practice, and she never follows a recipe. I have a recipe written down as a guide now, but I rarely follow it to the T.
Don’t underestimate the power of getting in your kitchen and actually cooking. While all these resources will be great for different types of people (visual learners, hands-on learners, and readers), the only way you’ll actually get any good at cooking is if you practice.
If all you want to do is improve your cooking skills for use at home, you do not need to attend culinary school. Instead, look for really inexpensive or free resources to help you learn. You can attend an online university, watch cooking shows, read cookbooks (with plenty of pictures!), listen to podcasts, take a community class, or ask a relative or a friend to teach you. Whichever way you decide to learn, you will be surprised how much you can learn once you start practicing what you’ve learned each day for your own family.
What would be your preferred way to learn how to cook?
Linked to: Frugal Friday
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