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Food for thought



The seasonís open houses, potlucks and parties are the perfect excuse for home cooks to challenge themselves with new recipes, exotic ingredients and savvy techniques. What better place to acquire these skills than from the master, a chef ó and in his or her professional kitchen?

That was the idea behind the dizzying array of dishes that Scott Baker, executive pastry chef, instructed me in at LíEcole de la Maison (a cooking school inside The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake) recently. Half-day workshops span the culinary compass and in my case the topic du jour was classic French cooking (and the dishes we tackled included haricots verts with walnut butter, a crusty baguette and tenderloin of beef au poivre). With a crisp white apron tied around my waist, I test-drove the kinds of appliances and gadgets I drool over in glossy magazines, later sitting down to eat the results of our labor paired with a glass of wine. To learn more, call (800) 876-3399 ext. 830.

Hereís a look at a few more intimate cooking classes:

James Beard Award winner Sanford díAmato, owner of Sanford, hosts those who are hungry to learn how a five-star kitchen operates. "A Day in Sanfordís Kitchen" ($500) starts by slipping into a chefís jacket, then working alongside the kitchen staff all day long ó or observing, if thatís more your style ó as they prep for that nightís dinner. Included in the class is a tasting dinner for two. Dial Sanford at (414) 276-9608 to reserve your spot.

French cuisine is broken down into petite steps at Coquette Cafť in the Third Ward, where a similar experience is offered. "Day in the Kitchen" is on Tuesdays and Thursdays ($300) starting at 9 a.m. with a tour of the operation (including where foods are stored and nitty-gritty details of the ordering process) and time in the kitchen. The day ends at 2 p.m. with an invitation to return for dinner (with a friend, and a send-off goody bag containing a chefís coat and bottle of wine). Call (414) 291-2655 for details.

Similarly, Michael Feker, owner of Il Mito Enoteca in Wauwatosa, operates a cooking school, which he calls a "culinary studio," next door to his Italian restaurant that focuses on French techniques. Private lessons and group instruction are available, with the group classes covering topics like preparing turkey brine and stuffing, as well as the art of preparing holiday treats (Dec. 10, $15). Kohler, Sub-Zero, Dupont, Decora and Wolf appliances are in the 600-square-foot classroom, which has four cooking stations. Reservations are necessary; call (414) 443-1414.

For a peek at Asian-style cooking, Umami Moto in downtown Milwaukee hosts sushi-rolling classes on occasion. The next class date is Jan. 25. To make reservations call (414) 727-9333.

Antiqua offers 90-minute cooking classes ($40) on select Saturdays at the West Allis restaurant, the instruction inspired by its menu that incorporates cuisine from Latin countries that include Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Spain. The Dec.10 class focuses on holiday foods with a Latin twist. Hold your spot in a class, or schedule a private instruction, by calling (414) 321-5775.

If itís a healthy diet youíre after in the New Year, Cafť Mannaís chefs can help. Monthly classes, held in the Brookfield restaurantís kitchen the last Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., focus on vegetarian and sometimes vegan cuisine, from gluten-free grains to raw foods to desserts. Phone (262) 790-2340 to sign up.

Cheese Head

"Life is too short for bad cheese," says Steve Shapon, a.k.a. The CheeseMaker.

And Shapon is here to make sure you, too, can live by his credo.

Thanks to Shapon, Wisconsinís most-famous agricultural product ó cheese ó is taught through courses at The CheeseMaker.

Led by the man himself, classes (either a three-hour workshop on Jan. 14 or 15, $80; or one of six weekend classes, $279) are held in Shaponís Mequon home.

"Itís a fun idea ó and itís a party," he says. "Iíve been making cheese for 11 years."

In the longer course, students learn to make ó and take home ó chevre, Camembert/Brie, blue, Feta, Ricotta and Mozzarella cheeses.

A shorter class is still a good value: The art of crafting Camembert/Brie cheese is taught in great detail.

"Cheese is finally cool now; itís finally a hip thing and people respect it more now than ever," says Shapson, who sold home-brewing supplies to beermakers before launching The Cheesemaker in 2005.

No time for class? Check out for CheeseMaker kits to make your own Camembert/Baby-Brie and/or Blue cheese, or a combination of both kinds of cheese. To ensure the process is fool-proof, Shapon includes his 40-page Digital eBook Guide to making cheese.

Call (414) 745-5483 to reserve a spot in one of his classes. Itís never been so easy to be cheesy.

Ė Kristine Hansen