Slice, Dice, Braise & Bake

You’re lying on the couch, watching the Food Network, drooling over the perfectly-tenderized cranberry-apricot pork roast and listening to your stomach growl. When you open the fridge, all you see is a leftover salad and the ingredients to make another boring vegetarian lasagna. So your mind starts to spin. Soon you are picturing a fragrant and colorful world of rustic wooden bowls of ratatouille, grilled Tasmanian scallops a la plancha, and fiery sopa Azteca. Whether you want to improve your skills in the family kitchen or aspire to be the next Anthony Bourdain, the path begins with training.

Vocational schools have long recognized the need for culinary education. Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, offers young people the chance to work hands-on at the school’s The Elegant Chef and Bistro, where students prepare and serve dishes four days a week. Jeremy Bussiere, a hospitality management chef-instructor at Nashoba Tech, says of the school’s culinary program, “I want to see us grow with the community as a whole, because the school is really a functioning part of the community.” Several culinary program graduates have gone on to study at Johnson & Wales University and The Culinary Institute of America.

For college students wanting to graduate in two years with an associate degree, Southern New Hampshire University offers a baking and culinary arts program that has been certified by the American Culinary Federation.

“When I decided to head to school, I knew I wanted more than just a teaching certificate,” says Vylette Leone, an SNHU student who is married with children. “SNHU offered the best opportunities,” she says. “I would be able to go full time and get a bachelor’s [degree] while still being able to be home at night.” Leone would like to be a teacher or food stylist after she graduates in December.

North Andover’s Taste Buds Kitchen offers innovative classes for the home chef, including Steakhouse, a BYOB offering that teaches mastery of searing, red wine reductions and mashed potatoes.

Leone took classes such as “Etruscan Cuisine,” which taught her about the food, wine and culture of Italy. She completed an internship at a butcher shop and trained at The Quill, an on-campus restaurant where students prepare Eastern European, Northern European, Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, Iberian- and Latin American, and classical French cuisine for the public.

Other programs are in development. Alan Boisvert, the owner of Keon’s, a restaurant in Haverhill, has been advising Northern Essex Community College in planning a new culinary program for the fall of 2019. The program will be covered in two semesters.

Kelly Sullivan, the dean of technology, arts, professional studies and science, says NECC’s program will be suited for people who want to get into the workforce quickly or are looking for a career change.

This initiative is being made possible by with funding from the Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant Program, which aims to help colleges meet the needs of local employers. From the grant, $150,000 will be used to purchase restaurant equipment such as griddles, ranges, convection ovens, fryers, stoves, mixers, a walk-in cooler and freezer, and banquet tables and chairs. Students will use restaurant computer software to learn about event planning, recipe building, inventory control and hotel management. When completed, the NECC kitchen will be available for use by small vendors, entrepreneurs and local training providers. Sullivan foresees community classes and night courses being offered at the kitchen, as well.

Students are given an education on steak cuts and salad pairings. It’s a perfect setting for a first date if your guest happens to be gluten-free.

If you’re looking for a way to get savvy in the kitchen without earning college credit, several organizations in the Merrimack Valley area offer recreational classes. The Culinary Playground in Derry, N.H., offers cooking classes for couples, parent-child workshops and private cooking classes. The Culinary Playground has offered a vegetarian series, as well as a Feed the Family meal prep class, which lets participants make four different meals they can enjoy later in the week.

Chez Boucher Culinary Arts Training Center in Hampton, N.H., teaches professional skills in handling food safely, preparation procedures and presentation techniques that prepare students for a job in the restaurant business. The school also offers nonprofessional and recreational classes, such as “Cooking with Friends” and “Baking & Pastry Basics.” There are “Couples Night Out” classes in September and October, and the six-week “Bistro Cuisine” course begins on Oct. 23.

Perhaps there’s a budding chef in your household? The Andover/North Andover YMCA offers cooking classes for children. Classes range from $30 to $172 and are open to YMCA members and the community at large. Maria Furnari, the director of the Youth and Family Program, hopes to expand the cooking program to include evening classes and wine tastings for adults.

Cooking classes aren’t just a way to learn proper cooking techniques. At a time when people value “experiences over things,” they are a means to making friends and broadening culinary horizons. At BYOB classes such as this one at Taste Buds Kitchen, a little wine doesn’t hurt, either.

To learn more, visit:

Haverhill, Mass.

(978) 521-0112

The Elegant Chef and Bistro
Westford, Mass.

(978) 692-4711

The Culinary Playground
Derry, N.H.

(603) 339-1664

Andover/North Andover YMCA
Andover, Mass.

(978) 685-3541

Taste Buds Kitchen
North Andover, Mass.

(978) 655-1790

Photography by Harkins Photography


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