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Mouthing Off

School's in: Suddenly, Colorado has a lot of cooking schools. This spring, New York's French Culinary Institute decided to open a national recruiting office in Colorado: L'Ecole des Chefs is an international program that calls for students to tail the chefs of three-star and four-star Michelin-rated restaurants in France for a week (call 610-469-2500 for info). Several area chefs and restaurateurs have just opened cooking schools or are looking to open small schools in the near future; I also hear that quite a few "chain" cooking schools are now eyeing Denver for an outpost. What all this means for our city is a wider variety of culinary schools--for the housewife, for the serious chef, for the foodie--to choose from.

I think such schools are booming not just because natives are discovering good food, but because people keep moving here from other states, such as California and New York, where cooking schools have been around for decades (we got our first "serious" cooking school just four years ago, when the Colorado Institute of Art opened the School of Culinary Arts at 675 South Broadway). And then there's the burgeoning restaurant industry, which is the hottest field right now, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau lists chefs, cooks and other culinary personnel as the nation's fastest-growing occupations through the year 2005.

In fact, one of my favorite schools is perfect for people looking to make a major career change into the restaurant industry, for those just out of high school who want to learn the cooking trade but can't afford a full-scale college or for bored rich people who want a solid culinary education. The Cooking School of the Rockies, at 637 South Broadway in Boulder, tops my list because it doesn't involve losing more than six months of your life, it includes a month in France, and it offers a wonderful hands-on program under the watchful eye of professionals. After six months, students are pretty well-prepared to handle the rigors of restaurant employment. They also offer a ten-month evenings-only program for $14,000 that skips the trip to France. Call 494-7988 for more information.

Then there's the other side of the spectrum, the cooking school for people who just want to learn how to cook better at home. The Seasoned Chef, at 999 Jasmine Street, which recently changed owners, is ideal for that. Established by Sarah Leffen, the school is now run by Susan Stevens, who spent six years as the director of nutrition for HealthMark and has written several healthy-eating cookbooks. Stevens is continuing the tradition of primarily offering one-shot classes (usually $35 each) on everything from appetizers from around the world to summertime pastas to light desserts, with a few two-class workshops each session that get more involved, such as the basics of ethnic cooking. The classes are often taught by well-known chefs from area restaurants, but be aware that most are demonstrations instead of hands-on, with the exception of the more in-depth seminars. Call 292-4828 for more information.

Healthy cooking continues to be a hot topic, and a former student at the Cooking School of the Rockies, Dave Dischner, has just opened two locations (with one more on the way in Westminster) of his Cooking for Life school (one at Leetsdale and Quebec and one at Dry Creek and Yosemite). Dischner also attended Peter Kump's School of Culinary Arts in New York and owns the Claremont Inn in Stratton and several Wendy's (ahh, that brings back memories--my big break into the culinary world at age fifteen). The point at Cooking for Life is to learn how to make great food using low-fat foods and low-fat cooking methods. It also offers specific programs on weight loss, cooking to maintain a healthy heart, and teens with weight problems. Classes are taught by professionally trained chefs (the executive chef, Michael Comstedt, is the owner of the Greenbriar Inn), and like the Seasoned Chef, the classes--combinations of hands-on cooking and demonstration--are usually available in the evenings and on weekends, although they do offer a few on weekdays. Costs at Cooking for Life range from $35 to $45 per class; the school also offers a cool Friday Afternoon Club for $45, which gets you cooking instruction as well as pointers on pairing wines with food and includes lots of tasting of both.

And if you're looking to go all the way, there's the School of Culinary Arts at the Colorado Institute of Art. They just--as in last week--announced their new bachelor of arts degree program, which will start with their summer quarter on July 8. The cost for the four-year program is $48,550, which involves six quarters of regular curriculum and seven of culinary. The associate of applied science degree in culinary arts costs $26,950 for seven quarters of instruction. Both avenues include time spent in Assignments, the supervised but mostly student-run restaurant that's on site and open to the public. If you're looking for a way to support students in this program and enjoy a good meal, have dinner there. But don't be whiny like the guy who wrote to me all upset about a dish that was overcooked (they redid it for him, just like any restaurant should). They're learning, remember?

Also, while there's no degree involved, I have nothing but good things to say about the two great programs at Keystone Resort. One offers cooking classes every Thursday for $50 at its conference center, which boasts an enormous kitchen and is run by Bob Burden, who is hilarious and reverential in his sharing of culinary secrets. Class size is limited to fifteen people, and everyone gets a glass of champagne, a hat, an apron and a cooking manual for the evening's dishes, which usually involve an ethnic cuisine. The meal that you help cook is then served in a fine dining room, complete with wines paired with the five-course meal.

Even better, though, are their three-day spring and fall schools. I took this past spring's session and was just delighted with the program. From the arrival reception Thursday night through two days of intensive (okay, it felt grueling, but in a fun way) instruction, I was astonished at the amount of information imparted. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., several different classes were held, each one half hands-on and half demonstration, right in the conference center's kitchen with the hustle and bustle of banquet preparations going on all around us. We covered garde-manger, buffet, appetizers, main courses and pastry; the last was everyone's favorite, since we each got to make, decorate and take home our own ganache-coated chocolate cake.

The incredible thing about this program was that the cost was a mere $575 per person, which included three nights' lodging at the Ski Tip Lodge, three continental breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners composed of the foods we made along with dishes the chefs threw in, an endless supply of wines to go with those meals, a professional chef's jacket and a binder filled with instructions and recipes. And it was fun, fun, fun (with a few hours of free time each day, I managed to get some snowboarding in). All of the chefs on staff there really seem to love what they do, and they sat down with us at mealtime to share stories about restaurant life and their "awful" jobs, where they have to ski all day and then drag themselves into work at a place that allows them a lot of freedom to create. This would be a great gift for someone who loves food. Call 970-496-2316 to find out the dates and information for the two fall weekends they have planned.

--Wagner


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