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Back to (Cooking) School

By Cheryl Sternman Rule

IT IS September. You're busy. I get it. But you still have to eat. While you can fuel yourself at a zillion local dives or posh hot spots, at some point you'll need to break down, locate the spatula, twist open the olive oil and try not to burn the place down in the process of making yourself a home-cooked meal.

If you really need help, or if Top Chef has you aching to whip up a lobster tail with saffron foam, you're in luck. September is back-to-school time, and culinary classes fill Silicon Valley like so many apples in a strudel.

Here are a few ideas.

Two years ago, the Professional Culinary Institute opened its doors in Campbell, and Hamilton Avenue has never smelled better. The PCI offers diploma programs for chefs-to-be, but anyone can register for "hobby" classes, held several Saturdays each month in their almost spanking-new kitchens.

Classes in September include "Thai buffet," "Outrageous Vegetarian Specialties" and "Wine Roulette," an interactive wine tasting led by a master sommelier. October classes include "Classic Italian Pizza" and "Southeast Asian Curry." For more information, visit and click on "hobby classes."

Draeger's Cooking School offers a wide variety of cooking classes taught by well-known food professionals, restaurateurs and cookbook authors. If you can't find something in its extensive lineup, I've got nothing for you. Menlo Park classes this fall include "Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet Flavors of Vietnam" taught by Andrea Nguyen, a local expert on Vietnamese cookery, as well as "Indian Summer Lunch," "Knife Skills" and "Festive Fondues," among many others. Additional classes are held in San Mateo and Danville. Check out for a complete lineup.

Palo Alto Adult School cooking classes are open to everyone, and if you're looking to revisit your high school days here's your chance. (Most classes are held at Palo Alto High.) Classes include "Oaxaca: Land of Seven Moles," "A Taste of Thai, Indian Chaat and more." Details online at

Kitchenware stores are like crack to the gadget obsessed, and Sur la Table delivers a quick fix. The Los Gatos branch also offers culinary classes, so not only can you blow your paycheck on a $200 Moroccan tagine, but you may actually learn how to use it. Fall classes include "Sushi 101," "Mastering Sauces," "Cooking Basics," "AA Late-Summer Dinner in Provence" and more. Class schedules available at Click on "store locations" and "events" at the bottom of the page.

So get out there, don a cute (or manly) apron, and learn something practical. Another academic year has begun.

Professional Culinary Institute 700 W. Hamilton Ave., Suite 300, Campbell, 1.888.PCI.LEARN.

Draeger's 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park. Also at 222 E. Fourth Ave., San Mateo. 650.685.3704.

Palo Alto Adult School 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, 650.329.3752.

Sur La Table 23 University Ave., Los Gatos, 408.395.5576.

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