By Victor Block
You'd like to sample some dishes from the places you had planned to visit this year. Or maybe you'd just like to have some new alternatives to the same old dinner recipes you prepare day after day. You dream of dazzling your friends with a choice of gourmet dishes during a party you're planning when things return to normal and they can join you at your table.
With time on your hands and few places you can go, now is the perfect opportunity for those interested in honing their kitchen skills to do so. Whether you're a neophyte wannabe cook, an experienced hand around pots and pans, or someone who dreams of embarking on a career as a chef, there's a full menu of online classes and courses likely to meet your preferences and goals.
Many offer the added advantage of a virtual food tour around the world, bringing the culinary cultures of other countries into your home over the Internet. Some may serve as reminiscences of taste treats you have enjoyed when traveling abroad, which you've longed to re-create in your own kitchen. Others might titillate your taste buds with the promise of flavors you hope to experience once you're able again to satisfy your love of travel.
From sophisticated cuisine to simple street food, appealing appetizers through delicious desserts, the alternatives are many and varied. A sampling of these simulated experiences indicates the something-for-everyone diversity that's available.
If you don't know the difference between a spoon and a spatula or al dente and amandine, there's a class for you. The aptly named "Instructables" website offers a 101 course in the fundamentals of kitchen craft. It begins with an introduction to basics such as tools, supplies and knife skills. Once students have mastered those rudimentary abilities, they move on to pan-frying, boiling, stewing and other cooking methods. Of course a meal should end with a treat for the sweet tooth, so the elements of baking also are included.
We begin our world tour with classics from Japan such as teriyaki and tempura. They're among international favorites taught by Blueprint, which, as its name implies, provides step-by-step instructions that help make complicated-sounding recipes simple to follow. Latin American street food, pies, tarts and other selections add to the variety of choices.
Some cooking schools offer hundreds of virtual classes that are sure to include something of interest to almost everyone. Learning at the Online Cooking School covers everything from simple skills to advanced recipes. International fare includes dumplings, pot stickers and Thai takeout dinners. A favorite among students is the recipe for kouign amann, a century-old tasty concoction from Brittany. It was created to use leftover bread dough, which is layered with salted butter and sugar to create a rich caramelized cake.
Italy and Algeria are among countries whose cuisines are given front-burner status at the Udemy online cooking school. If traditional Algerian couscous doesn't tempt you, how about Italian biscotti? Vegans find classes geared specifically to them, and who could turn a proverbial back on the opportunity to learn how to prepare "perfect French macaroons"?
Since 1990, some 700 instructors from the Culinary Institute of America have been sharing their skills and cooking expertise through a wide variety of "Great Courses." They range from food and wine classes to Mediterranean cooking, and a video-on-demand service adds to the learning opportunities.
The teachers available through another online source include private chefs, caterers and some who have experience working in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants. Among available recipes are authentic Spanish paella and French onion soup. If your household includes young hands eager to wield cooking implements from apple corer to zester, check out Cozy Meal for fettuccine, sushi and other instructions geared specifically to kids.
Perhaps you're at the other end of the skill set — a master in your own kitchen interested in exploring the possibility of going pro. There also are opportunities for you to consider. One is to follow in the footsteps — or perhaps rather the whisk spin — of one of the most renowned chefs from history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Auguste Escoffier earned a well-deserved reputation as "The Grand Master of French Cuisine." Today his art is passed along to people seeking a career in commercial kitchens.
The learning, which is not for stay-at-home cooks, spans the gourmet gamut from farm-to-table information to cuisines of the world. Those who complete their studies receive recognized degrees. There are diplomas in Culinary Arts and Operations, which includes an externship and Professional Pastry Arts. Another course of study offers more advanced content in nutrition, foodservice math, and world history and culture.
Whether you're an aspiring Escoffier or a casual cook, there's probably an online class or two — or more — that will fill some pleasant hours, teach you new kitchen skills and earn you accolades from those who enjoy the food you prepare when you can gather again.
WHEN YOU GO
Online Cooking School: www.onlinecookingschool.com
The Great Courses: www.thegreatcoursesplus.com
Cozy Meal: www.cozymeal.com
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
A woman enjoys learning to cook by way of online classes. Photo courtesy of Makidotvn/Dreamstime.com.