For his wife’s 50th birthday last Sunday, 52-year-old Nitin Nadkarni planned to prepare a fancy meal for her at home. The only problem was that though the retired banker says he is a fanatical foodie, he never learned to cook. Growing up, his family never encouraged him to enter the kitchen and “mixed" cooking classes in the neighbourhood were off-putting.

“I have always hesitated going to any cooking classes because they tend to be dominated by lady experts," says Nadkarni, who claims even peeling and chopping vegetables were once impossible tasks for him. “I don’t have anything against women but there’s no chance of someone like me learning the basics when the women know everything."

Luckily, Nadkarni came across the “He Cooks! Beginners cooking class for men!" at food consultant and writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal’s A Perfect Bite Cook Studio through Twitter in April. “I made my wife Chitra call Rushina. I didn’t even have the confidence to register myself," Nadkarni says.

All-male cooking courses are just one of the many novel recreational classes that have gained popularity in Mumbai over the last few years. Curious cooks and foodies can choose from specialized workshops on international and regional cuisines, techniques like knife skills, grilling and roasting meats and even intensive sessions on setting up a boutique or home-based bakery. There are classes on microwave cooking for students getting ready to study abroad and some especially designed for the house help and maharaj cooks.

Pooja Dhingra launched her culinary centre, Studio Fifteen, with a ‘Mastering Macarons’ class

“A cooking class isn’t about home science anymore," says Insia Lacewalla, who runs an independent food consultancy Small Fry Co. in Mumbai. At present, Lacewalla is busy helping dessert queen Pooja Dhingra of Le 15 Pâtisserie fame curate classes at Studio Fifteen, the city’s newest “culinary centre" that opened to the public on 16 September. The 550 sq. ft studio has already hosted classes on mastering macarons by Dhingra, waffle making with former Suzette Crêperie & Café chef Karishma Dalal and Vietnamese cooking conducted by Nobu-trained chef Nachiket Shetye of 36 Oak & Barley.

“A few years ago, if my mother suggested I learn to cook at a neighbourhood class, there’s no way I would have agreed," says Lacewalla. “But now I can pick exactly what I want to learn, whether it’s 10 different types of waffle toppings or chopping an onion into equal-sized cubes. Classes are extremely specific now unlike the boring home cooking ones from a few years ago."

Ever since Dhingra set up her French-style pâtisserie in 2010, a series of weekend cooking and baking classes at her Central Kitchen in Elphinstone West have been a permanent fixture. The 27-year-old graduate of the César Ritz Hotel Management School, Switzerland, and Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, alumnus says a culinary studio was always part of her business plan.

“Three years ago, there wasn’t a space that offered one-day workshops on cooking. All cooking courses required so much more time and commitment," says Dhingra. “I knew the classes deserved their own space and I began hunting two years ago, only to find space right next to our central pastry kitchen earlier this year."

Over the last few months, Dhingra tapped into her social circle, made up of several well-known city chefs and bloggers, to find teachers for Studio Fifteen.

Rangras conducts Gourmet It Up’s sushi masterclass

A graphic design studio has even created aprons and tote bags, monogrammed pencils and notepads for Studio Fifteen, which also houses a small pantry-cum-store for the hard-to-find ingredients used in the classes. Apart from scheduled classes, Dhingra says the space will also host a book club for food enthusiasts, mentoring plans for aspiring chefs, pop-up restaurants, private parties and corporate workshops in the future. “The possibilities are endless," she says.

The swish interiors of cooking studios like Dhingra’s Studio Fifteen, Munshaw-Ghildiyal’s APB Cook Studio in Andheri (East) and Rakhee Vaswani’s Palate Culinary Studio in Santacruz West look right out of the sets of cookery programmes on TV. At an average of 1,200-2,500 per class, the ingredients too, are cleaned, prepped and weighed like craft supplies in a kindergarten classroom, ready to be assembled into restaurant-style dishes.

At the 3-hour handmade pasta class we attended at Studio Fifteen last Saturday, Varun Sheth of 1tablespoon Gourmet Catering took us through six recipes, instead of the four on our printed curriculum, and even encouraged us to take home the imported ingredients from his own pantry. After the lesson, complimentary cupcakes and pizza slices were served in addition to our individual pasta creations and the 2,500 fee no longer felt like a big splurge.

Munshaw-Ghildiyal, who launched her cooking studio last August to rave reviews and over-booked classes, says each class at the APB Cook Studio is carefully curated with every recipe tested in permutations and combinations using a variety of ingredients and under different conditions. Chefs are chosen only if they make good teachers, she adds.

Smoked Salmon Gunkan with Salman Roe from a masterclass with chef Mitesh Rangras of Japanese restaurant Aoi

A three-month Baking & Patisserie Course by chef Kunal Arolkar of food consultancy Foody Breaks was launched in May while Kitchen Secrets From Across The Globe, starting next month, will take over the calendars until the end of the year. In Diwali, Munshaw-Ghildiyal will host a community cookout, inviting home-based chefs to come and prepare festive snacks. APB’s long-term initiative also includes creating a database of all the recipes taught in class, which will be accessible to all at the studio in addition to a cookbook library.

But amateur cooks now also get full access to the kitchens of their favourite restaurants, most of which host regular demos and hands-on classes conducted by their head chefs as part of their public relations and marketing strategies. “It’s no longer about flyers, tent cards, posters or new menus," says Lacewalla. “The competition is so tough that guests’ interaction with the management alone doesn’t cut it anymore. A restaurant’s chef has to be well acquainted with the diners too."

Jaydeep Mukherjee, executive chef of the Indigo Delicatessens and Cafés, says when he first hosted cooking workshops at the Colaba outpost six years ago, the idea was to expose regulars and first-timers to the Deli’s signature style of cooking, ingredients and techniques used.

“Chefs were pretty much closeted in the kitchen in the old days," says Mukherjee. “But now everybody wants to know the chef. After every class, I give my mobile number to the participants and for a week to 10 days, I get calls by people who want to know when they should stop sautéing or when the rice is ready for a risotto. It feels nice."

Fernandes will be conducting the meat special class at Studio Fifteen on 29 September, taking participants through the different kinds of cuts and techniques on how to prepare and cook meat. Fernandes says cooking classes are also a great way for chefs to get out of the kitchen once in a while and claim bragging rights on their signature dishes. “There are so many dishes that get made at our kitchen but there’s no way to formally patent protect them," he says. “But if I teach those dishes to a class full of people, that’s a sure way to let people know those are mine."

Honawar, also on Studio Fifteen’s calendar for a Pies and Tarts class, says such extension activities and events may pave the way for chef-driven restaurants in the future. “When people meet a chef for the first time, there’s a good chance they form a bond with his food and so when the same food is served at the venue, there’s a definite bond being built with the venue as well," he explains.

Mikhel Rajani, CEO at Rajani Food Services & Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, the company that owns Francesco’s Pizzeria and gourmet catering service Culinary Concepts, says cooking classes are a great way to make use of the company’s research and development kitchen in Lower Parel during downtime. Starting next month, the company will kick off a series of baking and dessert classes before moving on to cooking workshops and sessions on molecular gastronomy.

Will Bowlby conducts a class at Cheval restro-bar, Mumbai, organized by Accessed.in

In a bid to differentiate themselves from the others, Gourmet It Up, a website that offers set-meal plans and dining experiences, similar to those during Restaurant Week India, through the year, lists only “MasterClasses" with either celebrity chefs or one-on-one sessions (priced around 2,250-2,750) that offer a chance to learn a restaurant’s signature dishes like sushi rolling at Fenix or Vineet Bhatia’s top picks at Ziya at The Oberoi.

Aditi Khandelwal and Surekha Rao stumbled upon New York’s Gilt City—a website that offers exclusive access to sales, exhibitions and deals on shopping, dining and events—while studying at New York University’s Stern School of Business and decided to launch a similar concept, Accessed.in, in Mumbai earlier this year in February. Registered users of the website can choose from experiences (priced between 750-1,650) that range from learning the tricks of molecular mixology and getting behind the bar at local pub to building burgers from scratch at Sundance Café.

Eat Drink Design is another boutique catering service and pastry kitchen that offers “Chef At Home" sessions, where participants chose what they want to learn. Co-founder Pooja Raheja says the service, launched last month, has so far extended to pasta making class from scratch and a customized barbeque lesson. A class at home can cost anywhere from 2,500-3,000 per person for a group of five to seven or from 5,000 for a one-on-one session. “The advantage with our classes is that we use the ingredients you source and the equipment you already own so you are sure to replicate the dishes you learn," says Raheja.

The latest to join the long list of start-ups is Comida, launched in June, by independent publicist Maya Goyel and food writers and bloggers Roxanne Bamboat and Nicole Madon, both of whom have been responsible for organizing the cooking demo and workshops at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for the last two years. So far, they’ve hosted a chocolate-making workshop ( 2,500) with Zeba Kohli of Fantasie Fine Chocolates and a mixology lesson at The White Owl ( 1,600). Bamboat says the restaurants and partners they work with are in no way “desperate" or “bleeding money" and instead are like-minded businesses hoping to offer interactive and interesting experiences to foodies in the city.

Gourmet food stores and home appliances brands too have gone beyond the unimaginative 15-minute product demonstrations. Not only does every fancy store boast of an in-house chef but well-known chefs, food bloggers and local gourmands are also invited to conduct sessions and talks that range from 1-6 hours in duration.

Still, the brand’s vice-president of sales, Ajit Chavan, says the classes at the Gorenje Studios, at Laxmi Industrial Estate in Andheri West and at Vasan Udyog Bhavan in Lower Parel, are a great way to make use of the live kitchen setup. “If nothing, at least my staff and in-house chefs get to pick up a few skills and there’s an obvious brand connect and recognition with the participants, who may be able to afford Gorenje in the future," he explains.

Chef Arolkar says the sessions at appliance brands like Gorenje and APB Cook Studio over the last year have given him the confidence to set up a culinary studio of his own at his ancestral villa in Porvorim, Goa. The centre will be ready for launch later this November and will offer guests a chance to experience “working holidays" with one-day and week-long courses, says Arolkar.

But Arolkar isn’t the only inspired member of the APB Cook Studio. When asked if he had cooked the dishes taught at the “He Cooks! Beginners cooking class for men" for his wife’s big birthday dinner, Nadkarni said: “No, it was time for me to innovate on my lessons. I’ve been helping out in the kitchen ever since the class, accompanying my wife to Godrej Nature’s Basket, following Rushina’s online blog and testing recipes from YouTube. For her birthday, I had five hours to prep and cook a surprise three-course meal of French bean soup, butter chicken and chicken biryani."

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