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Cooking class getaways

In elegant locales, top chefs offer courses on the art of cooking.

By Joe DavidContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 2008

Art form: Chef Sheelah Kaye-Stepkin holds a tray of biscuits at Torte Knox in Hawley, Pa.

Courtesy of Torte Knox

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Americans have come a long way since their meat-and-potato days. When they think of dining, they think globally. What will they serve today, they often ask themselves – curry, tagine, or pasta? Will it be light or vegetarian, classic or fusion? Making such daily decisions have placed an enormous responsibility on home cooks. How will they ever deliver to the family flavors that are different, tasty, and right for a sophisticated palate?

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The answer is simple. They can take a recreational cooking class and learn new tricks. Since there are many to choose from, it is sometimes difficult to select the right school. To make selection easy, four schools from my upcoming book "Gourmet Getaways" are profiled; each has clearly stated educational goals. Most important, all are located in settings that are appropriate for an enjoyable getaway. The second article in this series will appear in July.

Torte Knox

Hawley, Pa., is two hours from New York City and three hours from Philadelphia, far enough from the big time to be ignored. Yet, the once gray, working-class community, home to glass blowers and cutters, is peeling off its old facade and attracting visitors who love food.

The gastronomic center of Hawley's activities is an early 19th-century bank that has been refurbished, retrofitted, and turned into an elegant restaurant and cooking school. Pots and pans, Viking Range ovens and burners occupy space once filled by bank employees.

Running the school with panache and charm is Sheelah Kaye-Stepkin. Her years of stage and television work (NBC's "Cooking With Class – Just for the Health of It") are clearly revealed in her knock-'em-dead smile and style.

For Ms. Kaye-Stepkin, cooking began as a child while standing on a Coca-Cola crate watching her mother create culinary masterpieces in the kitchen. After her father died and her mother returned to work, Sheelah had to start preparing the family meals. Armed with just a Betty Crocker cookbook, the then 13-year-old made her first leap toward what would become a lifetime commitment.

Students taking a class from Kaye-Stepkin learn to use different techniques to give new flavor to what they prepare and are encouraged to develop their own cooking style.

"Each student leaves behind traces of their DNA in their food," she says. "When I cook, I cook first for Sheelah. I want the food to please my palate and reflect my tastes." Students who want to be successful must learn to do the same.

Classes are offered in the evening at the Torte Knox Cooking School from Valentine's Day to New Year's Eve. The choice of classes includes baking, regional cooking, ethnic, special-occasion classes, international flavors, and more.

Cost: about $65 for a standard class and $125 for private group classes. The exact per-person price may vary, depending on ingredients.

Class length: two to four hours per class.

For more information: Torte Knox, 301 Main Ave., Hawley, PA 18428; (570) 226-8200;

L'École des Chefs Relais Gourmands