Online cooking experiences are great – no one can see you lick the spoon – but there's nothing like a real-life class.
Chef, farmer, TV personality and teacher Matthew Evans has a theory. People tend to take just one key learning from any cooking class they do, but that tip, trick or insight is enough to revolutionise the way they cook.
Online cooking classes have boomed over the past turbulent year but there's still nothing like a real-life class. There's the expert tuition in 3D, instant, individual advice that leads to aha moments, and the enveloping aromas that the internet still hasn't worked out how to transmit.
If you can combine your learning with travel, so much the better: connecting with a region by cooking its produce is one of the most powerful ways to improve your skills and have fun in the process. With many new schools sprouting across the nation, we've gathered together some of Australia's best regional cooking classes.
Matthew Evans offers immersive cooking experiences at Fat Pig Farm. Photo: Sofia Levin
Evans hosts workshops and tours at his Fat Pig Farm in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. "When people come here they get the real experience," he says. "They'll see the garden, goats, pigs and how they live. It's an immersive experience. People often want a break from their normal life to dip into the life we have."
Classes include a one-day goat class and two-day pig workshops, learning how to make prosciutto, salami, bacon, pancetta and lonzo. "It's art and alchemy," says Evans. "We want people to take away skills that allow them to do something that seems complicated but is actually a bit less effort than they thought."
He loves the lightbulb moments. "You might do something you think is unimportant as a teacher – pureeing the chickpeas when they're hot so they become creamy, adding starchy pasta cooking water to coat tagliatelle and thicken the sauce – and people learn that one thing that makes all the difference," he says. "It's beautiful to watch and it's something you can't get over Zoom." fatpig.farm/special-events
Giuliana White's Farmhouse Kitchen cooking school in Tasmania. Photo: Supplied
Not far away at Wattle Grove, near Cygnet, Giuliana White has her Farmhouse Kitchen cooking school. "It's a magnet for mainlanders at the moment," says White, who teaches recipes and techniques from her Pugliese family. "I make people feel like they are part of an Italian family for the day," she says. "I have a lovely farmhouse and I talk like a married magpie, we sit around a table and I share my passion for keeping dishes alive and telling the stories behind them."
Pasta is central to her repertoire. "I love to dispel myths," says White. "We have this modern idea that pasta is supposed to be made with huge quantities of eggs, but eggs were a luxury item and people had a huge number of kids, so there's no way they were putting two dozen eggs in their pasta. When you make it properly with semolina, it's digestible, full of fibre, tasty and you don't end up with a food baby when you eat it. I get such a buzz out of teaching something genuine." thefarmhousekitchen-tas.com or 0400 532 074
Daylesford's Longhouse cooking school has a barn, kitchen and garden atrium. Photo: Phillip Huynh
Every time you look up, it seems there's another great cooking school in Central Victoria. You could spend a month traipsing the region, wooden spoon or wok in hand, picking up skills and golden experiences.
Daylesford Longhouse is a 110-metre-long marvel with a barn at one end, kitchen and garden atrium in the middle, and bespoke accommodation at the other end. It was named Australia's house of the year in 2019 and was featured on the Grand Designs TV show. It's amazing! Small group classes include a roti workshop with Singaporean chef Pamelia Chia (May), an immersive country cuisine and cassoulet masterclass with Peter Booth (June) and Jewish Cooking Traditions Reinvented with Monday Morning Cooking Club (July). daylesfordlonghouse.com.au or 0412 406 014
There's huge anticipation for Tony Tan's new cooking school in his Trentham home, with onsite accommodation and classes that range from dumpling making to food writing. Keep an eye on instagram.com/tonytan53 for opening dates
Lake House classes focus on seasonal produce and are limited to 10 people. Attendees work with chefs from the two-hatted Daylesford restaurant learning techniques, tips and ideas, culminating in lunch. lakehouse.com.au/the-cooking-school-at-lake-house or (03) 5348 3329
Good Food writer Richard Cornish is running The Food Writing Masterclass in Daylesford in July. The two-day immersive course for just 10 people includes taste training, text dissection, writing exercises, a Japanese sensory dinner and a farm visit. Learn more via email@example.com
Many of the region's best restaurants use McIvor Farm Foods' free-range Berkshire pork. They're running sausage-making workshops at their Tooborac farm during the cooler months. Come to be trained in knife skills and sausage-making techniques, including the art of tying snags. You'll go home with 3 kilograms of sausages for your own grill pan or barbecue. mcivorfarmfoods.com.au/workshops
Duang Tengtrirat teaches plant-based cooking to small groups in her Chewton home, focusing on the flavours of south-east Asia. She's passionate about low-waste cooking and attendees can also learn about her food garden and composting regime. "I tell people the history and background to all the dishes, as well as the recipes," says Duang. "It's all very doable and easy to replicate, and it's friendly and casual and intimate because it's in my home." duangscooking.com.au or text 0433 448 036
Castlemaine's hub for artisan cheesemaking.
Castlemaine Cheese School is an exciting new hub for artisan cheesemaking, with an initial focus on skill-building for professionals. There are five-day deep dives into bloomy rinds, washed rinds, hard cheese and blues, plus group accommodation to aid in curd-lover bonding. Less intense classes for hobbyists and simple worshippers at the church of cheeses are slated too. millcastlemaine.com.au/portfolio/the-cheese-school
Over in the north-east, Beechworth's Sally Lynch is running classes in the spooky old jail on the hill, aka The Big House. "We do history tours with a bit of cooking and straight-up cooking classes," says Lynch. "There were lots of Chinese here so we do one class where we make congee and drink wine, and we also have a tapas class with 20 minutes on each station and a drink matched to each tapa. There's that extra twist of coming into a creepy jail and doing it in the original kitchen." thebighousecookingschool.com.au or 0408 321 822
Southern Highlands farm, cafe and pop-up restaurant Moonacres. Photo: Supplied
The make-your-own gin curriculum is the same each time but North of Eden gin school owner Karen Touchie says each of her small-group classes is unique. "It's like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," she says. "I see a love story, my partner sees a martial arts movie. Everybody gets something different." Each student gets their own mini-still and will leave with a bottle of gin, tweaked to their own recipe. "The cooks love choosing ingredients from our witch's pantry of botanicals, the budding alchemists love the distillation process, and everybody loves to taste other people's gin as it comes off the still," says Touchie.
Classes are interactive, with a lot of tasting, so you'll need to gather your own group of four to six for a COVID-safe class. Once you're there, the gin flows. "We feed them gin while they're busy working to get the creative juices flowing," says Touchie. "We start with a gin and tonic, we serve a G & Tea in a cup and saucer, which is perfect for secret daytime drinking, and we do a gin shrub with strawberry and basil. There's also a local produce platter with cheeses and smoked meats." North of Eden is close to Bega; Touchie encourages prospective gin magicians to look at cheap flights to Merimbula, which is 30 minutes away. northofeden.com.au
If you're heading Byron Bay way, see if you can snare a spot at one of Belinda Jeffery's famed cooking classes, held for just eight people in an atmospheric 120-year-old country hall. "It tends to be heavily vegetable-based rustic country food," says Jeffery. "I'll always do something with pastry because a lot of people aren't confident with it. People love the uniqueness of the environment in this huge hall with cows walking around out the back. You see shoulders relax, people love getting hands-on, and then we sit down for a lovely long-table lunch. Nobody ever wants to leave." It's about skills, but especially now, it's about creating special moments too. "Food really brings people together," says Jeffery. "We have barristers sitting next to mining truck drivers swapping stories. I love that it makes people happy and now we're all even more aware of how precious these experiences are." Regular classes are booked out but small groups can contact Belinda to arrange bespoke sessions. belindajeffery.com.au or firstname.lastname@example.org
Southern Highlands farm, cafe and pop-up restaurant Moonacres has joined the dots by adding a cooking school to their earth-loving activities. Held in Robertson, under two hours from Sydney, city chefs will take over the hearth-centred space for classes: Danielle Alvarez is concocting a farm-pick followed by a cook all-day experience. The current roster also includes a fermenting class with Holly Davis and a produce-box code-cracking class with waste warrior Sabine Spindler (ex-Cornersmith), who will teach the pleasures of being organised, how to honour the whole vegetable, as well as techniques for pickling and preserving. moonacres.com.au or (02) 4885 1788
Fiona and Matteo Carboni have been running Casa Carboni cooking school and enoteca in the Barossa Valley for more than eight years. "Recently, we've had lots of people who had been planning to travel to Italy so they decided to come for an Italian cooking class instead," says Fiona. "They've really loved being able to immerse themselves in all things Italian for the day, reminiscing about past travels and chatting about where they would love to go when they can travel again." While they chat they cook, in hands-on classes limited to eight people.
Matteo passes on the pasta-making skills he learnt from his nonna in Emilia-Romagna. "Everybody makes pasta, rolls it out, cuts it, fills it," says Fiona. "We use local ingredients from farms and the market. People love travelling and cooking with the food that grows in the Barossa. It's one thing to see it at the farmers' market but cooking it, eating it, and learning something new is such a bonus, and we find that food and wine unites people in the most amazing way." casacarboni.com.au or call 0415 157 669
Lumiere Culinary Studio in Newstead, Brisbane offers 'deep learning'. Photo: Supplied
Veteran chef and restaurateur Shannon Kellam has cooked and competed around the world and is passionate about instilling skills in professional and home cooks alike. His new Brisbane cooking school spills cheffy secrets so home cooks can entertain without drowning in a sea of dishes as they scramble towards a 10pm main course.
"We show how a professional chef would organise themselves and execute meals in a timely fashion without being surrounded by piles of pots or stuck at the stove," he says. "It might be about salt-baking vegetables two days in advance, then just warming them through when your guests come, or teaching people how to use a meat probe properly so they're not getting up and down all the time to check on a roast." Specialist classes include children's sessions and duck-and-pinot masterclasses, which include three sommelier-led wine flights.
"It's deep learning," says Kellam. "Each person has their own induction, sous vide, teppanyaki grill, steam oven and convection oven. We want people to see the rewards of putting aside time to cook at home," he says. lumierebrisbane.com.au or (07) 3559 2652