Cooking Up Some Fun

At these schools, clients can learn the Big Easy’s culinary secrets

By: Cheré Coen

As director of sales and marketing at the New Orleans School of Cooking, Michelle Gaynor knows how to smell success. She knows that when the office smells delectable, chefs are cooking, tourists are learning and business is good.

“Although it’s hard on the waistline,” she added with a laugh.

The cooking school offers hands-on and demonstration cooking classes of Creole and Cajun cuisine, revealing the secrets to everything from shrimp remoulade and oysters Rockefeller to chicken and andouille sausage gumbo and bread pudding. The daily demonstration classes are open to individuals stopping by the French Quarter facility. Private classes are arranged in the evening. Large groups, housed at the nearby Jax Brewery that overlooks the Mississippi River, are booked through the sales office.

“We have an ability to do a lot of things,” Gaynor said. “We do a lot of tour groups. We do anything from a minimum group of 25 people and we can go up to 200 people. We can work with companies to tailor to their specific needs.”

New to the school is team-building events, where large groups are divided into equal teams that compete in a variety of hands-on challenges, either through the “Culinary Challenge” or the “Cooking School Olympics.” The chefs guide competitors through four rounds of competition in which they must prove their culinary skills, intellectual prowess and their ability to work as a team.

The majority of folks coming through the doors enjoy the demonstration classes, taught by chefs and involving typical south Louisiana meals participants can enjoy afterward. Prices are $22 to $27 per class, which run about three hours. Hands-on classes start at $100 per person and include the preparation of four menu items, the recipes, a souvenir apron, wine and beer.

“Guests can taste indigenous spices, buy products in our store and use the Web site to ask questions when they get back home,” Gaynor said. “Chefs are really great at getting back to people.”

New Orleans Cooking Experience

The New Orleans Cooking Experience operates on a similar schedule, offering half-day, private and special event classes to those wanting to learn New Orleans Creole (and a little Cajun) culinary traditions. Regular classes are limited to 10 participants, and include personalized instruction by native chefs covering topics from recipes to wines, and concluding with a multi-course dinner party.

“Our private classes in-clude a lot of visitors and locals celebrating birthdays, weddings, etc., plus small-business and incentive groups,” explained Judy Jurisich, the school’s founder. “Our larger groups include business incentive groups, convention events and sometimes spouse events.”

The school also features culinary vacation programs anything from a weekend getaway to a weeklong itinerary. A long weekend vacation, for example, will feature dinners at famous restaurants such as Commander’s Palace and Brigtsen’s, walking tours of the French Quarter, cooking classes at the facility and oyster boat tours in nearby St. Bernard Parish.

“Our half-day classes are geared toward general visitors, whether they are vacationing or attending meetings, as well as locals,” said Jurisich. “Our vacation programs are generally taken by people who are looking for a culinary experience, but we do get some weekend getaway people who build it into a convention schedule.”

The facility is located in the House on Bayou Road, an 18th-century inn near Esplanade Avenue, not far from the Vieux Carré.

“We have group discounts and we are happy to work with travel agents, based on what they would like to do,” Jurisich said. “For groups of three to five, our discount rate is $165 per person and for groups of six to 12, we can offer a discount rate of $150 per person as well as a private class with no additional fees. For classes larger than 12, and up to about 80, we have several different formats and pricing.”

For the upcoming New Orleans Heritage and Jazz Festival April 22-May 1, the school is offering dinner classes following festival hours and weekday classes in between the two weekends of the event.


Over in the Garden District, in the restored 1880s Duncan Kenner House, Culinaria offers a “recreational cooking school and private events facility,” said owner Shannon Seyler.

Although the facility features New Orleans Creole and Cajun cuisine education, the instruction is not limited to Louisiana. Classes range from the international French Classic, Tuscany to the exotic. Spa Cuisine and Carnival-Brazil are two of the most eclectic offerings.

“You can’t find that range of cooking classes in the city,” Seyler said. “The classes are for those who want to try something new.”

The facility, one block off historic St. Charles Avenue, features antiques on the first floor with two modern teaching kitchens, a rustic wine cellar featuring 5,000 bottles and a formal salon.

Like the competitors, Culinaria offers both demonstration classes and hands-on courses, each around two hours and including full menus with accompanying wines.

“We offer both types of experiences,” Seyler said. “And they’re both a lot of fun.”

Group instruction is available, customized to meet a company or tour’s budget, Seyler said, adding that she has put together offerings for tours of up to 125 people, including cocktail parties with demonstrations.

Groups, where 40 to 50 people are broken up into groups of 10 and taken on a round robin of instruction, called “Explosive Cooking Groups” have been “incredibly successful,” Seyler said.

“We have four or five cooking stations going,” she explained. “It all ends with dessert.”

Demonstrations are $75-$100 with paired wines, while hands-on classes run $75-$125 with paired wines.