For a very long time, the only way to learn how to cook was by reading cookbooks and having a family member teach you their methods.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that chefs started putting their heads together and creating culinary workshops, cooking classes and schools.
Nowadays, it’s never been easier to attend a cooking class thanks to the many different types available.
Amateur chefs can now put themselves in the whites of a famous chef and follow their recipes to the letter. No matter how you want your food cooked, you can find a recipe for it online. Anyone can now learn to cook like a professional chef.
In this article, we’re looking at the history of cooking classes, from Ancient Rome to 19th century France. If you’ve eaten French cuisine, it probably won’t surprise you to know that we’ll be talking about it pretty extensively in this article.
While cooking foods that aren’t solely for consumption might seem like a modern idea (most of the humans throughout history dedicated their lives to farming and agriculture), food history stretches back much further than you might think.
Cookbooks effectively date back to ancient Rome. (Source: dianageanina)
The namesake book of 500 ancient Roman recipes was put together during the 1st century AD and was still being rewritten as late as the 4th century; it’s thought to be the earliest example of a cookbook. At the time, there wasn’t much in terms of formal culinary training nor were there cooking workshops for those wanting to discover gastronomy.
While De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) will often pop up in Latin classes, there are still those who read it for fun just to see what people liked to eat in the past. There’s actually a restaurant with Ancient Roman food in Rome where you can sample a recipe from 2,000 years ago using the cooking techniques of the time (don’t worry, the ingredients are fresh!).
Nowadays, those who love cooking can get a taste of the most elegant dishes of the time. A lot of the recipes call for wine, honey, and olive oil, of course.
Hungry for a bit of ancient spiced bread, chicken a la fronto, pear soufflé, or are you just preparing a feast for the Roman army?
If you were wondering, Garum was a fermented fish sauce that was commonly used a condiment in Roman cooking. In Campania, Italy, you can still get a fermented anchovy sauce, which is thought to be tastes most like Garum.
If you’re interested in ancient Roman cooking, there are English versions of the book available.
It wasn’t until 1842 that the association of French chefs union formed and formalised the training for chefs. Their goal was to make cooking an art. And if cooking was an art, why not teach it in schools like all the other arts?
In 1883, a cooking school was opened in Paris by Charles Driessens, where cookery conferences and competitions were also held. However, this school was only open to men. The teachers at the school included Auguste Escoffier and Victor Morin, who were both famous chefs at the time.
The Parisian school only remained open for a year as it wasn’t profitable. However, the art of cooking lived on through the cooking methods passed down through a number of families.
Other cooking schools, such as Auguste Colombié’s in Paris, would later open their doors for culinary training. One of its alumni was Madame Bonabry of Switzerland. Once she returned to Switzerland, she opened her own cooking school, the École Normale de Cuisine de Fribourg. In 1901, cooking classes were offered to young girls with the goal of making them better mothers and home cooks.
You need to keep in mind that it was only the start the 20th century and hospitality schools that brought cooking workshops to everyone. This is when the art of cooking finally became accessible to everyone.
The practice still continues to this day. In 1990, the École privée des Arts Culinaires d’Ecully (Ecully Private School for the Culinary Arts) was created. In 2002, it became the Institut Paul Bocuse and is considered one of the greatest cooking schools in the world.
All these events have helped create a fertile landscape for amateur cooks to learn more about cooking. Cooking became an art, a domestic practise, and then a leisure activity for men, women, and children (as can be seen with the popularity of cooking for kids classes).
Throughout the centuries, it was common to have a small recipe book in the house.
By the 18th century, French women could pick up a copy of Avis aux bonnes ménagères des villes et des campagnes” (Best Practices for Good Housewives in the City or Countryside) since not every household could employ a professional chef in their kitchens.
The first modern cookbooks included recipes for women to cook for their families. (Source: Daria-Yakoleva)
In accordance with the social practices of the time, the wife was expected to tend to her family and prepare the meals. To help her in this task, editors started offering recipes books and cookbooks while posing as cooking teachers.
The first edition of the book La véritable cuisine de famille… par tante Marie (Genuine Family Cooking by Aunt Marie) was published in 1925. It included 500 complete menus and advice for in the kitchen.
You might have heard of Julia Child, the chef who created the most famous book on French cooking in the 1950s. Both passionate and funny, she won over the American people with both her personality and her baking technique (her brioche, in particular).
She became a famous TV chef once she conquered America (and the rest of the world) with her delicious French recipes. Thanks to her, French cuisine can be found both in America and Britain.
Her show, The French Chef, which first aired in 1961, allowed her to show off her love of French cooking. Her famous book is still in print. And it doesn’t matter if you’re American or not, you can still read the book known as “the Bible of French cooking”.
Brioche was Julia Child’s bread and butter. (Source: ElodiV)
In addition to her famous brioche recipe, you can also find recipes for a tarte aux pommes (an apple pie) and beef bourguignon.
Want to learn more about her? You should watch the film Julie and Julia where Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, a woman who tried to cook all the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child’s (played by Meryl Streep) book.
Cooking is no longer a chore but rather a leisure activity which has resulted in a lot of people wanting to learn how to do it well. Aspiring chefs want to learn how to cook in the same way as Michelin Star chefs even though they’re just making their recipes for fun.
While you can often pick up these chefs’ cookbooks, it’s much better to learn from a chef in the flesh. Most of the big names have opened their own cooking schools and workshops.
In fact, some of these workshops are incredibly affordable (given the name of the famous chef on the door) and, while many of them aren’t taught by the chef themselves, fun. There’s a huge variety, from pastry workshops to tapas cooking classes. You can attend general cooking classes or get a private tutor to come to your house to teach you how to cook.
You could learn how to make choux pastry, pair wine with your meals, or study molecular cuisine,
Cooking tutorials are useful for learning fundamental techniques like how to cut vegetables. (Source: Zichrini)
As crazy as it may seem, you can attend a virtual cooking class with a chef on the other side of the world. No matter what dish you want to make, you can learn how to make it like a professional.
In the digital age, there are plenty of interesting cooking classes available over the internet. These lessons can still be interactive as participants can send their questions to the chef who’ll respond to them directly. On the other hand, you can’t press pause like you’d be able to on a pre-recorded cooking video.
The best thing about teaching an online cooking class: you can have as many students as you want! You can learn how to make great meals for your family for pennies.
You should check out the testimonials of other students who “attended” the class to see if the course or lesson is right for you.
If you’re looking for a certain type of cooking class, such as learning how to bake or make your own dough, you can look for a cooking teacher on Superprof.
You can find tutors who’ve got loads of experience working in professional kitchens. Additionally, if you’re a vegetarian, vegan, have allergies or other dietary requirements, you can focus on a specific ingredient or cooking style.
Are you looking for a cooking school, cooking workshop, or a particular type of chef?
Find the best UK cookery schools here.
See which are the best-rated cooking schools around the world here.