Vegucate yourself by learning from the pros

Sara Glassman, a seven-year vegetarian and a certified Natural Foods Chef, is teaching classes through her Vine Dining business.
Sara Glassman, a seven-year vegetarian and a certified Natural Foods Chef, is teaching classes through her Vine Dining business.
Posted: September 06, 2013

AS "ANIMAL-FREE" continues to gain traction in family kitchens, cooking classes that teach the basics of healthy, plant-based cuisine abound. And whether you're vegan, vegetarian or veg-curious, back-to-school week is a great time to take a look at this harvest.

Individual prices vary, but you can expect to pay between $30 and $100 for a session; some are offered in a series, others on a class-by-class basis. In nearly all cases, you're learning not just by seeing someone work through a recipe step-by-step, but by eating the tasty food you've learned to make. Here's a sampling:

* Christina Pirello, the doyenne of vegucation in Philly, has an interesting fall lineup at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. She told me, "I'm breaking healthy cooking into the ingredients so people get an understanding of the foods we choose."

"Whole Grains and Beans" (Sept. 15) covers protein and digestion; "It's Easy Being Green" (Oct. 13) acquaints students with the nutritional powerhouse of leafy greens (no smoothies involved!); "The Root of It All" (Nov. 10) goes deep into the powers and flavors of "sweet, satisfying, hearty roots"; and "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Sweetest of Them All?" (Dec. 15) will show how "sweet veggies are our secret weapon to surviving the holiday season with our health and waistlines intact."

All are held from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, on Walnut Street near 43rd. (More at 215-222-4200, walnuthillcollege.edu).

* COOK, just off Rittenhouse Square, is a mainstream cooking-class series that often features plant-based classes. We tipped you last year to Rachel (of Miss Rachel's Pantry) Klein's vegan class. This year, she's teaching a Vegan Thanksgiving class on Nov. 13.

On Sept. 14, Elizabette Andrade, of Earth's Elements Foods & Products, will offer "A Vegan Celebration of Seeds and Grains." This is "a gastronomic, plant-based, vegan adventure that will help you maintain your body's balance." (More at 215-735-COOK, audreyclaire cook.com.)

Many classes focus on making healthful foods yummy, reflecting a growing interest in the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet - as well as the fact that just leaving out animal foods doesn't mean instant health.

The Strengthening Health Institute, in Northern Liberties, for instance, has a "Cooking for the Harvest Class" (Sept. 12, 6:30 to 9 p.m.) where students learn to "make easy dinner entrées using the natural bounty of late summer and fall." (More at 215-238-9212, strengthenhealth.org.)

Some instructors, though, take the health aspect in stride and focus more on things like ease of use. James Mitchell, formerly of Cafe at the Mills (watch this space for more on his latest project), has put together a small-group class called "A Five-Course Vegan Dinner in 20 Minutes." (More at cafeatthemills@ymail.com.)

Newer on the scene is Sara Glassman, a certified Natural Foods Chef who told me that the point of her biz, Vine Dining, is "to convey how simple it is to cook nourishing foods." (See some Vine Dining dishes here.)

A seven-year vegetarian, Glassman said that she went vegan a few years back after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. Since then, she said, she's felt great - "more energy, and a new love for what I was eating."

Glassman dived into her dream - "working with people and working with food" - and eventually graduated from the Natural Kitchen Cooking School, in Princeton, N.J. This year she hung out her shingle, starting with in-home catering and personal chef-ing, but soon established Vine Dining as an educational effort.

Glassman will lead two, four-part series in September and October: "Teenage Tasting and Health," in which students ages 13-17 can "learn how to make delicious treats on their own so their parents will stop worrying about what to cook for them"; and "Delicious Desserts," both at Holland Middle School, in Northampton Township, Bucks County. And if you're at Bethlehem VegFest on Saturday, you'll see her there.

Her main method, though, is bringing the education to you. She can do a class in your kitchen - whether one-on-one or for a dinner party. "This can be a fun event where you get all your friends together. . . . You get the instruction, the recipes and the meal itself," she said. (More at vinedining.com.)

For those just dipping a toe into cooking education, such events might provide a fun bridge. At best, you'll come out with a much better understanding of how fun and healthful plant-based cuisine can be. And at worst, hey, it's a way to add a little class to your party.


Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.

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