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A few years ago if you wanted to learn to cook in a classroom -- as opposed to in the kitchen with your mom or grandma -- there were few options.
Now, thanks to a boom in the foodie culture in Milwaukee, there is a full menu of options from the casual to the intense.
For the serious student hoping to enter the culinary world, there is little match for an intensive program like the associate degree program offered by Milwaukee Area Technical College or hospitality services programs at MBTI or Bryant and Stratton College.
But most adults are looking for classes to help them improve their kitchen skills rather than make a career change.
For that, UWM's School of Continuing Education offers classes and so does the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward. Chef Michael Feker's School of Culinary Magic in Wauwatosa and Braise is a roving culinary school that sets up shop in inns, at farms and orchards for its classes.
Like the boom in restaurants in Brew City and the explosion of cookbooks and cooking shows on TV, cooking classes appear more popular than ever.
"The classes have been more popular than expected," says Sherry Bantug, marketing manager of the Milwaukee Public Market.
"I believe it's because our classes cater to different audiences, from the beginner cook to the seasoned chef."
The market brings in a range of chefs and instructors to teach one-off classes in diverse cuisines and styles.
"The wide variety of classes appeals to almost anyone," says Bantug, "from healthy-cooking classes to specialty classes like a Culinary Tour of Italy, Gluten-Free Cooking, Fall Detox, Meal on a Budget, Healthy Holiday Baking, and more.
"Whether you come alone, with a group of friends, or as a couple, there are classes on the calendar for everyone!"
Meanwhile, schools like Braise, run by Chef David Swanson, or the wonderfully named Chef Michael Feker's School of Culinary Magic -- run by Il Mito's Feker -- more reflect the passion and vision of a single chef.
Upon visiting Feker's school earlier in the year, this reporter noted that the School of Culinary Magic is nothing if not a public stage for the witty, personable, engaging and passionate Feker.
Feker is a natural for the Food Network. Feker, who has more than two decades of restaurant kitchen experience behind him, has no trouble juggling concocting his cuisine while explaining techniques, laughing and joking, recounting stories and holding conversations with eight or 10 diners all at once.
In his tiled and warm space, Feker makes you feel at home. He remembers everyone's name and he asks nearly as many questions of guests as he answers for them.
Especially popular with parties and groups, Feker's school has also found its niche, says Feker's assistant Stacy Prowse.
"Chef Michael Feker's School of Culinary Magic is doing very well. Michael has many ideas that are new to the market.
"He has amazing response to his new family-style dining at his cooking school. This is a great, affordable package that CMF offers, which includes a long table with the menu chosen by the guest in advance, and served family style, but Michael prepares the food behind them at the counter, while they are seated and enjoying their wine and drinks."
Classes at the Milwaukee Public Market start at about $25 for demonstration classes and run about $50-$80 for hands-on lessons. Classes and demos at Braise and Chef Michael Feker's School of Culinary Magic start around $40.
Of course, if you prefer to mix a little travel with your learning, you'll have no trouble finding cooking classes up and down Italy, France, Spain, Napa and Sonoma Valleys and other welcoming destinations that are especially popular with foodies.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.