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Cooking School: Classes allow the city's food community to share its knowledge

"It's really about waking people up to eating good food."

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They require a bit of a hunt, but a growing number of free to low-cost classes taught by Pittsburgh's food and drink specialists are popping up around the city. 

You can, for example, learn how to butcher duck, rabbit or lamb at Beechview's Crested Duck Charcuterie; how to build a home bar or properly taste spirits at Oakland's Butterjoint; or how to make sushi at Bloomfield's Fukuda. 

Advertised through social media or posted under the events section of restaurant websites, the classes are true deals, with price tags (if there are any) usually covering the costs of ingredients. The instruction, the company and the resulting meal or takeaway are gifts. 

Steve Owens and his wife, Kimberlee, for example, learned how to make sauerkraut just before the holidays during a free class offered at Legume, in Oakland. The jar of sauerkraut they created was their New Year's Day meal. 

"We just thought it was really neat that a chef from a big restaurant in Pittsburgh would offer a class," Owens says, adding that they both like to cook but had never tried fermenting. 

With little to be made in direct profit, those offering the classes say it's about sharing the passion behind what they do. 

"If you get involved in food, it's politics," says Rosemarie Perla, a committee member for Slow Food Pittsburgh who has started a monthly cooking class for kids and adults ($10 per student) at Marty's Market, in the Strip District. She focuses on basic skills, such as how to use a knife and how to cut vegetables. The class then cooks a simple meal together, usually a rice or capellini pasta dish made with vegetables and olive oil, crushed garlic and grated Parmesan. 

"It's really about waking people up to eating good food," she says. 

Luke Shaffer, owner of 21st Street Coffee in the Strip District, just began offering $5 coffee cuppings, a formal evaluation of aroma and taste, every other Sunday. He says his classes are a way to carve out time for customers who have questions about coffee and brewing methods. 

"I don't think our job is to educate customers as much as it is to make what we enjoy accessible to them," he says. 

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