In-Store Class Acts

Some of the county's coolest classes are now in session in a retail shop near you.



Storebought Knowledge

 

Whether its cooking, quilting, or hunting, if youre in the market to learn a new skill or brush up your technique, you dont need to head back to school. Instead, consider visiting one of these local stores

 

By Merri Rosenberg

Illustration by Calvin Rambler

 

“You’re never too old to learn something new,” my grandmother used to tell me, right before demonstrating how to roll out a pie crust, cook a pot roast, or darn a sock. Unfortunately, few of us can have our grandmothers at the ready when we need to bone up on our kitchen techniques or other domestic chores.

 

Luckily, a number of retailers have stepped into the breach. While they might not dispense knowledge as freely as Grandma, these stores offer a variety of classes, workshops, and demonstrations on a range of topics for a usually modest fee. Whatever it is that you want to brush  up on—whether it’s how to bake a tarte Tatin or crochet a cloche, or how to distinguish a really good Pinot Noir from a mediocre one—there’s a local venue offering classes that will not only teach you something new but are fun besides (and a great way to meet new people).

 

Here’s an admittedly selective list of some local stores offering classes that will teach you a thing or two about the finer points of life.

 

 

Eat & Drink

 

Sharing food and drink is at the center of many social rituals, so it should be no surprise that cooking classes, wine tastings, and other culinary activities are among the most popular subjects to learn.

 

Kitchen-supply superstore Chef Central (45 S. Central Ave., Hartsdale; 914-328-1376; www.chefcentral.com) has a regular calendar of demonstration cooking classes and hands-on workshops on everything from sushi-making to cake decorating to cooking for teens. One evening recently, for example, a group of aspiring sushi chefs was led through the step-by-step construction of a Japanese hand-roll, as well as the more traditional sushi. With their cutting boards at the ready, sharpened knives and ingredients laid out in front of them, about 15 students enthusiastically went about their task of combining sheets of seaweed, clumps of rice, and slivers of fish into tender morsels.

 

Other classes include how to make your own pasta and how to bake pies and tarts. Most classes last for one to two hours. Fees range from $30 to $50 (kids’ classes $14-$18).

At MacMenamin’s Grill & ChefWorks (115 Cedar St., New Rochelle; 914-632-4900; www.macmenaminsgrill. com), it’s hard to tell what’s going on,  a cooking class or a particularly raucous party. Pots are boiling, knives are chopping, aromas are wafting through the cooking space (separated from the restaurant itself) as participants slice, dice, sauté, and peel. One night recently, I heard a man cheerfully call out, “I’m your tomato boy.” (I’m still trying to figure out what he meant by that).

 

Among the courses the restaurant offers as part of its ChefWorks Recreational Cooking School are Spanish tapas, baking pastries, cooking for singles, Asian fusion,  hors d’oeuvres, and fish cookery. “It’s good for team building,” says Head Chef James Cawley, who recently instructed a class in nuevo Latino cuisine. Indeed, among the groups drawn by their love of good food and camaraderie have been staffers of local medical offices, condo-association outings, and old friends seeking to learn new culinary skills. Afterwards, the entire class, which usually numbers around a dozen, sits down at the table together to enjoy the fruits of their kitchen labor.

 

For Linda Docherty of Somers and her friend, Donna Monaco Olsen of Pound Ridge, coming here is the ultimate “girls’ night out,” explains Docherty. Fees are $90 per person; classes run about three hours.

 

Those who prefer imbibing to cooking over a hot stove can actually make their own vintage at MYO Wine of Elmsford (105 Fairview Park Dr., Elmsford; 914-741-5425, www.myowine.com). Students learn the basics of winemaking, including how to identify various varieties of grapes; how to press them; “racking” the wine (when student-vintners finally get to taste it after it has fermented a few months in oak casks); and, finally, bottling wine. Fees can go up to $2,400 to produce your own case of wine; classes, which meet four times during a year, run for one-and-a-half to three hours per session, depending on the stage of the vinting process.

 

 

Body & Mind

 

Four young female friends, elegantly attired in cocktail dresses and high heels, sat nibbling on sushi while studying hairstyles in Vogue and InStyle at Salon Shin (731 White Plains Rd., Scarsdale; 914-472-3917, www.salon shin.com). They were among the young participants in a special workshop offered by salon owner Shin Tsudome to help them learn how to style their own hair and apply their own makeup for their high school proms.

 

Since earlier this year, Tsudome has offered an after-school beauty class for pre-teens and teenagers on the first Tuesday of each month. The sessions have become popular hangout for girls eager to share another bonding experience.

 

“We teach them how to hold the hairbrush, or how to work with the curling iron and rollers,” explains Tsudome, the father of two daughters, ages 10 and 13.

 

Says Annie Shoemaker, a senior at Bronxville High School who was trying out various hairstyles, “It sounded like a good idea. We’re looking for style ideas.” Even better, the classes are free. Students should be between the ages of 13 and 17; classes are limited to eight students. Classes commence at 5 pm and run 90 minutes. 

 

Of course, you don’t have to be a teenager to want to learn a few cosmetic tricks of the trade. Grown-up gals like to look better, too. For them, Dobbs Ferry’s Rituals Make-Up Studio & Beauty Boutique, (77 Main St.; 914-478-5507, www.ritualsonline. com), a makeup studio and beauty boutique, offers at-home makeup lessons as well as “hen parties,” where small groups of women can learn to improve their makeup techniques. Sessions are scheduled for three hours and are limited to five participants; Rituals supplies all cosmetics. Fee is $125 per hour.

 

Once you’ve got your exterior all spruced and polished, it might be time to work a bit on little Tyler or  Samantha’s various skills. At the Scholastic Store (450 Central Ave., Scarsdale; 914-725-7201, www.scholastic.com.) it’s easy for a visitor to think that she’s stumbled into a really cool school, or perhaps the world’s neatest playgroup. On a recent weekend afternoon, the store’s interior greenhouse—a large 500-square-foot, glass-enclosed space with tables and chairs—was a hive of activity. Balls flew all over the place as nearly a dozen children participated in a program about how toys worked.

“We’ve tried to make a nice combination of free activities and pay-for classes,” says Michael Strouse, area manager for Scholastic Stores, Inc. “We have a free story time every Tuesday and Friday [starting at 11 am]. It’s never too early to start reading to your kids. And this is a way to be part of the neighborhood.”

 

For the Tonka Toy set, the Scholastic Store also offers birthday parties, build-your-own-book workshops, scrapbooking, and other after-school workshops for kids in kindergarten through second grade. For third- through fifth-graders, there are classes on topics ranging from the science of toys, robotics, and “mad science” to bugs and weather, detective

science and kitchen chemistry classes, among others. Most classes last 45 minutes. Fees start at $15 for a single class; $70 for four weekly art sessions; and $320 for eight weekly sessions of the “Little Maestro” music class for infants.

 

Finally, after spending a few hours racing around with the kids, it might be time to work on cultivating an air of serenity and peace. What better way than to polish up  your flower arranging techniques? Michael George, a Manhattan-based celebrity florist, offers flower-arranging classes at his Pound Ridge boutique, Hybrid Michael George Flower School NY (70 Westchester Ave.; 914-764-1154, www.flowerschoolny.com). Topics include reinterpretation of the traditional calla lily bouquet, architectural bouquet techniques, and flower arrangement and composition. Fees are $250 per class; classes last two hours.

 

 

Sewing Circles & Quilting Bees

 

Remember how your grandmother used to warn you about idle hands being the devil’s playground? Well, Americans have taken the advice to heart, having spent $29 billion on activities such as sewing, quilting, and scrapbook making in 2002 (the last year for which figures are available).

 

In Mamaroneck, as you enter the Quilt Cottage (414 Mamaroneck Ave.; 914-777-1333, www.quiltcottage.net), you’re immediately greeted by bolts of colorful fabrics—cottons, chintzes, flannels, you name it—as well as miles of yarn and sewing supplies. Tempting fabric squares, known as “fat quarters” to the initiated, lay spread across tables to allow quilters to examine color relationships and create designs, and beautiful, whimsical quilts are displayed on the walls to fire quilters’ inspiration. In the back of the brightly lit store, a half-dozen women sit with swatches of colors in front of them, listening intently as their instructor explains how quilts are designed and composed.

 

The class, known as Kalidescope Quilt, starts an hour before the store actually opens at 10 am. The regulars know each other. “In the middle of one class, we ask each other, ‘What will we do next?’” says Kate Tinkler of Eastchester, who goes out to lunch regularly with her classmates. “It’s evolved into something very nice.”

 

The Quilt Cottage offers an array of classes, on topics ranging from introduction to knitting to quilting; among the favorites are photo-quilting and making a floor cloth or quilted rug. Most classes meet every week for two hours. Fees range from $50 to $100.

If you don’t want to schlep to Mamaroneck to share the joy of sewing with others, on the western side of the county there’s Hartsdale Fabrics (275 S. Central Ave.; 914-428-7780, www.hartsdale fabrics.com), which is the kind of place where the employees greet customers by their first names when they enter the store.

 

That welcoming feeling is intentional. “This is an extension of my home,” says Pat Headen, who’s owned the store for 35 years. “My desk is on the floor, so I can be with customers and share the knowledge. We give them techniques, but what holds them together is their common interest in sewing.”

 

Sally Hall of White Plains was busy finishing a panne velvet skating costume for her daughter. “The students get ideas from each other.” Among topics covered by classes are home decorating, quilting, and fashion clothing. Most classes are two hours long and meet weekly. Fees begin at $49 for four weeks. Hall, for one, has only one quibble: “I wish the classes were longer. The two hours fly by.” 

 

Another destination popular with thread-heads is Mount Kisco’s Pins and Needles (161 Main St.; 914-666-0824, www.pinsandneedlesny.com). “Several of my friends recommended this store,” said Sue McMachan of Somers, as she worked alongside a bunch of intense seamstresses inside the store. “I haven’t met sewers or quilters who aren’t friendly,” she adds. This cozy, unabashedly old-fashioned sewing store (except for the state-of-the-art computerized sewing machines) is crammed with spools of thread, buttons, needles, rickrack, pattern books, embroidery hoops, and bolts of fabrics. Among the subjects taught are home decorating, dressmaking, quilting, and machine embroidery. Most classes meet weekly and fees range from $25 for a one-time class to $280 for 14 dressmaking sessions. 

 

Home & More

 

Are you a man who wants to get in touch with your inner Tool Time guy? If that’s the case, head over to one of the local Home Depot stores (601 S. Sprain Rd., Yonkers, 914-963-3003; 55 Heyman Ave., New Rochelle, 914-235-7575; 150 Midland Ave., Port Chester, 914-690-9745, www.homedepot.com), all of which offer regular clinics focusing on various home improvement skills, such as updating kitchen cabinets and countertops, installing new sheetrock, the proper use of power tools, and putting down a new floor. All clinics are free and last approximately an hour.

 

Or maybe you feel an urge to learn how to survive in the wilderness? Then hike over to Ardsley’s Cougar Sports (917 Saw Mill River Rd.; 914-693-8877), which offers classes in bow hunting. You can also ask them about classes offered through the State Department of Conservation (many of which are free) which can include firearms hunting, trapping and scuba diving. Scuba instruction to become certified takes three to six sessions; each session runs about two hours; the fee is $350.

 

Merri Rosenberg, a freelance writer and editor in Ardsley, has just taken up knitting and hopes to make something besides a scarf someday.