Improve your culinary skills with natural foods

If you know your way around the kitchen and want to beef up those skills, you’ll find opportunities at New York City’s Natural Gourmet Institute — but you what you won’t find is beef or any kind of meat for that matter.

Natural Gourmet Institute is a unique program in the city as it solely focuses on what they call “health-supportive culinary education.” Basically, they focus on teaching their students how to create healthy and natural dishes, with a motto of: “Kale, Quinoa & Community.” And they’ve been successfully doing so, since 1977 — long before the kale and health food craze in the United States.

Natural Gourmet Institute’s Carina Hayek said it all started from inside the Upper West Side kitchen of Dr. Annemarie Colbin. In those days, it was known as the Natural Gourmet Cookery School.

“Rooted in Dr. Annemarie Colbin’s seven criteria for food selection, our curriculum empowers chefs, individuals, and communities to be leaders in the conversation about food and well-being through the preparation of healthful and delicious meals,” Hayek said.

So far, the school has graduated almost 3,000 chefs from over 45 countries, with this foundation.

The institute provides an array of classes, lectures, demonstrations, excursions and walking tours all about food.

“We also host Friday Night Dinners, showcasing the talents of our chefs and chefs in training; “Dinner and a Movie” nights, showing a movie and serving movie-themed food; and Shrubs, a happy hour featuring nonalcoholic cordials, tinctures and elixirs,” said Hayek.

Natural Gourmet Institute’s Friday Night Dinner.
(Photo: Natural Gourmet Institute)

Whether you want to learn more about vegetarian Indian street food, noodles and gnocchi, or vegetarian desserts, you’ll find a unique list of classes that are sure to tickle your tastebuds and sharpen your skills.

Speaking of sharpening skills, they even offer a special “Knife Skills” course that focuses on how to properly handle and care for those essential kitchen tools. The course also teaches you how to utilize your knives in the best way, to prepare you meals in half the time.

What sets apart Natural Gourmet Institute from other cooking-intensive programs in the city, is the unique approach and spin they put on “common” course themes. For instance, in their “Nuts, Milks and Cheeses” class (which sounds like something a lactose intolerant person should avoid) you’ll actually learn to make these items from sources other than dairy, making unique items like acai berry macaroons, a pop corn “ice cream” sundae, or creamy chocolate hazelnut milk.

If you’re looking to add colorful creations to your next dinner party, you’ll enjoy their “Color-Centric Cooking”class that focuses on preserving and enhancing food’s natural colors for those bright dishes. While colors in foods highlight their important nutrients (which you’ll learn all about in this course), you will learn how to apply “color psychology” to your meals to boost your guest’s moods.

“By making mindful and deliberate decisions about the ingredients we source, we are able to advocate and utilize a sustainable food system that respects the earth’s natural resources and the people who make each meal possible,” Hayek said.

For those younger cooks, Natural Gourmet Institute offers a two-day cooking intensive program for teens. You’re never too young to develop healthy cooking skills. This class teaches teens how to navigate the kitchen, learning real-world cooking tips and tricks to make meals focusing on breakfast, Italian cuisine, Mexican cuisine and “small bites.” There are also family night programs for kids and parents to take part in together.

Most courses are taught by the institute’s alumni, so you will definitely learn from experts.

Students learn culinary skills from expert chefs. (Photo: Natural Gourmet Institute)

All courses vary in length and duration depending on what type of program you decide to take. From single sessions (usually lasting about three hours) to multiple days, you can find a program to suit your schedule and needs.

If you’re looking for more lasting skills or you’re more career focused with your culinary interests, their certificate programs can help you to achieve your goals. These unique programs offered by Natural Gourmet Institute focus on a wide variety of topics like food therapy, sustainable farming, culinary nutrition, starting a food business and even food blogging. As you can see, the certificate programs are set up for the serious-minded foodies, and last for over a week. At the end of the course’s run, you’ll walk a way certified in the particular topic along with a wealth of information and a new perspective on food.

Whether you’re getting started or you’ve been in the kitchen for years, if you have an interest in natural, healthy meals, Natural Gourmet Institute has a class for you.

“We’re special because we’re health-supportive,” Hayek said. “We address a variety of nutritional concerns including allergies and protein preferences, and offer programs that explore Ayurveda, microbiomes, and food as health.”

So, if this program is right up your alley, you can sign up today for a one-of-a-kind cooking course that showcases food in its simplest form.