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Got an urge to cook? Check out a local school

As far as resolutions go, learning to cook is a multitasker.

Not only is cooking a fantastic new hobby, it can be a way to explore exotic flavors and eat healthier to boot.

Atlanta is home to several cooking schools, which offer classes for adults or children taught by local celebrity chefs and other cooking experts. Interested students can learn everything from how to chop vegetables to how to cook almost any ethnic cuisine imaginable.

Gwinnett just got a new school of its own when the new Whole Foods Market opened in Duluth. Perched high above the bustling store, the Salud cooking school offers both hands-on cooking classes and demonstration style classes. Class topics range from basic cooking skills to preparing different cuisines to pairing wines with cheeses.

The hands-on participation classes, which are open to just 12 students at a time, let students try their hand at cooking techniques under the watchful eye of a local chef.

In the demonstration classes, which are taught theater-style and can accommodate up to 25 students, participants get to watch a master chef at work as they explain how to cook a full menu step-by-step.

Students can ask as many questions as they want, and the chef's every move is captured on several in-room television sets. While students don't actually get to do any cooking during the demonstration classes, they do get to eat a full meal, including dessert. They're also treated to a bottomless glass of wine.

During a recent demonstration class, chef Gena Berry prepared a menu of squash soup, sage-scented pork loin, herbed goat cheese fingerling potatoes and a bosc pear tart.

Even though the students couldn't join her in the kitchen, chef Berry didn't shy away from show-and-tell - she passed around several spices so students could smell or taste them and even offered samples of the hard apple cider she used to make a sauce for her pork dish.

Berry, who was an associate producer on the Turner South show "Home Plate," imparted some of her cooking tips and tricks during the class. She showed students the easiest way to chop an onion and how to tie a pork loin with twine so it will cook evenly.

Her best tip? Every good home cook needs to learn to balance the sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors in each dish.

Her Kabocha Squash Soup with Granny Smith Apples and Serrano Ham Pistou was a perfect example of her guidelines. Chopped apples provided sweetness, celery offered a bitter flavor, sourness came from lemon and buttermilk and salty ham rounded out the mixture.

Local cooking schools:

Salud Cooking and Lifestyle School

•Located inside the Whole Foods Market, 5945 State Bridge Road in Duluth.

•Offers both participation and demonstration classes. Classes range from learning how to prepare different cuisines to how to pair wines with cheeses.

•Upcoming classes include Southern Brunch, Latin Empanada Party and Exploring Olive Oils and Vinegars.

•Classes cost between $35 and $60 per person.

•Call 678-514-2400 or visit www.wholefoods.com.

Atlanta Community Food Bank

•Its series of Simple Abundance cooking classes offers a chance to give back to the community while learning to cook.

•Classes are held at The Cook's Warehouse locations in Brookhaven, midtown and Decatur, and at The Kroger School of Cooking in Alpharetta.

•Some of Atlanta's top chefs offer demonstration cooking classes to benefit the food bank. Classes have been taught by prominent local chefs such as Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's, Michael Tuohy of Woodfire Grill and Scott Peacock of Watershed.

•Classes cost between $40 and $150 apiece, and 100 percent of the tuition goes to Atlanta's Table, a nonprofit Atlanta Community Food Bank project that collects prepared perishable food and delivers it to local nonprofit groups.

•Visit www.acfb.org.

Cook's Warehouse

•Classes are offered at the Cook's Warehouse locations in Midtown, 549-I Amsterdam Ave. N.E., Atlanta; Brookhaven, 4062 Peachtree Road, Atlanta; and Decatur, 180 W. Ponce de Leon Ave.

• Offers both demonstration and participation classes.

• Upcoming classes include Vegetarian Indian Delights, Knife Skills and Soups 101.

• The cost for demonstration classes is $60. The cost for participation classes is $95.

• Call 404-815-4993, ext. 101, or visit www.cookswarehouse.com.

Viking Cooking School

• Located in The Viking Store, 1745 Peachtree Road, N.E., Atlanta

• Offers demonstration and hands-on classes.

• In demonstration classes, students watch instructors prepare a menu while providing step-by-step procedures for each dish, followed by a tasting of each dish.

• In hands-on classes, up to 12 students get to work with Viking professional appliances to prepare menu items, which they can sample at the end of the class.

• Upcoming classes include Thai Taste Explosion, Knife Skills and Vegetarian Cocktail Party.

• Call 404-745-9065 or visit www.thevikingstore.net.

Young Chefs Academy

• Located at 1935-C Buford Mill Drive in Buford.

• Open to ages 3 to 14.

• The cooking school offers a la carte cooking classes, as well as monthly and annual packages and discounted rates for field trips, birthday parties and summer camps.

• Upcoming classes cover healthy recipes for the new year.

• The cost is $35 per class, or $79.95 monthly.

• Call 770-614-0067 or visit www.youngchefsacademy.com.