Get Out of Your Kitchen (And Into Theirs)

New hands-on cooking classes offer fresh options for weekend fun without ever getting your kitchen dirty

Entrepreneur Marcus Fortunato earned a good living in gaming-industry software development. Three years ago, however, he started a company built around his passion for cooking. He wanted it to appeal to Las Vegans who love food so much they not only dine in the city’s finest restaurants, but who would embrace a learning experience: cooking in a celebrity-chef-worthy kitchen.

“I was a French chef when I was young,” says the 50ish man with an announcer’s voice. “I traveled the world, took 50 chef-level enthusiast courses, and spent almost three months in Paris. I cooked with [Alain] Ducasse, with [Michel] Roth; I got certified in my knife skills,” he says. Along the way, Fortunato grew to appreciate the fine appliances and kitchenware he used. Realizing not everyone could immerse in classes, Fortunato decided to create a learning environment where folks could have singular cooking experiences in a top-notch kitchen. “I wanted people to think they could go home and make these dishes,” he says. And they can.

Enter the Cooking Experience by Mise En Place (9500 S. Eastern Ave., Suite 170), an 18-seat open kitchen where guests watch resident chefs Cody Hinckley and Dave Lachowski prepare meals during live demonstrations, or clear away chairs and place settings for hands-on classes. Presented with potent names in kitchendom such as Sub-Zero, Wolf, Le Creuset and Mauviel, students can play with it all right down to mini-molecular gastronomy kits used for foams and gelatins during the “Mad Scientist in the Kitchen” course, launching soon. Courses taught by well-known Las Vegas chefs are hopeful add-ons to the current Thursday-Monday schedule.

Programming started March 1 and is already attracting Fortunato’s targeted fans. A few weeks ago, Las Vegans John and Ann Marie Distefano forfeited a ho-hum restaurant double-date with friends Rick and Cindy Carrig of Henderson to watch Lachowski demonstrate then serve the foursome a three-course meal of Caprese salad with balsamic reduction, saffron-infused risotto with beef marrow bones, and vanilla panna cotta with raspberry coulis. In that night’s class, 11 guests politely asked Lachowski recipe questions and fell silent after each course was served.

Guest John Gillespie, founder of and a self-professed chocolatier and home cook, flanked Lachowski at the stove to learn the finer points of stirring risotto. And by the class’s end, John Distefano was already planning when he and Ann Marie would tackle the risotto at home (theirs would have lobster). “I really thought, ‘Let’s just try something new. Let’s go to the new cooking school and learn how to make a dish,’” Ann Marie says about attending the Cooking Experience, adding that not having to clean up after a home-cooked meal is a bonus.

Categorizing himself as “a guy who cooks on the grill,” participant Rick Carrig was intrigued by the school’s concept of a la carte classes, setting up wife Cindy to joke, “He needs to take a few of these …” Quips aside, John Distefano echoed Fortunato’s hopes for his school. “This is something new for Las Vegas … so unique. I learned a lot, and I actually feel like I could go home and make this dish. And we will.”

Get Cookin’

Improve your kitchen prowess with one of the Cooking Experience’s five class formats, each designed to get you in and out in less than three hours and with surprisingly little damage to your wallet. Other options include one-on-one instruction with one of the resident chefs, and a battle a lá Iron Chef, where two opponents go head-to-head in a culinary duel through dessert.

Lunch Demo: This two-course live demo may be the best new way to enjoy business lunches and team-building experiences. Or, save for when you need a new “ladies who lunch” location. $25, 1 hour.

Dinner Demo: These three-course live demos with wine pairings are great for multiple couples, friends or families, or for a date night for two. $35, 1½ hours.

Flash Course: A hands-on class featuring one culinary dish or technique (roasting a perfect chicken; knife skills; mac and cheese three ways; molecular gastronomy, etc.). $50, 2 hours.

Gourmet Class: Learn to prepare the world’s popular cuisines in this three-recipe, hands-on cooking class. Includes wine pairings. $100, 2½ hours.

Le Petit: Budding chefs ages 5-12 learn to bake, decorate their goodies and hone their culinary appreciation in this hands-on class (hands-on for the kids, not the parents!). $35, 1½ hours.