By Peg Moore

Bob Waggoner’s new cooking school is a delicious example of the changing sensibility toward the way we dine, whether in restaurants or at home.

When the culinary elite dined together in a historic food moment in 1970, documented by Luke Barr, a nephew of M.F.K. Fisher (Provence 1970), they reflected upon the casualness that was challenging haute cuisine then. That casualness segued into noisy gastropubs. Trends do not last forever, however. “All that hoopla about upper King,” says Bob — “it is now passé.”

Is the taste for a more gilded life-style the result of the popular television show Downton Abbey? Or, did the show’s creators sense and respond to the increased longing for more traditional graciousness, harmony and beauty?

In other arts, such as architecture and decorating, grandeur is also experiencing a revival. Decorating magazines feature gilded everything, from chargers to ceilings. New Classicism, which began in the 1990s, is now showing up in large public buildings all over. Clemson, for instance, could be really contemporary by not only proposing a design by a New Classicist but also by featuring instruction in traditional design.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the trend in a piece called “Time to (Really) Set the Table.” It’s a moment to move beyond practicality and casualness. A few daisies and a couple of candlesticks aren’t enough. Time to get out the family china and crystal again.

In the Kitchen with Bob Waggoner

The new gilded sensibility is evident the minute you enter Bob’s cooking school — festive music from a grand player piano sets the tone. This is not just school — it’s a culinary happening.

Classes, open to only ten at a time, are bringing together kindred spirits. The night I was there it was all local business people, such as George and Anne Hyams who own the popular garden center. “Of course, we who cook usually love gardens, too,” said George.

It is not necessary to be experienced in cooking and those who are will learn ways to perfect their skills and discover short cuts that do not affect taste. We made ravioli, for instance, without making the pastry — Charleston’s finest fresh pastry by Rio Bertolini is being sold in ravioli-sized squares at the Vegetable Bin, which has difficulty keeping them in stock.

The dishes you will learn to cook feature the same honest tastes of fresh local ingredients Bob used as executive chef of Charleston Grill. He was visionary then, too, leading Charleston’s acclaimed locavorism and the fusion of Lowcountry cuisine with French. Recipes are not complicated and do not include ingredients just to be trendy.

After a dozen years at Charleston Grill, Bob starred in his own television show — his talent for drama enhances his pleasure and excellence as a cooking teacher. “I’m excited about the reaction.” The school is less stressful than the corporate world — “I may have to do a lot of work setting up, but I have my favorite music on the piano.”

At the dining table with Bob

The classes are a bargain. Once you sit down to dine, you will feel transported to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Bob knows how to create the ambience, having trained in the finest restaurants in France during the 1980s and 90s.

The dining table features flowers and candles on a cloth by Frette, the acclaimed Italian firm. You will dine on white and gold antique French Limoges china (from 1890-1940). The golden Mepra flatware from Italy includes Bob’s signature. Glassware is by Riedel. The black napkins, however, are not from a famous designer but a bargain from Craig’s List.

Each course has carefully selected French wines — pace yourself, as Bob is generous with pours.

Cooking Schools are surging in popularity

Cooking lessons on television, as introduced by Julia Child in 1963, have grown in popularity, as have hands-on cooking schools. Beyond education and entertainment, there is an aspect of pure pleasure attracting people to cooking classes.

Dayna Elliot, who owns Charleston Cooks, believes that because we spend so much time communicating on screens, we enjoy working with our hands and being face-to-face with others.

There’s a therapy aspect, too. Author Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked) discovered this when he took up cooking as a way to spend more time with his son. He enjoys the mindful “uni-tasking” pleasure of prepping and dicing by himself as well as the sociability of cooking with family. Pollan is troubled about the American food system and, as he reports, that Americans spend less time cooking than any other nation.

Psychologists recommend cooking lessons for troubled teens. ABC News reports that cooking lessons for children have become popular at luxury resorts.

Cooking schools are even popular in Paris. Emilie King reported in the Christian Science Monitor about the increasing popularity of L’Atelier de Chefs. This school, founded in Paris in 2004, aims to revitalize the traditional French relationship with cooking and entice them back to the kitchen by offering hands-on cooking classes run by professional chefs. Success was immediate and it has since expanded to other countries.

Lunch with Chef Bob

On March 11, Bob begins luncheon classes as part of a Huguenot-themed tour with Charleston Culinary Tours. Every other Wednesday, tours will begin at Brasserie Gigi with a visit with Chef Frank McMahon. After class and lunch at Bob’s school, he walks the group across the street to Café Framboise. The café is another new local treasure, which opened March 2, featuring authentic French pastries. The tour ends at Christophe Chocolates.

I must warn you — Bob’s classes can be addictive. Everyone in my class intended to return. One couple who attended the first week came back four times in just three weeks. Each time they returned, they brought guests to fill the class. Bon appétit!

 

Peg Moore may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Author’s Note: In the Kitchen with Bob Waggoner is located at 164-A Market St. and may be reached by phone via (843) 619-7529.

 

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