There's no reason why learning a culinary skill needs to be a serious undertaking. Save knife skills (the single most useful class you can take) until the academic year starts up again in September. Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of classes that highlight the fun and whimsical. Here are some offbeat samples from local cooking schools:
Breaking Out of the Mold July 8, 7-9 p.m.
Sprinkles , 230 Montauk Hwy., Speonk, 631-801-2606
This class on working with chocolate is one of the most popular offerings at Sprinkles, a cookware shop that specializes in cake-decorating supplies. The class covers chocolate transfer sheets, working with chocolate clay, chocolate impressions and chocolate cages.
Homemade Mozzarella Plus July 30, 6-9 p.m.
A la Carte Culinary Services , 32 Atlantic Ave., Lynbrook, 516-599-2922 alacartecs.com
You haven't had fun until you've made your own mozzarella. After this three-hour class, you should be able to do so in the privacy of your own kitchen. Also included: cooking with mozzarella (layered with mushrooms and roasted peppers, tossed in pasta, grilled) and making ricotta cheese from scratch.
Japanese Steakhouse July 10, 6-9 p.m.; Aug. 30, noon-3 p.m.
Viking Cooking School at the Bridgehampton Inn , 2266 Main St., Bridgehampton, 631-537-3586 landfcookshop.com
It may take you more than three hours to achieve Benihana-level knife skills, but this class will introduce you to cooking traditional teppanyaki (hibachi-style) dishes in your own home: preparing shrimp, searing and testing meat for doneness, stir-frying and making Japanese-style salad dressing.
Salads and the American Woman July 8, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Alice Ross Hearth Studios , 15 Prospect St., Smithtown, 631-265-9335 aliceross.com
Cost: $150 each for 3 students; $200 each for 2 students; $400 for one.
Every class given by Alice Ross at her Hearth Studios cooking school is fascinating, whether it's on the cuisine of the Revolutionary War or the history of cookie cutters. Salads and the American Woman is an examination of changing women's roles during the 19th century and its effect on cuisine. This daylong class will cover the new, fashionable salads (especially chicken) and dressings. Includes a full luncheon.
Fish Tales July 16, 7-10 p.m.
Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center of Suffolk County Community College , 20 E. Main St., Riverhead, 631-451-4114 sunysuffolk.edu
Seafarer and chef Arie Pavlou (formerly of the late Coeur des Vignes in Southold) will share his unusual pescatory adventures, demonstrate proper fish preparation, from head to tail, and share restaurant-insider secrets - e.g., you may not be getting the species of fish you ordered.
Dining at a school
The Baker's Workshop , 20 E. Main St., Riverhead, 631-548-3750
Suffolk County Community College culinary students and teachers collaborate at The Baker's Workshop, a cheery place where the blueberry muffins are perfection and the sandwiches come on house-made bread. -- Joan Reminick