From the January 2001 issue of Startups

Chew on this: A fun, fast, cool place to build your team's cohesiveness and smooth out rough edges in your working relationships is the kitchen. That's right: The company that cooks together really cooks when it comes to succeeding. Skeptical? Cooking classes are the hottest corporate team-building tool these days, with companies like Andersen Consulting and Sun Microsystems and others jumping on the bandwagon.

Preparing a tasty multicourse meal requires a lot of cooperation and flexibility on the parts of team members. Even better, a kitchen team-building session comes with a terrific payoff: At the end, everybody gathers around the table and eats the yummy creation. The bad news: With so much blue-chip demand for cooking classes, prices are going stratospheric, with price tags easily going into five figures for a full-day session. Low-cost options are still plen-tiful, though, if you know where to hunt. Better still, you can orchestrate your own cooking class for only the price of ingredients, and there are lots of how-to ideas available on the Web. Read on to find out where.

Recipes for success. How do cooking classes build team spirit? For one thing, in a kitchen, many tasks have to be done, more or less in a sequence (the shrimp get shelled before they are grilled), and no task is so trivial that it can be ignored. Plus, when people are pushed out of their comfort zones (their usual workplace roles) and into new tasks, they behave differently and see one another differently, too. Dig in to what happens at a cooking class in a San Jose Mercury News article at www.teamcuisine.com/sjmerc.html. Get still more insight into these processes at http://content.monster.ca/career/fosterteam, which broadly looks at ways to foster better teamwork on the job.

Eat up. Exactly what's cooking at these private classes? Menus can get ambitious, and you'll see the proof in the sample menus from Sonoma, California, culinary school Ramekins: shrimp cakes with salsa, grilled rosemary polenta triangles, and salmon in parchment with white wine and asparagus are hot menu items. Find more sample menus at Chicago's The Chopping Block, which also illustrates that classes can be cheap. Its "appetizer adventurer," for instance, costs $20 per person (plus $325 for miscellaneous fees) and lasts three hours.

Prices still too high? Surf the Web, find some detailed recipes, buy the ingredients (along with a few bottles of vino or beer), and call the team together. Maybe even make it a monthly event. This month, create rice paper spring rolls (here's a good recipe: www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg/egg0297/sprngrol.html), and next month build a pizza (try this one: http://food.epicurious.com/run/recipe/view?id=10053). The cost? These cooking sessions won't cost you more than $100, and you'll definitely take your team down new paths. Tip: Pick up a cooking video for the more delicate culinary procedures.

Read all about it. No place lists more cooking classes than Shaw Guides. Prowl through these listings of more than 1,000 classes, located everywhere from Alaska to Zambia, with price tags ranging from a few dollars to many thousands per head. Tip: Most listings offer a Web site address, too. Follow the URLs and read the class descriptions, and you'll get a deep understanding of what's offered at these cooking schools. Obviously, that will help you take the right class, but it also will help you create your own classes if that's the route you decide to take.


Robert McGarvey has taken cooking classes in Bangkok, Hawaii and Hong Kong, while Babs S. Harrison is author of Kitschy Canapes(Smithmark Publishing). They are based in California's Wine Country.