My in-my-head homegirl Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) says that she and her friends only give each other gifts that you can eat or experience, and since I am totally a part of her crew (again, in my head) I use this mantra for most gift-giving occasions. Considering how much time everyone spends decluttering, I don't want my well-intended gift to add to anyone's stress load. My hubby also shares this view and last fall he surprised me with a kick-ass experience for my birthday: an amazing night cooking Mexican food with the chefs from Tacolicious at the new San Francisco Cooking School.
I LOVE Mexican food. I'm as much of a fan of vegan tacos and sloppy burritos as I am of chile verde and cochinita pibil. While other people go to Mexico and lounge on the beach, I do that AND take a regional cooking class. If you come over for dinner I'm probably making something Mexican to eat. Seriously, it's my jam. Hubby chose very well.
Our class was not the traditional sort of cooking demo with a few hands-on activities. We broke into two teams, each led by a Tacolicious chef (shoutout to Team Telmo!). From there we separated into groups of two or three people and got cooking. My group made sauces, salsas and flan, while others made tuna tostadas, tons of empanadas, shrimp cakes, rice, and of course tacos two ways. By the end of the night we had a incredible Mexican buffet and our creations were judged by the Tacolicious team—not nearly as intense as it sounds, but my team won so whoop-whoop! Afterward we sat together and enjoyed our hard work by stuffing our faces and drinking multiple glasses of wine.
My class was a part of the "Kitchen Wars" series and was definitely a more casual affair. I liked jumping right into the recipes and learning as we went. It was just intense enough that I learned some new techniques but didn't feel like I was in being graded. In fact after my flan turned out less than perfectly smooth I came home and made more at home to practice. By my third attempt it was perfect.
Of course if you're looking for a serious culinary education SF Cooking School offers programs in culinary and pastry arts. There's a great mix of classes available for everyone from the casual cook to the future restauranteur, and they're fun if you go as a couple, with friends, or solo like I did, and they make a great gift.