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America's new culinary renaissance

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Like any art, it takes considerable skills to master, which is where the guidance and ingredients of others comes in. In the past year, sales of "cooking/entertainment" books have jumped 4 percent in the United States, while all other categories of adult nonfiction dropped 2 percent, reports Nielsen BookScan, which compiles statistics for the publishing industry.

Classes for both the hobbyist and serious chef are thriving. Enrollment in the gastronomy program at Boston University has tripled in the past three years. "A lot of them don't want to go to culinary school and become a line cook, but they want to do something [meaningful] with food and education," says Rachel Black, the coordinator of the program, which was started by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin in the 1980s.

Le Cordon Bleu, which operates 17 culinary institutes in the US, reported a 20 percent increase in students in 2010. In San Francisco, a venture called Hands On Gourmet, which teaches clients to cook through private and corporate parties, now reaches almost 5,000 people a year.

"A lot of people who come through our doors don't know how to cook, but most people want to learn," says chef Stephen Gibbs, who runs Hands On Gourmet. "When they learn how to make their own Indian or Thai curries ... they say, 'holy moley, I just made that?' They are flabbergasted."

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