Cooking schools Hong Kong's love affair with food is well documented. But while most of the emphasis is on eating in or dining out, increasingly men, women and children from all walks of life are becoming interested in cooking as both a social and business activity. And private cooking schools are proving adept at expanding their menu of services to meet the growing and diverse demands. Their clients vary in age and background. It's no secret that children love nothing better than to get their hands into a bowl of gooey ingredients, so it's not surprising that children's classes - with or without parents - are a popular option. Denice Wai, founder and director of Six Senses cooking school in Wan Chai, has clients as young as two years old. She said many children enjoyed attending her classes during the school holidays and learnt not just simple food preparation but also how to experiment with tastes and textures and the basics of nutrition. Since setting up her business in 2004, Ms Wai's services have expanded to include working at local and international schools where she teaches cooking. Along with the recipes, Ms Wai dispenses advice on healthy eating and tips on being environmentally friendly, such as encouraging children to bring their own food containers instead of supplying disposable ones. 'I want to promote a healthy lifestyle, including home cooking,' she said. Louise Da Silva, manager and part-owner of Petit Fours Bakery Workshop in Causeway Bay, specialises in cake making and desserts. The company was set up three years ago and offers classes to both parents and children, which Ms Da Silva finds the most stressful part of her business. 'Sometimes, the kids do not concentrate on making cakes - they just want to destroy your shop.' Fortunately, the most lucrative side of the business tends to come from more mature clients. For both companies, the bulk of their income comes from corporate customers looking for effective team-building activities, and both have landed some of the top names in Hong Kong business as regular clients. Ms Da Silva said: 'Companies are attracted to cooking because of the relaxed environment and because it's an activity that appeals to employees working in different divisions of a company. 'Cooking in teams can have deeper and more dramatic effects too,' said Ms Wai, who added that cooking was perceived as a non-threatening, neutral activity that encouraged individual creative input. Such activity made it ideal for companies looking for an environment where employees could light-heartedly experiment together regardless of their position in the hierarchy. According to Ms Wai, a private cooking setting helped employees to get to know each other informally and encouraged communication. 'It does help, and the effect is very instant too,' said Ms Wai, whose formula involves providing the basic ingredients, giving suggestions when needed, but otherwise standing back and letting participants get on with it. For Ms Da Silva, team-building exercises are the most requested and are usually organised by human resources departments who often request classes for clients and their own employees. Corporate clients also use cooking lessons as an enjoyable reward for staff. The cost is substantially less than taking the team out for dinner, and the fun of working together is combined with team-building. Coup Kitchen, in Tin Hau, focuses on European-style baking and offers individual attention and high standards. 'Our desire is that all students' finished products compare with five-star hotel standards,' said Alfred Cheung Kin-man, co-owner and pastry chef of Coup Kitchen. When it comes to costs, the companies share a similar mindset. For advertising, the companies mainly rely on word of mouth recommendations and their websites, but maintaining a central location is important to attract clients, many of whom like to be dropped off by car at the door. According to Mr Cheung, surviving the costs of high rents in Hong Kong was a problem. One cost-cutting measure was to hire flexible part-time workers who could be called on when demand arose, he said. Private cooking schools tend to be small. Ms Da Silva said her school was one of the bigger operations in Causeway Bay, with five staff - a manager, an administrator, a teacher's assistant and two part-time instructors. Coup Kitchen employs five to six staff, while Six Senses operates with three full-time instructors and two or three part-timers. In addition to providing lessons, there are many related services that innovative cooking schools offer to attract customers and stay competitive. Six Senses offers Thai, Italian, Chinese and fusion dishes, and a healthy meal plan programme to promote healthy dining. The company also provides private and corporate catering services, and birthday cooking parties for children. Coup Kitchen plans to expand its range of cake designs and hopes to offer European bread-making classes soon. Petit Fours wants to expand its staff to enable it to take on large-scale catering jobs and to make edible wedding souvenirs. 'The potential to grow is there,' Ms Da Silva said.