In the autumn back-to-school spirit, the Santa Fe Culinary Academy opens its doors for community classes Sept. 25, promising local food lovers a chance to overcome fear in the kitchen, tour the farmers market, bake, plan menus and, of course, gather inspiration—live—from some of the city's top chefs.

The brand-new academy—brainchild of native son turned British food sensation Rocky Durham and former Santa Fe Community College culinary instructor and pastry expert Tanya Story—offers a new kind of food education for Santa Fe locals.

Durham and Story view the academy as a "conduit for building community through the vehicle of food," and the upcoming classes they've scheduled were conceived specifically for the locals who live, work and raise families here. Durham notes that most of the courses average $85 per person, are during after work hours—weekday evenings from 5:30-8:30 pm—so that "anyone, no matter their background or day job, can get involved in the local food community."

Inside the fully renovated space that once housed the Santa Fe School of Cooking, local foodies can get their feet wet by watching single session demonstration classes on baking apple pie or creating an inspired meatless meal. Avid foodies can enroll in one of the academy's three-part series courses. One focuses on knife skills and culinary history and basics, another on the fundamentals of baking.

The school's least expensive offering—a near giveaway at $25 per person—details how to plan weekly household menus, luring students with the promise of once-a-week shopping that results in a full 5-7 days' worth of healthy, quick-to-prepare gourmet meals.

Though the school's San Francisco Street demonstration kitchen has opened, work continues on what will one day be a 5,000+ square-foot facility with four commercial kitchens and an in-house, student-run restaurant boasting gorgeous views of downtown. Its comprehensive Professional Culinarian diploma program for career chefs and pro-wanna-bes is expected to begin in 2013.

The 50-week professional diploma program begins with the "Introduction to Professional Cuisine Boot Camp" course, set for Jan. 7. The rigorous curriculum is "unique in the world," Durham insists, "for its fusion of American culinary school concepts and European trade school curriculums."

To become degreed Professional Culinarians of the SFCA, students will complete more than 1,400 credit hours in classes ranging from lecture- and lab-based electives on charcuterie and bread baking, to a mandatory 12-week, 410-credit hour intensive rotation called "Restaurant Operations" that covers the garde manger (pantry and inventory management), basic baking and pastry production, a stint serving lunch in the school's kitchen and a three-week dining room workshop covering service and front-of-the-house management, plus externships at top local restaurants.

Students who complete the diploma program, Story and Durham say, will exit the academy "kitchen ready" and "well-rounded" at graduation.