By Wendy and Mike Pramik
Posted On: Mar 9, 2021
Chef Estrada slowly adds stock to seasoned Arborio rice as he makes saffron risotto to accompany blackened scallops. Next comes a tangy dressing to go with a mixed-greens salad. Also on this menu are lemon-dill crab cake appetizers, an entrée of Cajun pecan-baked salmon, and a strawberry cupcake with white chocolate mousse.
This is no mere opportunity to watch the chef work. The diners are attending a cooking class, learning valuable tips on how to prepare the festive feast at home.
Around Ohio, talented, professionally trained chefs are showing off their skills and teaching others a few things along the way. The opportunity to learn cooking techniques from these experts is a self-help treat for home gourmets in what's sometimes referred to as the "experience economy."
Before the coronavirus crisis, many of these classes were hands-on, providing a great chance for participants to hone their kitchen skills, in addition to unveiling the secrets to their favorite dishes.
"The reason we do these classes is to let the community know we're here for them," Estrada says.
Some schools, especially those that conduct hands-on classes, have had to adapt because of the pandemic. Tricia Wheeler, owner of The Seasoned Farmhouse in Columbus' Clintonville neighborhood, started cooking classes via Zoom and created a newsletter with recipes and cooking tips. She also wrote a book, Peaceful Dinners, reflecting her experience teaching families how to create menus that didn't waste food.
"The pandemic slowed everything down for us dramatically," she said. "We are so ready and excited to welcome guests back when things are better later this year."
Back at Cherry Valley Hotel, Estrada conducts in-person classes during special occasions and by request at the Craftsman Kitchen & Terrace Restaurant. He wears a mask, as do patrons (unless they're eating). Estrada is keenly focused on sanitary preparation of all foods and teaches others to do the same, including wearing gloves when handling food.
For the featured entrée of the evening, he seasons one side of a chunk of Atlantic salmon with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning. He adds a small stream of oil, infused with basil and shallots. He adds chopped, candied pecans and shows the diners how to spread out the coating so it will crisp up evenly.
He coats asparagus spears with a mixture of herbs before they go into the oven as well. He prepares rice pilaf, adding onions, garlic and finely chopped carrots and celery to parboiled rice before cooking it in chicken stock.
As diners, we appreciate the tips – almost as much as feasting on the finely prepared meal.
Here are a few other cooking classes we’ve discovered around Ohio.
NOTE: Check directly with places before you go to learn about their health guidelines, safety updates and any required reservations.
The Seasoned Farmhouse in Columbus
Using her experience as an entrepreneur and instructor at the French Culinary Institute in New York, Tricia Wheeler has created a crafty cooking school in the Capital City's Clintonville neighborhood. The result is a school and event center that features local farmers and artisans.
Wheeler's philosophy is to provide a complete, sensory experience, from the fragrant kitchen garden and hedge of sunflowers outside, to the bright kitchen, seasonal tablescapes and approachable food menu inside. The Seasoned Farmhouse also offers private-dining parties and other special events, and now offers video instruction over Instagram's IGTV channel.
The Seasoned Farmhouse has several instructors in addition to Wheeler, who specialize in certain themes. Beyond traditional French cooking, you'll find classes on Asian, Indian, Mediterranean and other world cuisines. Jump on the mailing list and be prepared to enroll, as some classes fill up quickly.
Savoir Cooking + Wine in Powell
The business partners of this venture in suburban Ohio are both named Mike. But they have another important thing in common: they're both American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chefs, with 20 years experience each, thus stamping their expertise in providing expert cuisine tips to their patrons.
Savoir founder Mike McCauley, and co-owner Mike Frank, offer a variety of hands-on classes featuring themed cuisine, such as Italian, Mexican and French cooking, and barbecue. They also hold private-event cooking classes and corporate team-building events, and cover techniques such as knife skills, stock preparation and how to braise foods.
McCauley says Savoir adapted to the pandemic by offering virtual instruction and limiting class sizes. Participants are required to wear masks during the cooking portion of the classes. New this year: a Big Green Egg workshop, and how to prepare a champagne brunch.
Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland
Loretta Paganini garnered a love of cooking from her mother, while growing up in Bologna, Italy. This passion led to a culinary career that's taken her from training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, to opening the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland, where since 1989 she has taught others the joy of cooking for their families.
"Our school began as a small, family-run business and, despite its growth, maintains that everyone-is-family feel," said Loretta's daughter, Stefanie Paganini, who's also a culinary instructor at the school.
Home cooks of all skill levels can learn to cook like a pro through virtual and in-person classes, from how to prep pizza dough to crafting classic French cuisine. Professionals can attend Paganini's International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute.
Specific classes being taught in person include four levels of the Basic Techniques of Cooking, each taught over four weeks, and Advanced Techniques of Fish & Shellfish. Virtual classes include Eastern European Baking, Ravioli Raves and Patio Season.
Out of Thyme Kitchen Studio in Cincinnati
Jamie Carmody, an accomplished personal chef, opened Out of Thyme in 2016 in as a commercial kitchen and event space that offers instruction, take-home meals and other personal-chef services.
Its bread and butter remains in-person instruction. Out of Thyme offers several cooking classes per month for 12 or fewer participants at its brick-and-mortar store in Symmes Township. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Carmody added virtual classes to the popular cooking school, extending its reach.
"Our goal is to help you learn to be a better and safer cook, explore new flavors and work on classic techniques with new twists," said Carmody, who graduated top of her class from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In less than three hours, students of all levels can learn everything from knife skills to how to blanche vegetables. They also receive recipes to take home and partake in a socially distanced dinner with their classmates when the cooking’s done.
The pandemic has curbed some activities, so check with the venues to see what's currently being offered. If you're interested in learning more about Cherry Valley Hotel's cooking classes, contact the hotel.