Food & Drink

Cooking classes — from basic to gourmet — are plentiful in Lexington

Students julienned carrots during a cooking class at Wild Thyme in Lexington. Allison Davis teaches a range of classes.
Students julienned carrots during a cooking class at Wild Thyme in Lexington. Allison Davis teaches a range of classes.

Aspiring cooks can mark 2011 as the year the cooking schools came to town.

A few months ago, there were only one or two places that offered basic instruction for learning to cook. Since then, two full-blown schools have opened, and a third will open later this month.

Perhaps it's the economy or the desire for a more healthful diet, but people are taking advantage of what the cooking professionals have to offer.

Jamie McDermott is an accomplished cook, but she wants to learn more.

"I don't know why people don't cook more," McDermott said. "I dislike hearing someone say that it is too much trouble. I have grown weary of going out to eat and paying way too much for something that did not taste very good and probably wasn't really cooked there anyway.

"I think no matter what level of cooking one is able to do, there is always something new to learn. Phil (Dunn) taught me to remove the silver skin from pork tenderloins. I had not known to do that. Wow, what a difference that makes."

Cooks can thank Allison Davis' grandmother, 4-H and the Kentucky Egg Council for the new cooking school in Chinoe Village Shopping Center.

Davis opened Wild Thyme in August and offers hands-on classes in a dream kitchen setting. Because she's passionate about food and cooking, others now have an opportunity to learn basic kitchen techniques or hone their skills — and leave the cleanup for someone else.

After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University — and instead of going for an MBA — Davis "followed my stomach to culinary school."

She was ready to go to Louisville to attend Sullivan University's culinary arts classes when she heard about Sullivan's campus in Lexington. She was in the school's first culinary graduating class.

Her love of cooking began when she was a child.

"My grandmother worked in catering at EKU, and I loved visiting her in the cafeteria," she said. As a youngster, Davis entered 4-H culinary competitions, then won top honors as a student and as an adult at the Kentucky Egg Council's cook-offs.

Soon after her marriage, she entered an egg-cooking competition and won a "paid trip to Louisville and walked away with $500."

Davis' 4-year-old daughter Jayda inspired her to create a children's playroom in the back of the store to offer cooking classes for children 6 and younger.

Davis teaches classes for couples, corporate team-building groups, bridal parties and private dinner groups, and she offers professional chefs and culinary experts opportunities to lead classes. The shop sells an exclusive line of cookware, children's cooking gadgets and some organic foods.

On the other end of town, near Fayette Mall, Kitchen Concepts is opening a new showroom, and Ashley Minton, chef/owner of Nova Gourmet, will teach classes there.

Minton will begin with basic classes at the Apropos Culinary Arts Center. She later will offer nine-week professional series for those who desire intensive training.

The opportunity to teach at Kitchen Concepts was a "dream come true" for Minton.

"To walk into a state-of-the-art kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, I couldn't ask for more," she said.

Cooks who are looking for interesting ways to incorporate more healthful foods into their diets will find plenty of help at The Wholesome Chef, 507 East High Street.

Owner/chef Carolyn Gilles was teaching classes in private homes until she found a small kitchen/shop in a older neighborhood. In May, she opened the store, where she teaches students about cooking with fresh food and whole grains.

Gilles focuses on local and organic foods, and her recipes typically use fewer than 10 ingredients.

"They're designed for the average busy person," she said. "We offer education about everything, so they walk away with handouts, where to get the ingredients and how to cook them. We also teach how it can be done on a budget and how to cut costs."

Those interested in cooking more gourmet-type meals flock to Phil Dunn's classes at Architectural Kitchens & Baths, 345 Lafayette Avenue. Dunn has owned several top restaurants and cook shops in Lexington, and he has shared his culinary secrets for seven years.

"I love teaching classes because I like to see people react to new ideas and techniques that they have never seen or heard of before," he said. "Most of it is common sense, with a lot of chemistry and physics thrown in for good measure. I use a lot of resources, such as periodicals, newspaper articles and suggestions from current and former cooking-class students.

"I love baking classes, especially European pastries, plus anything to do with pasta. A lot of people who take a class for the first time want me to know that they may not know much about cooking, so I just tell them that I approach each class as if the participants know very little about cooking. What I think they remember most are the tips I give them as we go along that they will use when they cook at home."

Sometimes a cooking class is simply a social event.

Stacy Siegel, whose family owned Rogers Restaurant for decades, takes cooking classes often.

"Growing up in our family restaurant, with a reputation for fine food and good fellowship, I learned to appreciate the benefits of good, healthy, cooked family meals," she said. "Thus I enjoy participating in cooking classes as both a social outlet to meet others who enjoy cooking simple, healthy, tasteful meals for their families as well as to gain recommended recipes and cooking tips from expert cooks."

Said McDermott: "I have gotten to know some lovely people. You have an immediate shared interest from the start. It's so much fun to cook with others."