by Andrew Coppolino | May 2023
In many cases, the websites of a good number of food entrepreneurs say it all: “In-person cooking classes are back!”
Local culinary businesses are back in full swing teaching the techniques and professional tips you need to eventually master making gnocchi, sauces, Thai noodle dishes, plant-based meals, and more. In most cases these classes also provide participants with a taste of place as they incorporate locally grown produce from the abundance of farms that are situated within Waterloo Region.
Here are a few locally based businesses that offer hands-on and demonstration cooking classes that can give you a true taste of Waterloo Region.
The 1909 Culinary Academy
5183 Trussler Road, Ayr, ON N0B 1E0
Bernia Wheaton, co-owner and instructor at 1909 Culinary Academy, grew up on a farm and knows the “stories” of local food. Starting in 2018, the space at the facility has allowed 16-20 people for hands-on culinary and cooking experiences.
“There are demonstrations, but participants are cooking and creating a dish from start to finish and then eat it,” Wheaton says. “We bring ingredients to life. It’s about the storytelling and putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
The range of participants is wide: book clubs, corporate teams, bachelorettes, birthdays, stag-and-does and groups of friends. Classes can be booked Fridays and Saturdays. They grow some produce on their property, but Wheaton is proud to work with many local producers for their ingredient sourcing. She’s also proud to introduce their new chef, Josh Barrett.
Notable: “Food in Canada has become a function, and we want it to be an experience. Strangers become friends every class and cooking can really draw people out. That is the magic of food,” Wheaton says.
Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa
1 Langdon Dr, Cambridge, ON N3H 4R8
Guests at Langdon Hall can sign up to be part of an interactive culinary activity that is based on the season.
You will be welcomed into a private area for a cooking demonstration with the chef at Langdon, who will lead you through the preparation of a plate and discuss what flavours complement each other. Once the dish is prepared, a sampling will be provided. Guests also have the opportunity to ask culinary questions and get a broader knowledge of Langdon Hall’s cooking philosophies and influences.
Want to delve even deeper into Langdon Hall’s culinary ethos? Sign up for a tour of the extraordinary gardens that are on site, and finish off your experience with a complimentary wine tasting.
Top Toques Institute of Culinary Excellence
109-50 Ottawa Street South, Kitchener, ON N2G 3S7
Recreational classes feature Top Toques chef-instructors leading each class of 10-12 participants with the School’s culinary students assisting. Classes are usually themed: “Cooking the Greek Islands” or “Art on the Plate,” for example.
Top Toques founder-director Elaina Kourie says the classes “provide a fun environment for learning skills and techniques while exploring the flavours of global and regionally diverse cuisines.”
Courses are either one evening class or a series of classes that present and teach the techniques, ingredients and dishes of a cuisine.
Notable: “Our classes are designed for the home cook,” says Kourie. “The classes take into account the tools and equipment you likely have at home.”
Chef Duff at RiverSong
632 Hawkesville Road, St. Jacobs, ON N0B 2N0
Located a few minutes northwest of downtown St. Jacobs, Bruce Duff’s RiverSong offers both demonstration cooking classes during the week and hands-on classes in the evenings. Participants learn in themed classes the essentials of cooking, barbecue or specific skills and techniques.
“Depending on numbers, we do a demonstration then set students into groups where they move through various stations to learn,” says Duff, who has been offering classes for several years.
Class sizes are capped at 20, and special groups and business classes can be arranged and tailored to specific needs, he adds.
Notable: “With its rural setting, there is opportunity to sit outside for a communal meal after classes at RiverSong,” Duff says. “People who didn’t know each other before the class sit and eat together. They talk to each other make friends.”
In the kitchen at Chef Duff at Riversong (Photo: Chef Duff Culinary Creations Facebook)
The team and guests at Relish offer both hands-on and demonstration classes: that includes skills and techniques and the food and cooking of a wide variety of cultures. The “sweet spot” for numbers, according to co-owner Donna-Marie Pye, is 12-20 participants.
Relish has had guest instructors such as Bonnie Stern and Anna Olsen.
“There are lots of pairs who take classes, but there are also lots of people attending alone,” says Pye. “We started with demonstration classes, but soon got a lot of requests for hands-on instruction.”
She adds that home-cooks come for inspiration and confidence and find an enjoyable experience for learning. The classes are set within Relish’s retail store for shopping.
“We promote local producers, suppliers retailers and vendors, cooks and fishmongers. We have a really wide range of multicultural communities here we have access to, and that is balanced against the long culinary history of Waterloo Region. We’re really luck that way,” Pye says.
[please contact her through danielasfara.com and [email protected]]
Chef Daniela Sfara has been cooking since she was a kid: that means, of course, learning skills and techniques at Nonna’s elbow. It makes sense then that Sfara says her at-home classes are first and foremost about authenticity.
“It’s not just Italian-style food,” she says. “I use authentic Italian techniques and ingredients, including herbs and greens from my terrace, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, and, weather permitting, eggplant.”
Drawing on four or five ingredients, Sfara’s instruction caters to a specific region of the roughly 20 in Italy, including its history and a suggested wine pairing.
With six people per class – usually running about three hours – Sfara says that the personal touch and close instruction is integral to learning.
“But it’s also convivial and there’s conversation,” she says. “There’s Prosecco while we greet, antipasto, and then we cook. I emphasize cooking with the senses and getting to know the feeling and touch of ingredients. What the dough feels like and noticing the sounds and aromas of cooking.”
She encourages visitors to Waterloo Region to visit the great farmers’ markets, like at St. Jacobs, gain exposure to the farmers close by and then take one of her classes.
Notable: “I want people to cook with emotion and get that into the dish. Food and cooking is about connecting with memories.”
Meals without Madness
Inside the Kitchener Market
300 King Street East Kitchener, ON N2G 2L3
Personal chef Nicole Puffer has been leading cooking classes – from pasta-making to Thai cookery – for kids and adults since 2016. Operating primarily out of downtown Kitchener’s farmers’ market – a market that has been running continuously since 1869 – Puffer offers a couple of classes per month.
Adult classes, both demonstration-style and hands-on, are usually mid-week for six to eight people.
“When it comes to kids, we’re unique in combining the classes with trips downstairs to visit with the farmers and vendors,” she says.
She encourages supporting the market vendors, and she sources ingredients from them. When teaching kids’ cooking classes, she suggests parents take a tour of the market and do some shopping.
Notable: “Our family-friendly classes start kids off at a young age and get them excited about food. That means family togetherness and engagement,” Puffer says.
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.