Robin Thomas is copying the cooking classes she took in Italy at her culinary studio in Glendale, bringing in trained chefs to instruct home cooks in Cincinnati. Enchanted by everything she learned and saw abroad, Thomas came home inspired to recreate the experience.
And she did so at the Glendalia Boutique Hotel and Culinary Studio, tucked inside the historic Glendale village square (the only village in Ohio designated as a National Historic Landmark). The hotel, which dates back to the 1850s, has six recently renovated bedrooms decorated with original art and antiques, along with a small shop for kitchenwares, a wine room and Thomas’ culinary studio. The quaint building stands out from the other shops and storefronts in the square because of the kitchen ruckus from within — mostly laughter.
“The idea for the culinary studio came from my cooking adventure trips to Italy,” Thomas says. “The last trip I did was in Tuscany at a villa where we stayed and cooked for a week. The classes were communal in nature and we started at three in the afternoon; there were 12 people and we divided up into teams and each made a part of the menu.”
Renovation for the Glendale culinary studio began in February 2013 and Thomas held the grand opening on July 17 of this year.
“I wanted everything to look homey,” Thomas says. “Not like an industrial kitchen.”
A long granite countertop complete with individual barstools welcomes budding cooks into the spacious learning kitchen, which is decorated with handwritten chalkboard signs, hanging aprons and sparkling stainless steel appliances hugged by the dark cabinets.
The studio’s hands-on cooking classes are taught by Thomas as well as rotating chefs and guest instructors.
At the start of the class, Belanger introduced himself and explained the menu and preparations for the evening, including all of the ingredients. The students were then split into different cooking stations. (The chef and owner recommend dividing couples and friends into different stations for better learning opportunities — and a chance to meet new people.) All of the ingredients, recipes and tools are ready to use at each station along with instructions from the chef.
Starting with the dessert station, two students learned to make a Chantilly sauce and a piecrust for the fig tart, mastering how to properly zest an orange with a microplane — leaving the bitter pith on the fruit. The station next to them worked on the smoked trout salad with goat cheese and roasted tomato dressing. Some students were even making a fresh loaf of bread. Down the counter was a soup station where students roasted butternut squash and used their knife skills to chop a mirepoix.
For this menu, students learned to select fish. Chef Belanger then taught them how to make an orange beurre blanc sauce, popular for seafood, throwing in some tips and tricks along the way.
Some students got to show off by tossing their broccoli raab in the air and successfully catching every single morsel back in a pan. An uproar of cheers and laughter burst from the raab station every few minutes (or it could have been from a neighboring station — since everyone cheered for each other throughout the evening).
By the end of the night, the students turned into guests at their own dinner party, greeted by a long table set for 12 people. As everyone sat down, Belanger and Thomas served each course and filled glasses of wine. The guests talked about each dish as it came out and delighted in the evening’s successes.
Thomas has ideas for expanding the cooking classes into regular meet-ups for singles, like match.com, but instead of online, the interaction is in the kitchen and cupid wears a white chef’s coat and wields a knife instead of a bow and arrow. There’s even a “singles pop-up dinner” sign-up tab on the culinary studio’s website.
“I see the studio growing beyond cooking classes and becoming more of a gathering place for friends and groups,” Thomas says.
After everything is cleaned up (by Thomas and the chef), the guests leave, recipes in hand, stomachs full of home-cooked food, with maybe a few new numbers and a few new friends.
Glendalia Boutique Hotel and Culinary Studio
Go: 11 Village Square, Glendale
Office hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday