Cooking and Looking

International Pantry Draws Seasoned Chefs to Weekly Cooking Classes

by Tegan Burkhard

Novice home cooks and kitchen newbies pick professional chefs’ brains during International Pantry cooking classes.

Fried eggs sizzle in a pan, and a group of eager students crowd around the stovetop, watching closely as local chefs Jeremiah and Brandi Caldwell put the finishing touches on a fresh batch of bibimbap. Cooking class participants witnessed the Coriander Cafe co-owners prepare a meal in the back of the International Pantry gourmet food shop.

During International Pantry cooking classes offered 50 to 60 times a year, Oklahoma chefs and co-owners like the Caldwells hand out recipes and whip up several full courses in front of students’ eyes, all after hours at this Lindsey Street shop.

“We’re all looking for something that’s memorable and fun to do, and you get a meal, you get to learn to do something, and people gain friendships,” said Jocelyn Wall, owner of International Pantry.

Throughout the class, guests watch seemingly complicated meals come together in a few simple steps. Home chefs can observe and take notes as their favorite local chefs chop, fry and plate in the store’s demo kitchen, tucked behind aisles of imported sweets and gourmet sauces. Guest chefs help demystify the process of preparing delicious dishes, hors d’oeuvres, tailgate favorites, baked goods and more, and last-minute class openings are always a possibility.

“I’m doing this for myself, mainly for my grandnieces,” says Cindy Updegraff, a first-time cooking class student. “But, I needed to do something different, and I love Coriander Cafe, I love their restaurant, so I just thought I’ll go ahead and go.”

While learning the ropes in the kitchen, participants also mingle and chat not only with their tablemates but also with the guest chefs. Regular attendees, who come weekly, make newcomers feel welcome, and as food processors whir and fresh herbs decorate main dishes, students toss out questions to the chefs who answer as they go. Some chefs even grant hands-on opportunities to better explain certain cooking methods to the crowd.

“It’s just a pleasant evening out,” says longtime participant Brenda Runkle-Hatt, who has been attending International Cooking classes for a decade.

By the end of the Coriander Cafe class, the Caldwells served spring rolls with peanut sauce, bibimbap with fish sauce and a mango lime sorbet. In between dishes, students scan the shelves in search of specialty ingredients and equipment conveniently found inside the shop, all offered at a 10 percent discount for attendees. As attendees polish off their plates, several Coriander Cafe regulars thank Brandi and Jeremiah, who recognize the students and remember them by their usual order at the restaurant.

“I think connection is what food is all about,” Jeremiah Caldwell says. “So, you have the opportunity to meet the people that may frequent your restaurant to connect with their own families.”

This connection and opportunity for a dinner and show keeps class attendees like Brenda coming back for more. Three times a year, International Pantry releases its upcoming seasonal schedules, featuring returning guest chefs and new talents.

At International Pantry cooking classes, couple’s tables and group seats make for a cozy, yet intimate atmosphere. Sandy Brickman, an International Pantry employee, puts plenty of thought into each night’s seating chart. She intentionally seats solo, first-time guests with friendly regulars, and she accommodates for friendships formed at cooking class, placing best buds at the same group table. With old and new friends, home cooks can pick up new skills passed along by seasoned, local professionals.

Although cooking in front of a class differs from day-to-day supervisory roles in a restaurant kitchen, the change of pace and intimate connection draws in local chefs like the Caldwells and Oklahoma City chef Joshua Valentine.

“It’s an outlet for me,” Valentine said. “I get to get creative and not do the same mundane thing that I do in a restaurant all the time and I get to interact with people up-close and personal.”

Valentine brings lessons learned during his time on “Top Chef” to each of his International Pantry classes, like moving past mistakes in the kitchen, from leaping flames to pots boiling over.

“Because you’re forced into these environments (on the show), you’re forced to be flexible and adaptive. You don’t really have a choice,” Valentine says.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the job, Valentine relishes in the small moments when class participants truly understand something new for the first time.

“I can see how a teacher can enjoy those moments of seeing the light bulb click for a kid when they get something,” Valentine says. “So, it’s kind of the same thing when we get to do that.”

Whether a semi-pro at home or a stranger to your own kitchen, International Pantry cooking classes offer the chance to see local chefs bring simple ingredients together in creative dishes, as well as the opportunity to meet new people and feast on cuisine prepared fresh by your favorite restaurant owner or local celebrity chef.

For more information about the cooking classes and a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.intlpantry.com/cooking_classes or stop in at 1618 W Lindsey St. – BSM