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Western Reserve School of Cooking expands to Cleveland
The Hudson institution once known as the Zona Spray Cooking School has a second location
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Western Reserve Cooking School is still in Hudson, where its history stretches back four decades. But now it has a Cleveland location in the same building as a shared commercial kitchen for local food producers.
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A little cooking school in Hudson established on its quaint town square more than four decades ago now has a gleaming ultra-modern kitchen near downtown Cleveland. 

It was the Zona Spray Cooking School when it opened in 1971, but now it’s the Western Reserve School of Cooking. And since 2008, Catherine and Carl St. John have owned it. 

Since late fall, Catherine’s also been teaching at a bigger, second location near Cleveland State University. 

That’s where WKSU’s Vivian Goodman caught up with the busy chef for today’s Quick Bite.


LISTEN: A kitchen for teaching that gleams

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There’s a sharp contrast between the compact kitchen of the Western Reserve School of Cooking’s Hudson home and the new 1,300-square-foot space in Cleveland. 

“Yeah," says Catherine St. John, “I think downtown we’re a little bit more modern.” 

All the amenities
St. John likes having three sinks and two dishwashers in Cleveland. In Hudson, dishes are done by hand. There’s an ice-maker in Cleveland. In Hudson, St. John sometimes has to go begging for ice from the restaurant next door. 

Now the next-door neighbor is the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen, where Carl St. John helps local food producers get their products to market while his wife Catherine works in the cooking school's Cleveland kitchen. 

She's enjoying the modern conveniences up north.

“We do have here a double steam-injected oven which is great for breads and pastries." she says. And there are  two very wide French-door refrigerators with freezers below them. 

There’s space for as many as 40 students and a special spot for more intimate classes. 

“I like the fact that we can seat eight right here at the island and do chef’s table-type classes.” 

Corporate team building
St. John envisions other uses for the space, including food photography and catered parties, but culinary education remains the primary purpose. 

Classes in Cleveland, however, are not for the aspiring professional chef. That program, for now, will be solely in Hudson. 

Home cooks, on the other hand, will be able to hone their skills and learn new ones in Cleveland. 

“Our main focus here, though, is to really build up a corporate team-building business,” says St. John. 

Cooking together helps build any relationship. But she says it’s especially useful in getting corporate executives to work together and learn how to have fun doing it in an organized way.  

“A ‘Chopped’ competition,” is one of St. John’s ideas. “Or a ‘Top Chef’-type competition.” 

Other relationships
The cooking school’s had a lot of success with “date night” classes. “They always sell out in Hudson,” says St. John. “And we’re doing them up here." 

The first couples class in Cleveland featured Asian street food and quickly sold out.  
The date-night classes have shown St. John not only that couples need to learn how to work together in the kitchen, but also that many adults don’t know the first thing about the art of cuisine. 

The sound, sight and smell of cooking
“I get a lot of people in their mid-40s and 50s who were never taught how to cook,” says St. John. “And even some of the younger people don’t know the basics.” 

She stresses what she calls the “need to knows,” like sautéing, roasting and braising “and the things that recipes don’t tell you.” 

“It’ll tell you bring a pot of water to a boil, but it’s not going to say salt the water after it comes to a boil, because if you salt the water while it’s cold, it’s going to take twice as long to come to a boil.”

“Honestly, cooking is probably 80 percent common sense. People rely too much on time frames versus using their sight and their smell and their hearing to cook.” 

Cleveland’s downtown cuisine scene is hotter than ever, and St. John would love to get some of its celebrity chefs involved in teaching at her Cleveland location. But she’s found they are very busy. 

“And a lot of restaurants now are doing their own cooking classes.” 

People are not shy
Western Reserve Cooking School is not a restaurant, but curious passers-by peering through its picture windows on Euclid Avenue when St. John is slicing and dicing have been tempted to knock on the door and ask to buy food. She has to turn them down. 

“I’ve had others come in and just say, ‘Give me something.’ People are not shy when it comes to food." 

Next on St. John’s agenda: Tax day. But she won’t be crunching numbers late into the night on April 15th. 

Instead, she’ll be teaching students how to bring home the bacon. After they learn how to cure it and smoke it, they’ll go home with 2 pounds of their very own pork belly.

(Click image for larger view.)

Related WKSU Stories

Quick Bites: Four decades of fabulous food
Friday, February 24, 2012

New food products launched from Cleveland
Friday, October 25, 2013

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