By Donna Manz
The Vienna Connection
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Vienna’s own cooking school, operated by chefs with pedigrees, celebrated its Nov. 1 opening with an open house at its Pleasant Street property on Nov. 7.
Hundreds of friends, family and supporters turned out to celebrate with the owners and staff and share. An array of sweet and savory finger foods and bottles of flowing wine didn’t hurt the camaraderie, either.
Between the two co-founders, there is more than thirty years of culinary experience, and many of the guests go back 20 to 30 years with co-founders Stephen Sands and Pete Snaith.
Although Sands and Snaith started out their careers as engineers, each changed course at a point in their lives, training at L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda.
“There’s a huge sense of community here, and that’s what I was looking for,” said Vienna resident Sands, who is also Culinaria’s CEO. “There’s a sense of family, of warmth in Vienna. I was offered other locations but I was determined to hold out until I found a place in Vienna.”
CULINARIA took over unoccupied space in an office building at Pleasant Street and Maple Avenue, transforming it into a gleaming state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. The two co-founders said they want Culinaria to be a part of the community, to give something back to it. When Robbie Schaefer gives his free concert at Caffe Amouri on Nov. 19 to raise awareness about his new nonprofit, Culinaria will donate the refreshments.
“Being a new business in the community, it’s especially important to do something here in Vienna,” said Sands. “Vienna is unlike any place around. We have to find good ways to give back to the community.”
The cooking school’s open house was an opportunity to showcase the food, the wines, the programs, and the physical facility.
Along the granite and butcher block work prep counters, the chefs and assistants lined up dozens of appetizers for guests to sample. Staff and friends in the industry stood at the counters, putting finishing touches on snacks as guests watched. Wine Director John Peters offered comments on the wines.
“Nothing brings people together like food,” said co-founder and Executive Vice President Snaith.
Snaith had plenty of validation of that during the school’s open house. Strangers mingled readily and guests talked about classes that interested them. Some, like Ellen Giuntini of Oakton, thought that taking a class with friends would be fun.
“Take a cooking class, over a glass of wine, would make a good girls’ night out,” Giuntini said. Giuntini heard of Culinaria through Green Hedges School where her daughter Samantha is a student. Ellen and Samantha Giutini were investigating the possibility of hosting Samantha’s birthday party – Samantha turns 11 – at Culinaria.
Anticipating parent-child in the kitchen bonding, Culinaria offers single workshops for children and teens.
Besides introductory classes, from knife skills to the basics of everyday cooking, Culinaria offers classes in seasonal cooking and themed cuisine, from appetizers to complete meals and on to desserts. November and December feature holiday meals and party fare. There’s international cooking, American ethnic cooking, bread-making, stocks and sauces, and fun meals for kids. The school will offer a children’s summer camp and an assistant program where volunteers can earn credit toward free classes.
Laura Shick and Steve Pezzetti of Alexandria looked over the school’s brochure as they nibbled, trying to decide what classes to take. Shick said she needed Cooking 101, and Pezzetti was drawn to the knife skills class. They thought it would be fun to take a cooking class with a group of friends, all of them learning about food and wine.
Garrett Hart went to Duke with Chef Brian Batsel. They’re both Navy men, and Hart said he came to the open house to learn about the cooking classes, to support his friend, and to enjoy all the good free food.
PETERS, who, like Sands, makes his home in Vienna, left L’Academie de Cuisine recently to join the Culinaria staff full-time. He’s passionate about wines and speaks enthusiastically of his wine classes. The wine classes focus on different themes, from grape variety to regions.
Peters’ first wine class, the day after the cooking school opened, had 12 participants. “This area needed something like this,” said Peters. He and his family, who have lived in Vienna for twelve years, love living here. “We’re happy to be part of the community. That’s what Culinaria is about. We’re all into family and community.”
Sands walked around the kitchen, greeting old friends and new friends, thanking them for their support. Mayor M. Jane Seeman came early to the open house to welcome Culinaria to Vienna.
“I think he’ll [Sands] have a lot of success in Vienna,” said Kip Olson, who has known Sands for 30 years. “He’s very talented. He and his family have always been about quality. His family has been local for so many years, they’re really part of the community.”
CULINARIA COOKING SCHOOL is located at 110 Pleasant St., NW. To learn more about Culinaria Cooking School, its staff and schedule of classes, go to www.culinariacookingschool.com or call 703-865-7920.