IN THE NEWS: features Culinaria Cooking School, "Made in Vienna"

Founders share their passion for cooking with community

By Christine Neff

Stephen Sands, co-founder and CEO of the new Culinaria Cooking School in Vienna, believes anyone can cook and cook well – with the knowledge of basic techniques.

“The techniques translate from country to country, recipe to recipe. If you have those, it doesn’t matter what you attempt,” Sands said.

This chef and retired engineer has been teaching cooking classes to people of all skill levels for many years now and claims to have never repeated a recipe in his courses.

“That’s the point of learning technique. Once you get the technique, you can cook anything,” he said.

He and business partner Pete Snaith, also an engineer-turned-chef, opened Culinaria last month with the hope of sharing their knowledge and passion for cooking with the local community.

Located on Pleasant Street in Vienna, Culinaria has two state-of-the-art kitchens. A demonstration kitchen has countertop seating where students watch instructors prepare a meal for the class to eat. In the adjacent participation kitchen, students get involved in all aspects of meal preparation. Several video cameras set up around the room send a live-feed of the class to large-screen TVs hanging on the walls.

Warm paint colors and attractive glass lighting create an inviting and warm atmosphere. The cooking equipment is of high-quality and resembles items found in home kitchens so students can replicate the experience on their own.

Cooking has long been a passion of Sands’, and it runs in his family. His grandmother was a professional cook and he described his mother as a “great” cook.

He and Snaith first met at L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Md., where they pursued their passion to cook after their day jobs. They trained to be chefs and then went on to teach and assist with courses at L’Academie and other locations.

As the business partners waited for the opportunity to establish a school, they taught cooking classes in community centers around the area, in private homes and at corporate events.

The recent downturn in the real estate market made it possible to purchase the Vienna location, and Culinaria came to fruition. Sands is excited to bring the business to his hometown.

“This town, to me, is more like the old-style hometown with its sense of community. We’re already coordinating with other businesses here,” he said.

The school began hosting classes earlier this month. The school’s instructors, which include professional chefs and wine experts, came from a variety of backgrounds to the cooking profession and bring their own passions to their courses.

Classes cover everything from international cuisine to gluten-free meals to chocolate-making. In a class held earlier this month, “Flavors of Tuscany,” students dressed in white aprons to assist Sands in preparing a menu of Risotto with Peas, Chicken Marengo over Creamy Polenta, Italian-Style Green Beans and Roulade with Figs, Almonds Dates and Prunes. Most classes last about three hours and start at $65.

Sands said the courses should attract a wide variety of people. Everyone from experienced cooks who want to learn new recipes, to moms who need a night out on the town to teenagers with an interest in cuisine can find a class that meets their needs.

And, of course, beginner cooks who want to learn the all-important basic techniques can benefit as well. Sands has seen a growing demand from this population as more and more people want to cook at home for financial or health reasons.

“We’re seeing a big influx of people who really want to learn how to cook and to cook well,” he said.

For more information on the Culinaria Cooking School, visit or call 703-865-7920.