Sur La Table is a food-lovers dream shop full of tools and gadgets, quality knives, unique ingredients, and tableware for every imaginable dish, but in the back of the store lies a sparkling teaching kitchen helmed by local chef instructors ready to impart their knowledge to eager home cooks.
The classroom space is open, bright, and clean, equipped with worktables, a reach-in cooler, dish sinks, a six-burner cooktop, and a new Vulcan range. Small appliances are readily available for student use, providing timely opportunity to try new gadgets. Prior to class, the chef instructor and kitchen assistant efficiently prepare ingredient mise en place and equipment for an upcoming cooking experience.
Sarah Xiong, culinary lead, has been a chef for over 15 years, perfecting skills in sushi preparation, vegan cuisine, pastry, breads, and more. A past stint at local nonprofit No More Empty Pots combined with her expertise and fondness for all things food made teaching feel like a natural progression. So after years in a professional kitchen, Xiong accepted an instructor position at Sur La Table. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until a global pandemic shuttered the doors. Thankfully, the store weathered the storm and reopened this past spring to hordes of home cooks hungry for knowledge.
Xiong loves to teach and feels that, fundamentally, every person should know how to cook because eating is integral to healthy bodies and minds. “We might as well do it well,” she joked. The accomplished cook fondly remembers childhood meals with her large family, talking, laughing, and sharing over simply prepared, delicious food.
This feeling of camaraderie is echoed in the group classes, evident by the smiles and chatter heard even before introductions begin—shared interest makes for easy conversation. As class commences, students form groups (the space accommodates a maximum of three groups of four), and the chef instructor outlines the daily menu.
During an Italian al Fresco class on a lovely Sunday afternoon, Chef Bryce Coulton discussed the dessert the group will be making. When Coulton asked, “Who has made this before?” students smiled and shared their experiences as they got their hands dirty mixing tart dough. Tips about dough texture, proper cling film wrap technique, and the way the humidity affects flour are noted on recipe packets, and students resume friendly banter peppered with questions for the chef.
Class subjects and materials are developed at the corporate level, but chefs are given autonomy to adjust on the fly, particularly when their expertise aligns with a science lesson to impart. “I want students to leave here learning at least one thing, even if it’s just to remove the Saran Wrap successfully,” Xiong half-joked.
As with any hospitality-focused endeavor, staffing is an ongoing challenge, so Xiong is constantly looking for local chefs who love to teach and kitchen assistants with an affinity for food and willingness to learn. According to Xiong, the current slate of instructors work well together, learning from each other and pitching in when needed. She is proud of the functional, positive, and supportive environment fostered here, based on learning and growing rather than on a hierarchy.
The kitchen has been buzzing since the shop reopened in May. Summer kids camps and classes were wildly popular, and date night courses focused on regional cuisine, such as French Luxury, Italy al Fresco, and Summer Thai Kitchen, sold out quickly.
“We continue to grow steadily, with the best advertising coming from the word of mouth of repeat customers,” shared Xiong. The class provides a perfect opportunity for shoppers to “try before they buy” using the tools and appliances sold in store, and students receive a 10 percent discount if they choose to purchase store items or future course registrations on the day of the class.
Single session classes range in price from $59 to $99, and patrons get the chance to enjoy eating what they create. Outside designated kids camps and courses, those between the ages of 14 to 17 must be accompanied by a paid adult, and the team also offers private classes upon request.
Existing courses sell out quickly, so visit the store or check the online calendar, as more classes will be added each month: