In the kitchen at Zest, a kitchen supply store in Lititz, students have learned how to make everything from sushi to dill pickles. They’ve also baked French macarons and rolled their own pasta.
But the kitchen — in a historic building in the heart of the borough — had its limitations.
Space was tight, and classes often sold out. When people asked for more hands-on cooking, the class size shrunk to 12.
And the kitchen was in the middle of the store, which limited classes to evenings when the store itself was closed. Weekend classes were not an option.
Because of those limitations, co-owners Sharon and Jim Landis set out to find a new space for the kitchen, separate from their store that also sells gourmet specialty food.
The Zest Cooking School, 1180 Erbs Quarry Road, opened last week in the Brighton Village Shops. The space has room for up to 24 people to follow along with the teacher.
Along one wall is a line of six brand-new Smeg mixers. There’s a cleanup room for staff in the back and a parking lot for students.
The centerpiece is the kitchen, with two full-sized ovens and an eight-burner gas range.
With the new space, Sharon Landis and Zest’s culinary director, Lolly Kratz, recruited a few new instructors and added more classes. Chocolate specialist Joe Sofia will lead a class on making Easter chocolates like peanut butter eggs and homemade marshmallow. Stephanie Samuel will offer baking classes on things like making spring cake pops and decorating with Russian cake tips. Chef Gili Kieffer will lead vegan and vegetarian cooking classes for kids and adults.
Zest will continue with sessions like the popular French macaron classes and the Italian cooking classes of Nino Elia, who has a devoted following.
Sharon Landis took a break at the new classroom to talk about the space. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Why did you want to have cooking classes?
I really enjoy teaching people how to cook. I really enjoy showing them that they can have confidence in the kitchen and to not be afraid. In my work I found a lot of people in awe that you could prepare meals for a large group of people. If I were catering a party for 30 people, I’d have friends who’d be like, ‘I’d be a nervous wreck.’ Actually, I found it fairly easy.
There’s a gap between the reality of cooking and technique. There’s a gap between that and what people are comfortable with. And my objective is to close that gap, give people confidence. It’s not, as they say, brain surgery.
Has that gap increased or decreased through the years?
I think it’s increased, through the rise of Food Network and the rise of celebrity chefs. People hold those celebrity chefs to such high regard that they don’t see themselves as being able to accomplish that.
We have met many, many people who love to watch the Cooking Channel and the Food Network and HGTV, but do not attempt to cook at all.
It’s basically a lack of confidence.
We’re a few miles from the Lititz store. Why did you want to move to this area?
We’re three miles from our store. It’s in Manheim Township, but it has a Lititz address. When we found this location, we were so impressed with the other businesses that are here. Kumon Learning Center teaches math. We have a Move It Studio with barre and fitness. There’s a bikram yoga as well. It’s a hub of learning. We felt we fit right in here.
How long did this take?
We started talking about it in June. We started actively looking in July. We started on renovations before Christmas.
How will the classes change here?
We’re going to be a lot more hands-on. It won’t feel cramped.
Why is hands-on so important?
In retail, stores are suffering through the hands of Amazon. Retail stores are looking for something to offer that Amazon can’t. One thing is the experience. It’s Amazon-proof.
Tell me about the quote on the wall
That quote (“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook — try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, BE FEARLESS, and above all have fun!”) we had on the board at the cooking school when we first started. It really summarizes what we’re about. We want people to have fun, to be fearless, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes. No truer words about cooking were ever spoken than those by Julia Child.
Who helped make this happen aside from you and Jim?
We want people to come to our business and be aware of buying local. So when it came to our turn, we wanted to do the same. Eileen Riddle (of Kitchens by Eileen in Lititz) was fantastic. She designed the whole thing and got all of the contractors on board.
Martin Appliance (in Brownstown) were wonderful to work with. These are all Viking appliances, and they negotiated a good deal for us. We even have double refrigerator drawers (next to the range). The chef can put the ingredients for their class right here.
I had Eileen put in a lot of drawers because, with the teaching kitchen like this, your gadgets seem to multiply like rabbits.
(In addition, Stray Production Services at Rock Lititz installed two cameras and two 55-inch televisions.
Barry Sauder from Sauder Bros. Concrete in Manheim stained the concrete floor mocha.)
There are so many cooking videos online. Why are cooking classes still relevant?
People still enjoy the interaction of being with other people. We’re humans, and we were made to interact with other humans. You don’t get that from watching it on YouTube. They like the experience.
Which one of these classes would you take?
Probably artisan bread. On April 27, Paul’s teaching that one. I will admit that yeast is something that I am still afraid of. I try to work through it from time to time.