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Cooking classes inspire culinary confidence

J.R. McMillan

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Most dinner parties start in the kitchen, and the better ones tend to end there. But some of the best in Columbus actually start in a dentist office—or what used to be one.

Tricia Wheeler, founder of The Seasoned Farmhouse, describes her passion project simply as a recreational cooking school. She arguably sells herself short. The dated dental office in Clintonville that once sat empty has evolved into a rustic, yet refined, community kitchen for ambitious home chefs or anyone seeking to hone their culinary credibility.

It was more than just a second act for the former home, restored to its original residential charm with raised beds of herbs and produce for a rotating slate of chefs. It was Wheeler’s second act as well. Following a short and unsatisfying stint in corporate security after graduating from Ohio State, she found herself at a fork in the road.

“I called my dad and said I was going to start a new business, either a catering company, or a background screening company,” she revealed. Her father played practical and asked which one would cost less to get going, and how much money she had on hand. “I told him the background screening company, and $400. He said, ‘That’s great, because the hungrier you are, the harder you’re going to work’.”

The fledgling screening company she started a decade earlier grew and was eventually acquired by an investor for a comfortable sum. Wheeler suddenly found herself out of work, but with an enviable second chance. So she relocated to New York to fulfill her long-deferred dream of going to culinary school—with her mother in tow to tend to her two-year-old, while her husband made the long commute back to Columbus.

“I figured out early on that as much as I loved cooking, I really wanted to share what I was learning with my friends,” she recalled. “They didn’t find cooking joyful as much as tedious, so I was the only one throwing dinner parties.”

The idea that would become The Seasoned Farmhouse started small—not even as a school, but as a series of classes Wheeler initially taught at the M/I Homes Design Center kitchen showroom. The concept was solid, but the space proved restrictive. And what started as nine tiny dental offices was reconfigured into an oversized kitchen and intimate dining room dynamic enough to accommodate several classroom formats.

“We have students who are straight out of college and love to cook, retirees who love to cook and are looking for something to do, and couples who love to cook and want to do something together,” she noted. “We don’t repeat a lot. I’ll teach my sauce class every other year, and we might do our knife skills twice a year. My curiosity has always been in trying things that are new.”

The Seasoned Farmhouse offers 42 classes, four times a year—an impressive schedule by even traditional culinary school standards. Yet there remains an unexpected mix of luxury and utility, with fundamentals flanked by classes in niche cuisines as well as options like sheet tray dinners, for those looking for creative ways to get a delicious meal on the table fast without the fuss.

One course that remains a perennial favorite is Wheeler’s kitchen fundamentals class, a two-night course taught over two weeks that teaches everything from sweet and savory crepes to how to make a pasta sauce from scratch with what you probably have in your cupboard.

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“I like giving students that foundation, that confidence,” she added. “I teach how to make a chicken piccata, it’s the perfect date meal. It’s what I used to make for every date I’ve ever had,” Wheeler confessed. “I started as the main instructor, but our growth has been organic. If someone comes to us, and we like what they do, we’ll give them the opportunity to see how their talents fit.”

This evening’s guest chef for “Thai Date Night” is no exception. Damian Ettish hails originally from South Africa. But his relocation to London, and extended adventures in India and Thailand before immigrating to Columbus, epitomize the unique expertise students have come to expect. He’s used to working solo, but tonight he’ll have more than a dozen sous chefs—some seasoned, some as green as the curry—but all eager to learn something new.

“Cooking for a dozen people is obviously different than cooking on the truck, when you never know how many people are going to show up. So when I teach people to cook, it gives me time to share tips,” Ettish explained. “No one is coming here to learn to slice an onion. But I’ll teach them how to cut one the way I learned to on the streets of Thailand.”

His renowned local food truck, “Fetty’s Street Food” and restaurant chops seamlessly pivot between tricks, like how to cut that onion into tiny boat-shaped slices that better hold the sauce, and his intriguing travelogue, peppered with wry humor and hands-on encouragement.

“I really love these intimate settings. It’s more my style, and you
can focus more on the food and flavors,” he noted. “It’s a lot like a food
truck versus a restaurant. If I can teach people how to do something on a smaller scale, as a couple, then they learn how to do it on a larger scale, like a dinner party.”

Among tonight’s students are Michael and Emily Berlin, who moved here from Chicago five years ago. Emily gave Michael a gift certificate for The Seasoned Farmhouse their first Christmas in Columbus, and they’ve been coming ever since.

“Watching how everything goes together as a home chef is different than just following directions,” Michael observed. “Columbus has an up and coming food scene, so this is what a lot of people are looking for.”

 Technique is tough to teach on a recipe card, or even YouTube. Ettish imparts insights more than instructions, like how to cut a bell pepper upside down to leave the seeds behind, slicing a chicken breast for even cooking in a curry, or holding a knife properly to ensure the pungent peanut and cucumber dip for the corn cakes ends up with more pickles than knuckles.

“We’ve done more of the dinners than the classes, but we always pick up a new tip,” noted Emily. “It’s the small things you don’t know unless you’ve been trained in a restaurant or gone to culinary school.”

That first gift came full circle with a birthday party at The Seasoned Farmhouse with family and friends Michael planned as a surprise for his wife. Though Wheeler’s better known sister company, Flowers & Bread, also hosts events, the breadth and depth offered by The Seasoned Farmhouse draws a line between the two as distinct as the difference between a café and a restaurant.

“We’re a gift couples give each other. Then they invite their friends to come with them next time,” Wheeler explained. “It’s why I love being in the experience business. It feels like I’m always throwing a dinner party.” •

For more details and a schedule of upcoming classes, visit theseasonedfarmhouse.com

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Food & Drink

Kick off summer with FREE Krispy Kreme this Saturday

Mike Thomas

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It’s officially summer in C-Bus, which, due to climate change, apparently doubles as monsoon season (thanks a lot, Al Gore).

If you’re still there after reading the words “climate change,” we have some good news. Krispy Kreme, purveyors of those sugary-sweet rings we all know and love, want to help you celebrate “summer” (and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission) with a free doughnut this Saturday, June 22.

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Free doughnuts might just be the perfect way to salvage a weekend wrecked by rain. As always, please remember to pace yourself!

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Biz + Dev

Signage suggests new eatery coming to former Short North Blick space

Mike Thomas

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A brand new awning sporting the words “Ned’s Bayou” has appeared over the former Blick’s Art Supplies location at 612 N High St in the Short North.

While initial searches have turned up little information about this forthcoming business, we can only assume that this will one day be the sight of a Louisiana-inspired restaurant of some sort.

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Then again, the word “Bayou” carries other connotations. Maybe this will be the Short North’s first-ever spot for gator rasslin’. Only time will tell!

614NOW will keep an eye peeled for more info on this business as it becomes available.

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Food & Drink

Hop On: (614) rolls around in new brewery party bus

Regina Fox

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So many breweries, so little time, so few volunteers to drive your tipsy tush around, right? Wrong! Columbus, I’d like you to meet CBus Brew Bus: a brewery party bus tour that offers a new and refreshingly different way for curious hop heads to experience the local craft beer scene.

It was a despairingly shitty day in Central Ohio when our very strange-looking Uber pulled up to the (614) Media Group office. We all raced to the front to catch a glimpse, giggling at the thought of our impending adventure. 

Our tour was private, meaning we had the whole bus to ourselves and were able to customize the pickup and dropoff locations, as well as the destinations. Public tours, on the other hand, are made up of several small groups that meet in the heart of downtown at City Tavern and visit predetermined breweries. (I know what you’re thinking and yes, the AUX cord is up for grabs on both private and public tours.)  

Photos: Rebecca Tien

Owner Andy Bachman and his wife/tour guide extraordinaire/HBIC Jess greeted us at the door as we took our seats. The inside was decked out with paintings of Godzilla wearing a shirt reading “I Heart Local Beer” and Godzilla wearing a Block “O” tee—both raising foaming pints of beer, naturally. Unlike a real school bus where Kenny from 5C won’t stop kicking the back of your seat, CBus Brew Bus chairs face inward to keep conversations flowing right along with the brews. Between each seat is a cup holder that contained a 6.75-ounce sample glass that we would use to sample three unique beers at each of our three destinations.

Between curiosities of our careers and a mutual interest in beer, we hit it off with both Jess and Andy immediately—a perk of the service before we even shifted into drive. 

“It’s a great way to meet other people who may already enjoy craft beer,” Andy said of the tour. “You might even be somebody new to town or visiting from out of town and it’s a great way to acclimate yourself to the Columbus culture.”

First stop: Zaftig Brewing

We hustled in to avoid the rain and were met by an expecting Frank Shoults, Zaftig Taproom Manager. One of the most special qualities of CBus Brew Bus is the personalized experience you receive at every checkpoint. There were other bar guests upon our arrival, but Shoults gave us his undivided attention as he explained the beers, and waited patiently as we decided on our individual flights of three. 

I’m an IPA girl through and through, but I wanted to use this excursion to expand my hop horizons. I went with the Big Barleywine (14% ABV), Nuts For You Peanut Butter Stout (8% ABV) and Juicy Lucy IPA (7% ABV) because, well, old habits die hard.

While Andy understands that beer isn’t everyone’s thing, he’s confident the CBus Brew Bus can provide an experience even the most inexperienced beer drinker can appreciate. 

“Through this tour, you get to sample nine different types of beer and there’s usually something within that range that people will grab onto,” he assured. “There’s something for everybody. Don’t fear the beer!” 

We sipped and gossiped until Shoults came over and invited us on a tour of the Zaftig brewing facility. We learned about cultures, yeast, the canning process, and the importance of having a CFO (chief feline officer—follow Hops on Instagram at @zaftighops).

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Second stop: Parsons North 

Jess popped the top of our crowler of Sweet Lucy and officially christened our trip with its first road beers before we were even clear of the Zaftig parking lot. You can throw a rock from pretty much anywhere in Columbus and hit a drinking establishment, but there’s just something about sipping on an ice-cold IPA with your buddies while doing 65 down I-71 South. Beer tastes better while you’re doing a mile a minute. Amirite?

It was becoming crystal clear that the three seemingly small samples at each brewery + to-go beers between stops were going to add up quickly.

Like at Zaftig, our bartender was also ready and waiting for us with an ice-cold pitcher when we tipsily traipsed into Parsons North. Mulberry Saison (7% ABV), American Stout (5% ABV), and Grapefruit Wheat (6% ABV) were the three beers we were treated to—none of which I would have ordered on my own accord, but were all brews I’d drink again. 

Andy, now retired from Columbus City Schools, was first introduced to craft beer during his residency in Boulder, CO and, more specifically, his experience with Boulder Beer Company about 20 years ago. Experimenting with different craft beers has been a muse of mine for about five years now. Andy, however, is a pioneer of sorts.  

“From that point on, I was pretty anti-domestic,” Andy said laughingly. But, he returned to Ohio in the mid-90s only to discover how far, far behind we were in the craft beer scene. Andy became a teacher but clung to his passion for beer. Without the capital for a taproom or enough knowledge of the process to become a brewer himself, Andy landed on the idea for the CBus Brew Bus.

Third and final stop: Platform Beer Co. 

The trip from stop 2 to stop 3 is what Andy calls the “sweet spot.” What he means is that the riders are experiencing peak fun. I couldn’t agree more. Our small, but lively, group of (614) staffers and Jess—who was going beer sample for beer sample with us—drank the rest of our Sweet Lucy crowler under-the-light of the green LEDs that lined the ceiling of the bus, and talked and laughed at unnecessarily high volumes until we rolled to a stop at our final destination. 

At Platform, I tried the Seltzer Project: Tangerine-Grapefruit Hard Seltzer (5% ABV) and I loved it. Will it replace my Black Cherry White Claws this summer? Stay tuned. I also had the Mello Hello IPA – Brut (5.4% ABV) and loved it, also. 

By this point, at our third brewery, it was crystal clear that the three seemingly small samples at each brewery plus to-go beer between stops had really added up—tipsy would’ve been an understated adjective for our crew. But, we got way more than a Friday morning hangover out of the deal. Jess was our new favorite drinking buddy, we fell in love with several new brews we may have never taken a chance on otherwise, we learned the ins and outs of Zaftig’s brewing process, and we bonded with each other in a way that few coworkers get to experience. 

What will your Brew Bus adventure hold?

For more information and to schedule your next trip, visit cbusbrewbus.com.

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