Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Chef Catherine St. John offers up some prime team-building events at her Western Reserve School of Cooking

By Nina Polien Light
Photo by Doug Khrenovsky

When John Adams wants to thank existing customers or woo potential clients, he bypasses the fairway and heads for the kitchen. Adams, a financial adviser to affluent clients at Northwestern Mutual, trusts Catherine St. John of the Western Reserve School of Cooking to engage his guests, teach them valuable cooking tips, and serve one heck of a meal.

“It’s a high-touch, intimate event where clients and prospects are invited to get together, learn something, and have fun,” he says. “Instead of taking a client one-on-one to a Cavs game or playing golf, it allows me to invite both husband and wife, which they tend to appreciate. Catherine is so good at what she does and has such a great style about her. She makes sure nobody sits around.”

The payback is greater than an enjoyable evening out with his wife and associates. Adams has attracted new customers simply by inviting existing clients to bring friends to WRSOC. He asks eight to 20 people to these evenings, which have covered backyard grilling, sushi, Italian fare, and other topics. Interactive cooking classes are what Adams calls GUMP affairs: They are genuine, unique, memorable, and personal.

St. John, who operates the school with her husband, Carl, has been offering corporate team-building events for several years. The flagship location in Hudson is suitable for 12 or fewer people, but the Cleveland location, which opened in 2014, accommodates up to 40 people. St. John tailors events to each customer’s needs. Some managers wish to conduct a business meeting before or after the interactive cooking session.

Others opt for a purely social gathering. Some events are based on a training book employees are reading. In those cases, St. John helps managers turn the cooking session into a competition or a training seminar on problem solving.

“If there’s more than one group coming in from a company, they’ll often do a pairing, so people aren’t working with their normal coworkers,” St. John says.

Corporate cooking events include custom menu planning, a copy of recipes for guests to take home, advice on wine and beer pairings, and buffet or table service.

WRSOC also offers certificate programs in culinary and pastry as well as date nights, children’s classes, and lunch-and-learn sessions. The Hudson location features The Cookery, a store offering knives, gadgets, baking gear, and cookbooks, including a 2011 book that includes favorites from WRSOC guest chef Michael Symon and nationally acclaimed chefs who have visited WRSOC.

Operating a cooking school in Ohio that also offers corporate events is not how the Palo Alto, Calif., native envisioned her life. At a young age, she developed a love of cuisine from her father, who cooked as a hobby. Her close proximity to San Francisco meant she was surrounded by fresh food prepared in innovative ways.

“I found I could do it (cooking) and I liked it,” she says. “It gave me confidence that I didn’t have before. By the time I was in high school, I knew that’s what I was going to do.”

St. John snagged her first restaurant job as a teenager. After high school, she attended junior college before commuting from San Francisco in 1984 to attend Tante’ Marie’s Cooking School. At the height of the California Cuisine craze, St. John learned from such legends as Jeremiah Tower and Bruce Aidells. From there, she interned in Crete and returned to California to work at an organic farm-to-table restaurant. At age 23, she got her first job as a chef in San Diego. While working there, she met Carl. She later returned to Palo Alto, married Carl, procured a job cooking for a house of students at Stanford University, gave birth to her first child, and eventually found herself relocating to her husband’s native Ohio.

“It was a shock,” she says. “When I first got here and went to the grocery store, there was head lettuce, cans of Parmesan cheese, and vegetables in Styrofoam packages. I had never seen that before.”

Soon, she got a job teaching at what was then called the Zona Spray School of Cooking. Several years and several owners later, she and Carl decided to buy the place.

“He’s the brains behind the operation,” she says of Carl, who spent a decade working for Apple Computers. “I’m the face of the business.”

Since 2007 the couple has operated the respected school, which attracts nearly 200 people monthly in Hudson. Guest chefs have included Doug Katz, Bev Shaffer, Zack Bruell, and Jonathon Sawyer. Students are a mix of professionals looking to change careers, and retirees and others who wish to become better cooks.

The new Cleveland location, for which St. John secured a sponsorship from KitchenAid, recently obtained a full liquor license. She plans to host wine and beer tastings, as well as other events, there.

St. John is gratified that the industry has become more welcoming to women.

“There was a male chef in junior college from Germany who believed women did not belong in the professional kitchen,” she says. “He had us doing prep instead of cooking actual meals. But things have changed. Today there are a lot of very successful women chefs.”

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