Chef tackles 'cooking problem' with new school
Now in her early 40s, Tricia Wheeler remains good friends with several of her sorority sisters she met at Ohio State University.
Wheeler's mother taught her to cook as a little girl back in Akron, but that wasn't the case with some of the young women she encountered during her time as a law-enforcement major. To this day, Wheeler said, some of her friend struggle with meal planning and have a hard time coping with dinner guests.
To help people like her old sorority sisters, the Upper Arlington-area resident has opened a "recreational cooking school" at 3674 N. High St. in Clintonville.
It's called the Seasoned Farmhouse.
"I felt like the timing of really connecting people to where food comes from and what's happening in our own community was really important work," Wheeler said last week. "We have a cooking problem here in this country. We've lost some of those skills being passed down."
For Wheeler, it's a dream -- albeit a deferred one -- come true.
"I was a really passionate home entertainer and always reading cookbooks," she said.
But for the first 10 years after she graduated from OSU, she ran a security and background check firm in Columbus. When another company acquired her enterprise, it freed Wheeler to enroll at what was then the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Institute, in New York City.
"The International Culinary Center is different," according to its website, "because it prepares you for the whole world out there, not just the kitchen."
Wheeler, who graduated first in her class in 2009, said her goal wasn't to become the next Julia Child but to learn how to instruct others in being better home cooks.
"For me, just the history and the tradition, it's really the foundation of everything we do," Wheeler said. "I really appreciate the classics and the history behind it. I was always drawn to learning that way."
Now she wants to teach that way. A few simple techniques, she said, can hold a cook in good stead.
"If you learn those basic techniques, then you can just apply them," Wheeler said.
In addition to a kitchen where students can learn a variety of cooking styles -- from high-end French cuisine that requires four eight-week sessions to down-home fare -- the Seasoned Farmhouse has a learning garden, cookbook library, specialty culinary boutique and private event space.
"We always try to emphasize local ingredients in what we do, because we believe they do taste better when it's grown close to home," Wheeler said. "I always envisioned this not being built around myself but being built around other talented instructors.
"We just really want to be a hub of culinary activity, from the kitchen and the garden."
Wheeler said she settled on a former dentist's office in Clintonville as home for her business because of its central location, although remodeling the building was a bit taxing for her contractor husband, Richard.
"We really took a white elephant of a building and turned it into something pretty," she said. "I think Clintonville's a very welcoming community and already engaged in supporting their local foods."
For more information about classes, programs and pricing, visit theseasonedfarmhouse.com.