Stephan Stover and Richard Terapak's cooking classes are a combination of culinary instruction, freewheeling dinner party and vaudeville routine -- and they've been packing in crowds for decades.

Ask anyone to describe the pair's teaching technique and humor will, no doubt, be the first thing mentioned.

"They're just so funny," said Pat Levins of Columbus, who has been taking classes from Stover and Terapak for years.

"They're funny and corny," said cooking teacher Jim Budros, co-founder of the City Barbeque chain, and their longtime friend. "They have a shtick that both bears on one another and (plays) off one another."

Terapak's wife, Roberta, describes their routine a bit more succinctly: "Abbott and Costello."

The Columbus duo is celebrating a milestone this spring: They've been teaching together for 35 years.

Through the years they have become, arguably, two of the city's most famous foodies -- not a bad accomplishment for a pair of lawyers whose partnership began in an unlikely place: the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Terapak, a Bexley native, and Stover, who grew up in Upper Arlington, have known each other since their college days at Ohio State University, where both were presidents of their respective fraternities.

Each credits his mother for propelling him into the kitchen, but for different reasons.

For Terapak, it was out of necessity.

"She was a wonderful mother," Terapak said of his late mother, Mary Louise, "but a terrible cook."

"She made boiled potatoes every night -- no butter, no parsley, no salt," Terapak said.

Stover's mother, Virginia, a home-economics major, was an excellent cook and one-time winner of a Columbus Dispatch cooking contest who made sure her children knew their way around the kitchen.

Stover and Terapak met again in 1977, when Terapak was executive director of the ethics commission and Stover was hired as its assistant executive director. Their friendship bloomed over a mutual love of food and cooking, and they began taking classes together.

Budros, a longtime neighbor of Terapak's, already had been teaching at the former Good Things cookware shop in Bexley.

As Terapak tells it, he was too cheap to sign up for one of Budros' classes, so he asked if he could audit it instead. Budros refused and made Terapak work off his fee washing dishes.

Stover began volunteering, too, and it wasn't long before the pair began receiving invitations to teach to clubs and sororities.

Their first formal classes were in 1982 at Overbey's Emporium at the Continent retail center, where they taught six or eight students at a time.

They moved on to La Belle Pomme, Betty Rosbottom's cooking school in the Lazarus' department store Downtown.

Rosbottom, who resides in Massachusetts, said the pair were engaging and built a fan base.

"Their classes were just a lot of fun," she said. "People came and had a good time. I never remember a class of theirs not filling up."

At La Belle Pomme, Terapak and Stover learned as much as they taught. When the notable chefs of the day came to teach, the pair was at their elbows, learning culinary techniques from the likes of Giuliano Bugialli, John Clancy and Marcella Hazan.

Rosbottom said it wasn't unusual at the time for cooking teachers not to be formally trained chefs. Most were folks, like Stover and Terapak, who had a passion for food, cooking and learning.

"They cooked all the time and were absorbing everything," she said. "This was a very serious avocation for them."

After La Belle Pomme closed in 1995, Stover and Terapak taught at Columbus State Community College, Sur La Table at Easton Town Center and Faire la Cuisine in Granville. For the past five years, their home has been the Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens.

In addition to teaching, they always focused keenly on the city's restaurant scene and have come to be regarded as top experts. For many years, Stover served as the Ohio editor for the Zagat Survey of national restaurant reviews, while Terapak has been the restaurant reviewer for WOSU radio for more than 20 years.

To celebrate their anniversary, the duo hosted a class in May at the conservatory, preparing a five-course meal peppered with their tales of the kitchen -- like the time a desktop tipped at La Belle Pomme, sending red wine sailing into a student's shopping bag full of designer clothing, or the time they watched their mile-high ice-cream pie melt to less than an inch under a photographer's bright lights.

During the sold-out class, Stover prepared an appetizer of salmon rillettes and, later, melted chocolate into lush ganache to top a flourless chocolate-macadamia nut cake. Terapak butchered and grilled a leg of lamb and prepared a potato gratin and salad.

Both 70, Stover and Terapak are a bit like an old married couple, finishing each other's sentences, anticipating each other's jokes and playing off each other's strengths: Stover is always in charge of desserts; Terapak does the grilling.

A key to the pair's popularity, Budros said, is that they have always worked as hard to entertain as they have to educate.

Mary Stover and Roberta Terapak watched their husbands' anniversary class from a table in the back of the room, occasionally exchanging head shakes at their antics while fondly recalling years of friendship and good eating.

Stover retired in 2012 after working many years for the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Bar Association, while Terapak is a semi-retired partner at the law firm of Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur.

Although their legal careers are mostly behind them, their culinary careers show no sign of slowing down.

The pair launched a new version of the WOSU radio series "Chefs in the City" with co-host Ann Fisher. The show will air at 11 a.m. on the first Friday of each month. This fall, they will take a group of 24 to a villa in Sicily to cook and eat non-stop.

They will continue to cook and joke around in the kitchen, Terapak said, "as long as we can."

labraham@dispatch.com

@DispatchKitchen