Culinary Craft Workshop: Catonsville’s tastiest experience

03/11/2024| Anna Mishonova

Culinary Craft Workshop: Catonsville’s tastiest experience

03/11/2024 | Anna Mishonova

In the restaurant industry, the time after holidays is considered to be a resting period: customers aren’t as frequent, less orders are made, and overall, it is quiet.

Not for Culinary Craft Workshop  though – this small Baltimore County business is going through its peak season. The business stays busy serving a wide variety of cuisines, including Italian, French, Greek, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese.

Culinary Craft Workshop is a recreational cooking school founded in 2020 by Catonsville local Joanie Robinson and investors. Located in The Shops On Mellor business center on Mellor Avenue, it offers a spacious and professional kitchen to its students—but unlike professional kitchens, it can allow time for some wine, jokes, and taste-testing mixed in with skillets and whisks.

A group of people making pasta from scratch

Making pasta from scratch

As for many small businesses, the first months for Culinary Craft Workshop were challenging, not only because they were starting fresh, but also because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had the idea to open a cooking school in 2019,” remembers Joanie, “and we got our lease two weeks before the shutdown. At first, we didn’t know how long it would take for everything to reopen, so we decided to wait. But the pandemic lasted longer than we expected, so we had to work around it.”

Surprisingly, the changes that the pandemic brought were beneficial to the business: Joanie believes that thanks to the restrictions, they revamped their classes and structure for the better.

Joanie’s ability to pivot in the face of a challenge didn’t come from working in the kitchen. Joanie was a social worker, with a degree from the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County. For more than ten years, she worked as a professional organizer, productivity consultant, and project manager, an experience that proved extremely useful when running a business. However, through all of the years, she kept a close connection with cooking.

“I thought about a culinary school, but having worked in the industry in my teenage years, I knew how exhausting and demanding professional kitchens can be. I also knew from the start that I wanted to have a family, so I chose social work as a less time-consuming field,” she said. Joanie continued to visit nearby culinary classes, though, and that was when she saw the demand for culinary classes in the region.

A man showing a girl and a woman how to make dumplings

Dumpling classes are gaining popularity

Today, Culinary Craft Workshop is a successful growing business, attracting people from across Maryland and the Mid Atlantic, including Delaware, Virginia, and New Jersey. Paired with its central location, the fact that the school also boasts a convenient parking space right in front of the entrance is an asset that Joanie says makes it more attractive to customers.

“We’re not exactly a walk-in kind of store,” she said. “Few people want to randomly stop by for a three-hour class. Our traffic mostly comes from social media, and many are glad to find out we have free parking readily available.”

The school also offers expertise: all the teachers are professional chefs with years of experience. Chef Nate Campbell and Chef Pat Coffman are the owners, and the full-time chefs of the workshop, with others working part-time positions, combining their teaching with other full-time jobs.

The school doesn’t just need a professional chef – it needs someone who can stand in front of strangers, and then cook and talk for three hours straight. They have to explain their technique, help students, and crack jokes to keep the interest of the class. And they have to shift all that into high gear if the audience is children. Culinary Craft Workshop offers a variety of classes for kids, starting with a four-day summer school, to parent-child classes (no age limit), to exclusively kid lessons (ages 8 and older).

A man teaching people how to mix dough.

All ages enjoy learning how to cook

Overall, the school has created more than 200 classes, but they don’t offer all of them at the same time. “Our three most popular classes are sushi, pasta, and doughnuts,” said Joanie. “Judging from what people like, we then branch out to something else; for example, our dumpling classes are gaining popularity, so we’re thinking of adding more classes like that.”

Sometimes, the secret to a class gaining popularity is just one word: when the school renamed its “Southern Food” class to “Southern Comfort Food,” it started gaining notoriety. At the same time, the practical knowledge of chicken butchering is not catching on; last time, the class had only four people, so Joanie is thinking of putting it on the shelf for now. The business typically adds two-three new classes every six months, so the school always has something new to surprise students. Overall, Joanie says there are always new things for students to learn, and even the most confident home cooks leave the class with new knowledge and skills.

Joanie is hopeful and planning to expand the business in the area, saying that Catonsville is a very tight knit community.

“A lot of the small businesses here are women-owned, and we’re seeing more stores open, which is great. People keep asking if we are thinking of branching out into different counties…” she says with a smile. “But this business is my baby, and I’m already here six to seven days a week. I don’t feel comfortable giving away my child to someone else!”

For now, Joanie says the workshop hopes to create a second classroom in the business center, which will allow it to buy more local products for classes and involve more people and chefs. With the new year starting as a busy time, the school is looking forward to a productive and successful 2024.

To learn more about cooking and support the small business, book a class today at Culinary Craft Workshop’s website .

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