By Julia M. Johnson
There’s a reason guests at a gathering always gravitate toward the kitchen. In the case of Companion Baking’s newest outpost in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, it’s because that’s where the fun and creativity are.
Companion opened a new 45,000-square-foot, 24-hour bakery, office, and kitchen space earlier this year. It’s complete with a café, glassed-in baking operations you can view, and a teaching kitchen that offers delicious outings for groups and guests. The kitchen measures about 750 square feet, and features space for 24 class participants to get their hands on mixing bowls and pans. Classes generally range from two and a half to four hours, and company founder Josh Allen even gets in on the instruction.Cassy Vires, head chef and teaching kitchen manager, says groups are welcome to use the facility’s wider space options as well, including the café area located between the kitchen and the building’s large, windowed, 24-hour baking production area.
“We recently hosted a 400-person open house over a period of three hours,” she says. “It featured stations with dishes like pastas and salads. We’ve also done plated dinners for about 75 people, or we can do 125 seated in the combined kitchen and café space.”
Dishing it up
There’s really no limit to the types of cooking instruction Companion can provide to groups, Vires says. “We’ve had fried chicken classes, pizza, pasta, burgers, hors d’oeuvres… you can schedule any type of subject you like.” Vires says participants can taste-test their own culinary artistry on-site, and take some home as well.
The kitchen action can be as participatory as you like, too – event guests can watch chefs perform cooking demonstrations, or they can get their own fingers into the flour. “For intensive hands-on classes, groups of six to eight are an ideal size,” Vires says. “But we can handle whatever size works for your gathering. We’ve hosted groups of about 80, for example, where 20 people rotated into the teaching kitchen at a time; other guests went on tours while their friends did a class.”
Vires says guided facility tour groups of about 15 at a time tend to work best, but Companion can be flexible about that as well.
Who’s in the kitchen
LaTia Thomas, founder of a Dutchtown-based food education nonprofit called Plenty STL, brought a group of eight kids and four adults to the kitchen in July 2016 as part of a summer learning program. “We had a ‘Kitchen Stadium’ competition, where the kids paired up with adults, got a selection of ingredients, and made dishes such as turkey burgers, BLTs and crostini,” she says. “Our kids are involved in learning about where their food comes from, so this was really fun for them.” The half-day outing also included lunch and a tour of the production facility.
Also in summer 2016, the kitchen hosted a baker’s dozen guests from the University City office of Cintas, a uniform and corporate apparel company. Kyle Ford, marketing sales manager, says his group truly enjoyed the sales team-building event, which included a breakfast cooking class and demonstration lasting about three hours.
Participants usually go home with foods they’ve created during class, but Ford says his group members actually “ate everything before they left, it was that delicious.” His guests still are using and talking about the recipes they received for French toast and other dishes, he adds.
Companion’s website includes information on featured classes, and which ones are best for beginners or well seasoned cooks. Whatever foods your guests are interested in making, from the savory to the sweet, Companion can come up with a class. There are “Lunch and Learn” courses ranging from Asian and Italian food to Thanksgiving dishes… and lots of opportunities to cook up everything in between.
Cassy Vires, head chef and teaching kitchen manager
2331 Schuetz Road
Maryland Heights, Mo. 63146