The Flavorful Recipe for Teambuilding

June 1, 2008

MOE KCCulinaryCtr

The Flavorful Recipe for Team Building

By Michael Humphrey

It’s not always easy to figure out what drives you toward a goal. But Laura O’Rourke’s vision for the Culinary Center of Kansas City had a clear starting point – grandma.

“I learned how to cook with my grandma, making pie dough or shelling peas,” O’Rourke says. “And I kept saying to myself, ‘If I loved that, why can’t I make that and put it in a different place?’”

For the past decade, O’Rourke has been building a sacred space. You’ll find it nestled in the homegrown shops of downtown Overland Park, but she’s not pushing a religion, or providing a four-step path to happiness. Instead, she has perfected a space where cultures throughout the world gather for sanity, serenity and, of course, sustenance – the kitchen.

“When people walk through the door, we want the world to go away,” O’Rourke says.

If that introduction leads you to believe that CCKC can’t be a serious venue for your group to improve its effectiveness, then you aren’t remembering grandma’s cooking very well. And you aren’t getting the whole picture about O’Rourke. She may have made a decision of the heart to start the center, but it’s her business mind that has made it succeed and now expand to nearly double its size this year.

And from cocktail parties down to team building, CCKC is ready to do business in an atmosphere that is fun, disarming but also full of surprises.

Building Teams and Dreams

Ten years ago O’Rourke left a lucrative law practice to pursue a passion. She wanted to work in a place that beckoned to her each morning and she wanted to work with people who shared that passion.

“I realized, for many reasons, that I wasn’t aspiring to be the person that was congruent with my personality,” O’Rourke said. “I had this idea, if I don’t go and do this, I couldn’t live with myself. Now, I still have this overwhelming passion for the business. And the people we bring in here, they share that passion. My staff is the best.”

No wonder the Culinary Center of Kansas City is such a perfect place for team building. It is not only a venue that takes the activity seriously, but its very story represents how team building can make success a well-rounded, life-enriching goal rather than something that grinds you down.

What began with O’Rourke and a partner providing cooking classes and special food events now employs 8 full-time people, including an executive chef, and dozens of part-time service help and contracted instructors.

And this year CCKC took the next big step in its business growth – expanding into a second teaching kitchen – replete with LCD training screen and seating for 24 for a hands-on class, 30 for a sit-down class and 60 for a demonstration. The center also added a retail space and offices for the staff.

“What we didn’t have before was the ability to take another event. It was a big step for us, but one that I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” O’Rourke says. “You have to evolve and turn into something else. You have to learn how to grow to that next step.”

The center has grown, O’Rourke says, because a basic class leads to a group event and a group event leads to a team building event.

“They know what we’re capable of,” she says, “so they trust us. This is not just an art, it is a science.”

Cooking Up Success

There’s a lot more to learn here than making a soufflé. O’Rourke says she and her staff have been honing the craft of team building for years now. And they are extremely confident they have programs that can change the way people work together. Part of the advantage of team building in a kitchen is the natural democratic nature of the room.

“The best cooks aren’t necessarily the top people in the company,” she says, “so there’s a shift where maybe the person who’s always taking orders is suddenly in charge. And then at the same time, we all know a little bit about cooking, so everyone can play a role.”

There are other advantages as well. Groups as small as 5 and as large 200 can actively participate. The exercise moves well – it works at CCKC or at many different kinds of venues.

“We will travel,” O’Rourke says. “We can take our programs anywhere.”

The result of the labor isn’t just a life lesson, but something edible and most likely delicious.

“It’s quaint, well-organized, the staff is definitely funny. . . and it’s just a top-notch, quality venue,” says Gwen Knight, CMP. “I had a great time with the teams and loved the Mystery Box.”

O’Rourke says the center custom crafts each event to the group, based on what planners need in terms of time, size and result. But their experience has allowed them to create models for team building that help planners decide how to use the staff and facilities.

Here are some examples:

Recipes For Success

The most versatile team building option! Working with a CCKC chef, your group will participate in your very own 3-hour cooking experience on the theme of your choice.

Lights! Camera! Team building!

Your group will be divided into teams with each team not only being responsible for creating a part of a lunch, dinner or an appetizer buffet, but also for creating, producing and starring in their own mini-cooking show.

Mystery Box Team Building

Working with facilitators in teams, your group will work with mystery ingredients to prepare lunch, dinner or appetizers. The group will strategize, plan, cook, create, communicate, beautifully present, record and dine on a tasty meal.

Layers of Success

Teams will be given cake, icing and some thought-provoking “mystery” decorations along with a challenge. Then the spatulas start flying as the team strategizes, barters and works against time to create and present a customized decorated cake for judging.

Farmers’ Market Sweepstakes

Your group scours the outdoor Overland Park Farmers’ Market as part of this unusual culinary team building event. Armed with a timetable, a budget and a special challenge, each team must purchase, prep and present part of a lunch to be served to their peers.

The center also offers very simple exercises that don’t include working over stoves, such as food decoration classes and building food “art” with ingredients like gumdrops, cookie dough and ginger bread.

Costs for private events, including the meal, begin at $50 per person and range up to $125, depending on the complexity of the event. If your group doesn’t need a private event, you can enlist them in one of the 400 regularly scheduled classes. Demonstrations, dinners and cocktail parties are other options for using the facility.

From Exotic to Exactly Like Home

In terms of food, just about anything is possible.

“There are some cuisines that are harder to pull off than others,” O’Rourke says. “But I don’t think there is anything that someone wants that we couldn’t pull off.”

On the other hand, Midwesterners are in love with their comfort foods. And no culinary center in Kansas City is going to miss those opportunities.

“If they want meat and potatoes, then we’re going to do meat and potatoes with some twists,” she says.

(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)

The Culinary Center of Kansas City

7920 Santa Fe Drive

Overland Park, Kansas 66204


At a Glance

Type of Facility:

Culinary Center

Group size this facility is willing/able to accommodate:


Type of Cuisine:

All types can be served

Number of private dining rooms:


Special Features/Amenities:

Interactive cooking classes, team building exercises and chef talks are available

Are group rates/discounts available?


Is the facility disabled accessible?


Price Range:

$25-$115 per person


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