Michele Charles Gustafson is arranging bowls and pans and cooking instruments. The lights are slightly dim, music is softly playing and a colourful array of vegetables lies on the counter. It’s almost show time.
She’s getting ready to lead her first in a series of cooking classes at the Harvest to Home market and grocery store. The animated host gestures with her hands as she explains what her guests have to look forward to at the inaugural event.
“They can expect to have some fun in the kitchen,” she said. “They’re going to learn how to do simple meals that are stylish and look good to eat with simple ingredients and learn to actually have fun with food while cooking.”
Charles Gustafson, an image consultant and wardrobe stylist by trade, was first approached by Harvest to Home after the store’s owner saw her posting about food on social media. After that, Charles Gustafson, who describes herself as a “home cook,” performed a cooking demonstration in front of an audience. Now the audience will be participating as well.
Harvest to Home general manager Shawna Parkin says they’ve been offering a variety of cooking classes since the market opened.
“It’s meant to be informative and a form of entertainment,” Parkin said. “It’s not just cooking. We try to provide information you don’t find in a cookbook.”
Charles Gustafson says it was her parents who first taught her to appreciate food and cooking at a young age.
“I have a love affair with food that started a long time ago with my parents. My mom is an amazing home cook. We grew up with all sorts of different ethnic foods ... so that was her side. My dad’s side was the eating side. He loved to eat and especially French food, fine French food,” she said. “I remember the first time he took us to a French restaurant, 10 courses or so, and I was 12 or 13 and I fell in love with the experience of consuming a full meal as an orchestration of art. And so I’m now both of those people.”
With food being an important part of her household growing up, Charles Gustafson sees cooking as a family activity. She describes her mother teaching her to cook when she was young. She says it was a collaborative experience and now she plans on passing those lessons on to others.
Family is a recurring theme for Charles Gustafson. Tonight the class will be preparing Salisbury steak, a meal Charles Gustafson calls “winter comfort food.”
“It has gravy, there’s butter involved and it just makes you feel at home and that’s why I wanted to do this comfort food (lesson) as the first one because of that sense of family,” she said. “I’m not here to cut calories, I mean health is important, but the experience of eating a well-prepared comfort food meal is all about tasting the love in the dish.”
Charles Gustafson will be assisted by Curtis Douglas, who works in the Harvest to Home kitchen. He will be making sure everything runs smoothly so Charles Gustafson can stay engaged with her students. He says she’s a skilled cook, even though she doesn’t have any special qualifications, what he calls “paper.”
“I’ve witnessed a couple of cooking classes from different teachers and I actually went to Michele’s one in December and it was really awesome,” he said. “I’ve known Michele for a while now and I’m confident she’s an amazing cook, even if she doesn’t have paper. Because sometimes paper doesn’t mean everything in my opinion. Michele is creative, funny, welcoming. It’s going to be a good night.”
Ultimately, Charles Gustafson’s message is that cooking should be enjoyable and people should take some time out of their busy day to enjoy it.
“Have fun with food. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Make time to explore food and make it with love. Even if it’s really simple, don’t rush over it. Take time to chop the onion because you’re making it for someone special,” she said. “I really think that if you do it that way the nutritional value gets amped up when you just make it with pure heart. It’s all about loving the food.”
As people start to gradually file in, general manager Parkin reminds the guests that the shop is licenced and offers them some adult beverages. Charles Gustafson introduces herself and then asks class how they rate themselves in the kitchen and how they heard about the class.
After everyone takes their seats, Charles Gustafson asks her pupils to put on aprons and wash their hands.
It’s time for the class to begin.