Luis Mercado kept hold on his empty ramen noodles plastic wrapping. The 12-year-old Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay member wanted to show his mother what he had cooked that day as part of a five-week cooking course at the Epicurean Hotel.
Luis is among 20 members from the West Tampa and North Tampa clubs spending one morning a week in the luxury hotel’s cooking theater. It is designed for guests and chefs from around the world to experience wine and food pairings.
“I like it (cooking) because it’s fun,” Luis said. “I’ve made hot dogs and other stuff before.”
On a recent Monday, the students prepared gourmet ramen noodles with fresh greens, sliced chicken, a boiled egg and a variety of sauces. Mexi Melt and beef pot pie were planned for other classes, all taught by Chef Max Sherard, of the hotel.
Sherard said, “This is totally different than teaching adults. With their skill level, it is more step-by-step.”
However, the experience is gratifying, he said.
“Just seeing their faces and knowing they a have a good dish they can prepare,” he said.
The cooking class is a partnership between the hotel, the Boys & Girls Clubs and Where Love Grows foundation, founded by Vicki Anzalone.
Her foundation stresses the importance of families and includes a program, Victoria’s Good Eating, where families in need receive a home-cooked meal and spend time eating together and sharing.
“We have served over 3,000 meals and we felt we needed to take it to the next level,” Anzalone said.
She met with Epicurean management and arranged the cooking classes, where teams of students and an adult prepare the dishes, which are suitable to be prepared by students at home.
Many of the participants already take part in cooking because they enjoy it or they need to help with parents working.
Destinee Allen, 12, said, “It’s fun. I do it all the time.”
Tom Haines is general manager of the Epicurean, which opened in December at 1207 S. Howard Ave. and is owned by David and Chrisi Laxer. His father, Bern Laxer, founded Bern’s Steak House.
“This is a reflection of what we do,” Haines said. “Bern Laxer built into our philosophy food, wine and education. This is a way for the students to learn about proper nutrition, cook and have some fun.”