Vera Samuels – or "Chef Vera" – is animated when she talks about food. You can practically see the gears turn in her mind, her hands moving with her words, as she describes recipe options for any ingredient you mention. She wants to help people learn how to make easy, quick meals using fresh, local ingredients, which in turn will help them lead healthier lives. In April the town of Davidson and Wooden Stone Gallery, which showcases everything from furniture and pottery to kitchenware, partnered with Samuels in this endeavor. Each month Samuels—sometimes using ingredients from the Davidson Farmer's Market—teaches 12 students how to prepare meals based on a particular theme. This month the class will learn how to make Spanish-style tapas. June's theme is "Fresh from the Farmer's Market." During each 2 1/2-hour class, students prepare five to six dishes. "We're doing it once a month right now," says Rebecca Collins, the director at Wooden Stone Gallery. "But, if we have a really good response, it's something we'd like to do more often." The 5,000-square-foot store located on Davidson’s South Main Street has a gourmet kitchen and offers a variety of goods made by more than 600 artisans in the Carolinas, including a wide-assortment of kitchen tools, accessories and decorations. It's also one of the Davidson Farmer's Market's primary sponsors. Now, Collins has found a way to take that sponsorship one step further. "We've always had this kitchen, and we wanted to utilize it, and to do things for the community," she says. “In the past, the kitchen had been used for demonstrations, but now the kitchen will be open to the public.” In addition to cooking instructions, the classes, held on the last Sunday of each month, include a glass of wine from a local vineyard, chosen by Samuels, to complement the meal prepared. "The entire kitchen will be equipped with everything you'd find in your own kitchen," says Samuels, so there's no need to bring anything but yourself to class. According to Colleen Whalen, recreation program director for Davidson's Parks and Recreation Department, the town was looking for a way to partner with the Davidson Farmer’s Market when she ran into Samuels there one Saturday morning. To Whalen, the opportunity for the city to partner with a local business is a bonus. Bonnie Davidson says she was attracted to the class by the eclectic menu items which include offerings such as penne with zucchini, squash, fresh herbs and lemon zest; Greek-style panzanella; roast pork tenderloin with rosemary and blueberries; and eggplant with heirloom tomato. "They were all items I'd never made before," says Davidson, who plans to sign up for multiple classes. "I'm also looking forward to learning some new techniques." Samuels, who is married and the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, moved to the Lake Norman area from New York City in 2003. She used to work as an accountant, but after the Great Recession, she decided to find a way to turn her love of food and her desire to share what she knows about it, into a business. Samuels enrolled at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte where she earned an associate's degree. She has been working as a personal chef since graduation, but also loves to teach other people how to cook. Samuels also conducts cooking demonstrations once a month for the farmer's market, where she gathers ingredients from the farmers' tables, prepares a meal and offers patrons a sample. She says classes like the ones at Wooden Stone Gallery are abundant in the Big Apple, and she's glad to be bringing them to Davidson. "I'm trying to find my niche as a teacher of the everyday cook who enjoys a good meal," she says. "Cooking and eating is a daily occurrence. I want people to enjoy it.”
Want to go?
Where: Wooden Stone Gallery, 445 South Main St., Davidson
When: May 29 (classes are the last Sunday of the month).
Register: go to www.d-Recs.org or call 704 892-3349.