Written by George Pangburn. Photo by Vivian Marcoccio

So, do you like to cook? Or how about bake? Maybe you just enjoy watching the Food Channel or the Cooking Channel. If so, you might just be interested in one of the University of Richmond’s gems—the Center for Culinary Arts located in the Gayton Crossing Shopping Center. Recently, we sat down at the Center with Program Manager Martin Gravely, along with Program Coordinator Tom Parfitt, for a chat about what they do and how they do it.

The Center got its start in the late 1990s by offering informal cooking classes, generally taught by local guest chefs in church kitchens or other venues. Demand for these classes grew each year until 2004 when there was enough interest to justify a structured program of classes that would lead to a certificate in Culinary Arts. As in earlier years, these classes were held in various places around Richmond, which presented a challenge, especially with the increased demand. By 2008, there were more than 1,000 enrollments (an enrollment being one student attending one class) in the various classes being offered.

This growing demand necessitated a dedicated space, and in 2008, the Center opened its 2,150 square foot, state-of-the-art facility. The Center is complete with cooking and instructional space, table space to seat about 40 persons, as well as space for offices, food storage, and refrigeration. It is a comfortable layout with enough room for clear observation of the cooking demonstrations and for mingling about during and after meals.

The Center’s certificate offerings have grown to include Baking and Pastry Arts (2009), Nutrition and Food Science (2012), and Food Service Management (2013). Graduates with these certificates have been well received in the Greater Richmond hotel and restaurant community, according to Gravely. Overall enrollments have expanded to more than 2,500, and about 45 certificates were granted in 2013. Many, if not most of the enrollments include persons who are not pursuing a certificate, but rather are food hobbyists. They attend food demonstrations (which involve observation, hands-on cooking, eating, and evaluation), lectures, and food- and beverage-related excursions in Richmond and beyond. Recent and upcoming open enrollment classes include American Regional Cooking, Flavors of the Southern Mediterranean, and French Country Cooking. About 275 classes or events were held at the Center last year.

You should check out the Center’s class offerings at their website at spcs.richmond.edu/culinary or contact them at (804) 422-COOK. But act quickly as many of their classes fill up fast, especially the Wine and Dine offerings, which are favorites with the UR faculty and staff.