When State College moms Susan McWhirter and Lucy Alvarez began looking for cooking classes in the area for their preteen daughters, they couldn’t find anything available on a consistent basis. Seeing a void, they decided it was one they could fill themselves.
In her research, McWhirter came across Taste Buds Kitchen, a decade-old company started in New York City, franchised in eight locations. She visited the New York location and, as she says, “fell in love with it and just knew State College would really benefit from something like this.”
“What I loved about Taste Buds Kitchen was, not only does it have the kids component ... but it also has a number of offerings for adults, too,” McWhirter said. “They refer to us as a kid's kitchen by day and adult's kitchen by night. We offer classes and workshops for kids as young as 2 years old, up to adults. So we really have offerings for everybody. We do kids workshops, family workshops, adult workshops. We offer private events for either kids, adults or corporations.”
When McWhirter and Alvarez pitched the idea of a State College franchise to the Taste Buds brand, McWhirter said the company loved the demographics in the area.
"Not only do we have young professionals, families (and) retirees ... there’s (a) whole other piece which we’re just starting to touch on, which is the college population," she said. "I get calls all the time from parents whose children go to college here and they say, can I get a gift card so I can send my son or daughter, so they can learn how to cook?”
The State College location opened recently at 331 Benner Pike.
McWhirter and Alvarez quickly established a team of eight employees, with a mix of culinary and instructional backgrounds. Individuals known as “hosts” demonstrate recipes for participants to follow along at their own work stations, executing what’s demonstrated before getting a chance to chow down. The co-owners themselves don’t boast backgrounds in the culinary arts, but that’s hardly a problem — all of Taste Buds Kitchens’ recipes are created with ease for the average home cook in mind.
Toddlers can carry out the simple instructions, as they do in the 2- to 5-year-old workshop held Saturday mornings.
“It’s a chance for the child to … (be) the chef,” McWhirter said. “They’re the participant sitting at the table. The caregiver sits right behind them as their sous chef and assistant to them. They make a wide variety of different things."
A recent special promotion featured Pixar-inspired cupcakes, and there have been seasonal desserts around Easter and Earth Day.
“We give them the full experience," she said. "They’re working with all the ingredients they’re going to need in order to make whatever it is that’s on the menu for that day. ...It’s a really sweet class, I love it.”
The class is one of the location’s most popular, though popularity is hardly an issue at the new business thus far.
“When we first opened, we started with a grand opening promotion for our whole first month. We sold out of almost all of our classes in the first week or two, so it was really an overwhelming response, which was just great,” McWhirter said. “We’re seeing a huge interest, particularly in our weekend classes."
McWhirter’s favorite workshop is the family class for ages 9 and older. The kids work on three or four different recipes and then have a chance to try what they've created.
“The parents are excited to watch to see what the kids are capable of doing. The kids are excited because they actually get to enjoy eating this wonderful food they’ve made and then they’re able to make it at home, too," McWhirter said. "They’re always very surprised at things they can do, when they learn to roll sushi or learn how to make fresh pasta and realize these are things they can do at home. ...It’s nice to see them getting inspired in another venue, here, through cooking.”
In the coming months, Taste Buds Kitchen is looking to partner with local farms and farmers markets, and potentially wineries and breweries for the Cooking with Wine and Cooking with Beer classes. Additionally, the studio runs 10 weeks’ worth of summer camp, with registration now open.
For more information, visit tastebudskitchen.com/statecollege.