Ginger Howell describes herself as “eighty-f’in-years old.” Except she uses the real f-word, not the euphemism. This feisty woman in her 80s has been teaching people how to cook from her Pittsford kitchen since the 1970s. The Seasonal Kitchen, as it’s called, will soon be celebrating 40 years of educating people (and feeding them) and Ginger still teaches classes at least once per month – sometimes more.
She started by herself, with some friends as customers and lots of connections in the culinary world to help her secure prominent guest chefs and secret recipes. Jeff “Cooter” Coon, former head chef for the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (until his passing in 2013) was a frequent instructor. So is former Wegmans’ recipe development specialist, Nella Neeck; Michel Neumann of the Chantecleer restaurant in Manchester, Vermot; Executive Chef Joel Kraft of Lackmann Culinary Services who is in charge of St. John Fisher’s entire culinary experience from student cafeterias to presidential soirées; and even her daughter Holly Howell, a certified sommelier, gets involved to add wine parings and wine tasting classes.
Not many cooking classes have been in the same modest kitchen for 40 years and still fill up with every class. Sign-up sheets get passed around with every class (that’s right, no Eventbrite) and if you aren’t there to sign up for the next class, you likely forfeit your spot until someone calls in sick. Ginger used to run the classes by herself. After a while, Dick, her husband, joined in and for a while, most people called it “The Dick and Ginger Show.” Unfortunately, Dick passed away in 2015, but his spirit lives on and Ginger is still teaching classes.
The lesson to learn here is that we don’t always need to have the best location, the greatest equipment, the finest marketing, the latest technology, or even the freshest ideas. We just need word of mouth, a comfortable chair to sit in for a couple hours, fresh foods, and an experience to share with people. Experiential services are high on people’s wish lists for gift ideas, and we remember those things a lot longer than we remember yet another gizmo that we got from someone a few years ago.
I’ve learned a lot by going to Ginger’s classes. First, always start with sharp knives. Second, never skimp on food quality. And lastly, never underestimate the power of customers who consistently fill up your spots, consume (literally) what you are selling and tell all their friends what a great time they had.
If you’d like to attend a Seasonal Kitchen class and see if you can get on the list, contact information is available at http://www.seasonal-kitchen.com/contact_us.htm.