Culinary twist: Local event planner, Cleveland's top chefs host online cooking classes for charity

With nearly 20 years of event planning experience as owner of aza events, Amy Pappas began to see her business grinding to a halt during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Back in the spring, with COVID-19, all my events got cancelled or postponed to next year,” she says. “I thought, ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to do.’”

Pappas started thinking about all of the events she has organized over the years—Taste of Tremont, Ohio City Food Festival, and countless corporate and private events—and then thought of the local chefs, restauranteurs, and food entrepreneurs she knows who are also facing tough times—Doug Katz, Bridget Thibeault, Rocco Whalen, and Karen Small, for example.

At a time when the restaurant industry was suffering from the shutdown, and both public and private events were canceled, Pappas tapped into her own entrepreneurial spirit. In June she started Chase the Flavor Zoom cooking classes.

Chase the Flavor offers donation-based classes with area chefs, step-by-step instruction, and a chance to virtually socialize—all from the comfort of home. The chefs choose the meals and a charity they want to support (ticket prices go directly to that charity).

“Since we are all living in a different world right now and spending more time at home than we may like, why not cook together, learn something new and share a meal with each other,” asks Pappas. “I was looking for something to do right now. The whole premise of food is to bring people together, and if we’re all online cooking together, it creates a sense of community.”

Participants sign up for the class, and are given the recipe “well in advance” of the class. They buy the ingredients either independently or as a kit from the host chef or restaurant before the Zoom gathering.

Participants then log into Zoom at a set time and the host takes them through cooking a meal, a tasting, or other demonstration. “Some people are cooking alongside the chef, other people are just watching it,” says Pappas. “There’s a wide spectrum of what they’re doing and what they want to get out of it.”

Pappas says participants are muted during the demo but can ask questions through the messaging function, with Pappas serving as moderator. “It’s been really fun,” she says.

The classes began in June with Doug Katz, owner of Zhug and Chimi, followed by classes with Flying Fig owner Karen Small; EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute founder Brandon Chrostowski; and Luna Bakery Cafe owner Bridget Thibeault—just to name a few.

The food entrepreneurs have lined up to host the classes and raise money for their favorite charities, which include organizations like Refugee Response, A Special Wish, Tri-C Hospitality Management Program, Ohio Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, and the Animal Protective League.

The classes have been so popular—Pappas says registrations range between 14 and 81 people per class—that she is now expanding to corporate clients for team building or client appreciation events. “Overall, it’s been well-received,” she says. “I’m getting a good audience.”

The Chase the Flavor classes are continuing into the fall. Tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m., The Olive Scene is hosting an olive oil tasting to benefit Soul to Sole. Other upcoming events include:

Suggested donations vary by event. For tickets and more information, go to the Chase the Flavor Facebook page.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.