When COVID-19 shut down the museums and restaurants in University Circle this past spring, Chris Ronayne jumped into action. As president of University Circle, Inc.(UCI), it was his mission to support the institutions and businesses that make the area Cleveland’s cultural center.
“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I asked my staff, “how do we stay relevant and connected?’ and they stepped up,” Ronayne recalls. He says that when it became evident that the popular annual summer series Wade Oval Wednesdays wasn’t going to happen this year, they pivoted.
The UCI team quickly came up with Circle Connects—a series of online and interactive family-friendly activities.
While Ronayne says activities like Shape Up in the Circle—livestreamed 30-minute workouts from different locations around the Circle that can be done at home, or Circle the Circle, outdoor activities that can be one while social distancing, one of the most popular classes of the summer has been the Circle Food Tour, in which six University Circle chefs livestream cooking classes.
“The genesis of this six-part series is really a quest to stay connected in this community with arts and culinary culture, and it gives people an experience,” explains Ronayne.
The classes are streamed live at 6 p.m. through UCI’s YouTube Channel or its Facebook page. Participants can choose to register and pay for meal kits with all the ingredients needed, or get the upcoming recipe on Friday before the class, shop on their own, and watch the livestream for free. Other than the cost of the meal kits, the classes are free, thanks to PNC Bank.
The Circle Food tour kicked off on Sunday, July 12 with chef Zach Bruell of L’Albatros teaching how to make root vegetable risotto with pulled chicken; followed by chef Seth Bromberg of Kantina on Sunday, July 23, making kosher chimichurri chicken breast with Mediterranean couscous.
And this coming Sunday, Aug. 9, chef Brandon Chrostowski of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute will lead participants through making Mediterranean rubbed skirt steak with summer vegetables en papillote. A fresh nutcake for dessert will be supplied if participants buy the meal kit through EDWINS.
On Sunday, Aug. 23 chef Tiwanna Williams of Pearlflower Catering will make Cajun Shrimp and Grits—Creamy buttered stone ground grits with Cajun spiced shrimp, spicy andouille, peppers, and onions in a Cajun cream sauce garnished with cheese, bacon, and scallions.
On Sunday, Sept. 6, pastry chef Kevin Shlappal of The Coffee House at University Circle will make French macarons. If the meal kit in purchased, it will also include a $25 gift card to The Coffee House and a one-pound bag of coffee beans.
Rounding out the season, chef Doug Katz, chef of Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art, among other area restaurants, will demonstrate grilled Peruvian chicken with aji sauce, cucumber, green onion; basmati Rice with annatto, sofrito, and lentils; and Mexican spiced brownie.
Ronayne says the meal kits are available at the restaurant leading the demonstration each week. The recipes are available for free download each Friday before the stream on Sunday. Recipes from past demonstrations are available at any time. To register to pay for and pick up the meal kits click here.
“This is not only a way to engage with our community, but also remind the community that these restaurants are still out here,” says Ronayne.