Destination: Door County, Wis.

Janice Thomas shares a story in her kitchen, Photo: Mary Lu Laffey

Door County has a reputation as a haven for painters, potters and performers. The Wisconsin peninsula's communities share a surfeit of talent on the 70-mile peninsula between the Great Lake Michigan and the waters of Green Bay. Last count there were 100 galleries, museums and performing arts troupes and venues.

If Janice Thomas has anything to say about it, that lure list will expand to include cooking. Dining at the Door is always a yummy experience, but taking a bit of the Door home to your kitchen? Why not? Be it recipes, which Thomas shares plenty, or local products, your entertaining arsenal expands exponentially after spending time at the Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay.

Cherry dishes were on the menu the day I found myself walking up the steps at the former Old Ellison Bay Schoolhouse, circa 1877. Inside, Thomas and her husband, Michael, had transformed the two-room school into a state-of-the-art kitchen with the tools and gadgets only culinary students dream about. Colanders of fresh cherries gleamed from the cooking island along with a few quarts of blueberries and raspberries. Door County is among the top cherry producing regions in the country, with more than 2,500 acres of cherry orchards. The trees bloom in mid to late May, with cherries ready for picking in mid-July and into August.

Thomas warmly greets us in her double-breasted chef's jacket and white apron; the class slips into embroidered Savory Spoon yellow aprons, nearly a color match for the pale yellow walls that are trimmed with painted white woodwork.

Creating memories


Thomas established the Savory Spoon Cooking School in 2004 and is known for her personal approach to cooking and creating memories with every meal. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Women Chefs of America, she has over 25 years of experience in the food industry and has taught cooking classes throughout the United States. Studies at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and with notable chefs in Provence, France and in Mexico have enhanced her repertoire. As class begins, we are all ears.

Following her soft-spoken directions, gestures and cajoling, we listen, laugh, gets our hands dusty with flour, rinse and clean, bake and wait, then sip and taste. In the end, we will have indulged in a cherry liqueur, prepared jars of sweet and sour cherries with bay leaves and, three hours later, we will leave with loads of ideas, a terrific vacation memory and a freshly baked blueberry tartlet to call our own.

The majority of the classes at Savory Spoon are hands on, like ours. Each class is 2 1/2 – 3 hours with 12-16 students. Although most culminate in a meal that is prepared in class ours did not. For those that register for a meal-class, while the class cooks, assistants set a communal table with French linens and fresh flowers. A full wine selection from the school's cellars is available for purchase, by the glass or bottle, to share over the meal.

Guest chefs

Although Chef Thomas conducts most of the classes, Savory Spoon does feature guest chefs. It's a place, she says, for people who are passionate about food, as a peek at two of her September classes attest.

A visiting chef is scheduled to lead the preparation and meal service of "Cooking with Craft Beer" at 6 p.m. Sept. 17. Cost is $65. Menu? Lager-steamed mussels with kielbasa, roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts with brown ale vinaigrette, porter barbecue sauce beef sliders with whiskey caramelized onions, stout waffles with ice cream and stout caramel sauce, and warm brie with beer-infused dried fruit and caramelized nuts.

Another guest chef demonstrates and hosts the "Lunch and Learn Autumn Feast" at noon Sept. 22. Cost is $40. The menu boasts an autumn salad of roasted beets, butternut squash and fresh greens with pumpkin seed vinaigrette, farro risotto with corn, wild mushrooms and chicken, and cinnamon panna cotta with brandy snap.

Thomas has several culinary tours planned for 2017. When she isn't in Door County, find her with fellow foodies on a food journey to Sayulita, Mexico in late January; Sicily, Italy for a Taste of the Island in May; Gascony, France's A Foodie's Paradise, also in May; and dates are pending for a Taste of China tour in the Yunnan Province.


Readying cherries for Sweet and Sour Cherries with Bay Leaves recipe. Photo: Mary Lu Laffey

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