Food Column: A 'diva chef' finds joy in teaching others

Apparently "Hell's Kitchen" is nothing compared with a roomful of teenagers.

Ward Home, which serves young people ages 16 to 21 who have lived in the foster system since childhood, operates independent and supervised living facilities in Friendship, Wilkinsburg and East McKeesport. The facilities serve as "life skills" training centers where residents learn skills they'll need as they age out of the foster system.

One of the most fundamental skills they'll need, of course, is cooking.

That's where Elise Wims comes in.


The Swissvale resident and former "Hell's Kitchen" contestant, who now owns a consulting business teaching people to cook, has been teaching about 10 Ward Home residents in a basic cooking workshop once a week for the past month.

It was a tad hairy in the beginning.

"The first week was a disaster," she said, laughing. "They ruined batch after batch of bread."

Ms. Wims' slogan for her business is "I can teach anyone to cook," but she said she started to have second thoughts about that.

Perhaps bread wasn't the best thing to start out with -- not exactly Cooking 101.

"I always thought bread was so easy," she said. "I guess not, for people who don't have culinary training." So it sounds like both students and teacher had something to learn.

The inaugural group also managed to turn on all the stove burners, filling the room with gas fumes (but did not light a flame).

Nonetheless, they've come a long way in just a month. The group has now learned to bake bread, chop salads and cook vegetables properly, and make homemade marinara sauce. At the culmination of the workshop, the students -- with Ms. Wims supervising -- will prepare a dinner for Ward Home staff, board members and donors on June 25. The menu will include homemade bread with honey butter, seasonal mixed vegetables with herb butter, tossed salad with vinaigrette, and pasta with vegetarian marinara or meat sauce.

There may be budding chefs in the mix; Ms. Wims says a couple of her students seem very enthusiastic about cooking.

Ms. Wims said she hopes she has given the teens "something to inspire them."

For information about Ms. Wims: For information about Ward Home:

Charitable events

Salsita: Pittsburgh's only Spanish immersion preschool/kindergarten, La Escuelita Arcoiris, holds a Spanish-themed fundraising party with salsa dancing, live music, tapas, artisan drinks, a salsa dancing contest and silent auction. 7 p.m. Saturday at Pittsburgh Opera, Strip District. Tickets are $40 each for general admission from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. or $75 with admission to the VIP pre-party from 7 to 9 p.m.

Hope Hospice Wine & Charity Summer Soiree: Wine and food tastings, live music, art auction and meet-and-greet with Sheila Hyland. 4 to 6 p.m. June 24 at Alpaca de Moda at Sunset Hills Farm Alpacas, Butler. Two tickets for $250. Reservations: 412-367-3685.

The Chamber Food and Wine Classic: "The Chocolate Chamber," a decadent dessert den, will cap off this food-and-wine evening featuring nibbles from more than a dozen restaurants plus 16 wines. 5:30 p.m. June 26 at Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center, Ross. $40 per person in advance or $50 at the door. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Evergreen fire department.


Greek Food Festival: The 40th continues today through Saturday at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, 123 Gilkeson Road, Mt. Lebanon. Lamb shanks, spanokopita, tiropita, pastitso and other favorites. Lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner is 4:30 to 9 p.m.; takeout (412-854-6001) is 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Another Greek Food Festival: Variety of Greek entrees, a la carte items and pastries, plus Greek gifts and religious items for sale. 5 to 11 p.m. June 22, 4 to 11 p.m. June 23 and 2 to 11 p.m. June 24 at Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church, Oakmont.

Brew tour

Pittsburgh Brewversity: Meet up at Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville, for a four-hour guided tour of microbreweries and brewpubs with games along the way. 2 p.m. June 23. $75 per person includes food and beer samples and tours. 412-303-0566.

Grand opening

Party on the Porch: The Porch at Schenley in Oakland holds a grand opening celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. today. A free wine tasting (three-glass limit) will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., and a pig roast from 5 to 9 p.m. ($21 per plate) will feature local pork smoked for 10 hours, plus burgers, hot dogs and homemade fennel pear sausage sandwiches.

'Burgh e-cookbooks

Pittsburgh native Mark Bentz, now an Alabaman, has released his third e-cookbook of Pittsburgh foods, "Sauces and Side Dishes." To preview the book or order copies, go to His previous cookbooks were titled "Appetizers and Soups" and "Tailgating Specials."

Chicken coop tour

The second "Chicks-in-the-Hood" Pittsburgh Urban Chicken Coop Tour moves around the city's North Side and East End, including on two guided bike tours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Urban chicken farmers will be on hand at each location to discuss the how-to's of chicken keeping. Tickets are $10 (kids are free) and get you a map booklet and a collectible pin; all proceeds will be donated to Grow Pittsburgh. Get tickets that day at The Quiet Storm, Tazza D'Oro, Animal Nature, Thompson 0.80 Acres and Choderwood. Or contact Jody Noble-Choder at

Rebecca Sodergren:


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