Event Review (and Interview): TOPS Markets – Cooking School Open House (Rochester, NY)


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Event Name:  TOPS Markets Cooking School Open House and Interview with Elizabeth Bauld, Manager of the Rochester, NY TOPS Cooking School
Purpose:        To showcase the TOPS Cooking School and demo recipes throughout the store
Location:        3507 Mt. Read Blvd., Rochester, NY 14616 (inside Tops International Supermarket)
When:            Saturday, January 17, 2015 from 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (also Sunday, January 18, 2015)
Cost:              Free

Event Overview

TOPS Friendly Markets invited the public to join them for their 2nd Annual Cooking School Open House, with the goal of increasing awareness of what their in-store cooking school has to offer. This year, in addition to showcasing the Cooking School, they also offered recipe demonstrations and samples in departments throughout the store. You can find their brochure of upcoming classes for Jan-March, 2015 here. Peruse a variety of children’s and adult classes, including both hands-on and demonstration formats.

The Venue

TOPS Friendly Markets is an American supermarket chain, based in Williamsville, NY, with stores in the western, central and northern regions of the state, as well as in Vermont and Pennsylvania. The TOPS Cooking School is located inside of the TOPS International Supermarket at 3507 Mt. Read Blvd. in Rochester, NY. Other locations include West Seneca, NY and Amherst, NY.

The school area is located in the southwestern corner of the store. The large room appears to hold a few dozen participants, with seating in front of a demonstration station as well as tables on wheels, which can be arranged in various configurations. The demonstration area also features a suspended mirror, so that chefs-to-be can watch the presentation live or in the mirror. With that, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  One wall of the room includes a large window, overlooking the frozen foods section of the supermarket.

Tops Cooking School Looking out to Store, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Looking out to the frozen foods section of the store, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Demonstration Area, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Demonstration Area, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

The kitchen is outfitted with an abundance of equipment. Appliances include a stainless steel double-door refrigerator, double oven, gas range, commercial gas stove top, under counter freezer and over counter microwave.  In addition, the school management has access to all the commercial refrigeration and freezer equipment used throughout the supermarket (not a bad deal!).

Tops Cooking School Double Oven, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Double Oven, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Gas Range, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Gas Range, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

In addition to a plethora of appliances, the instructors and participants also have access to a bevy of gadgets, pots and pans, a grill, griddle, mixer, panini maker, etc. The inventory of kitchen items would please even the most accomplished and adventurous chef or home cook.

Interview with the Tops Cooking School Manager

I didn’t originally plan on interviewing anyone at the TOPS Cooking School Open House. I asked on a whim to talk with one of the associates. She quickly offered to get the manager. I am sure glad that I had to opportunity to speak with Elizabeth Bauld, the Manager of this cooking school location. It was so kind of her to spent almost 45 minutes with me, telling me all about the cooking school and answering my questions, especially on this busy day of the open house.

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager - The Cooking School at Tops in Rochester, NY, Courtesy: Food Ming Blog
Elizabeth Bauld, Manager – The Cooking School at Tops in Rochester, NY, Courtesy: Food Ming Blog

Ms. Bauld told me first about her background at TOPS Friendly Markets. She had been a daycare provider for 14 years, when she decided to take a class at the cooking school. During the class, she noticed a sign on the counter, advertising for a part-time associate at the school. Yearning for adult conversation again and wanting to user her self-taught cooking skills, she decided to apply.  Eleven years later, here she is as the manager, which she has done part-time for the past nine years.

She was sure to tell me that she is not a chef, but rather a self-taught home cook who is passionate about slow cookery, cake decorating and teaching children how to cook and make healthier eating choices. I knew as soon as I met her that I liked her. She has a friendly demeanor, an outgoing personality and an overall happy presence.

Shown below are the highlights of our interview, paraphrased: Bauld Quote

Food Mingle Blog: How long has this TOPS Cooking School location been open and about how many classes do you offer per week or per month?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager: It has been open for almost 20 years. Although the number of classes offered differs from week to week, we average about 2 adult classes per week and 1-2 kids classes per week.

Food Mingle Blog: What are your most popular classes and how do you decide which classes to offer?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager: The hands-on classes are more popular than the demonstration classes, and attendees don’t usually gravitate towards both – most people like one type or the other. The ‘Tea Party’ offering is usually quite popular.  We try to keep the class topics fresh, by offering classes that reflect current trends. For example, kale is very popular now; you’ll notice that one of the samples offered in the store today is for a smoothie using kale.  Sometimes, though, a class will be popular one year, but then the next year at the same time, it won’t be as well attended.

Food Mingle Blog: What types of activities do you offer for kids?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager:  We have a variety of kids classes, including day camps, birthday parties and cooking skills. We also offer tours of the grocery store, followed by instruction on how to make their own lunch, including “fish in a river” (using celery sticks) and a banana parfait.  Work towards Scouting Badges is all offered, where the 4-item menu meets the requirements of earning a badge.

Note: See the brochure to get more information on the following:  Kids’s Kitchen for Little Chefs (ages 4-7) and Junior Chefs (ages 8-18), as well as the 3-part Cooking for American Girl Series (ages 4-15), and Day Camp series for February Break (featuring Favorite Movie Week) and Spring Break (Superhero Week).

Food Mingle Blog: Tell us more about the kid’s birthday parties. A friend of mine held her daughter’s party here and she absolutely loved it! 

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager:  Children’s birthday parties are offered for two hours for $175, which includes the invitations and cooking school associates to help facilitate the event.  The kids make their own food (with assistance from the school associates) and then they have fun eating it. We do all the work for you!

Food Mingle Blog: Do you offer any type of off-site events or activities?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager: Yes, we offer several off-site events.  Classes are sometimes available at the public libraries in town, and they are FREE. In fact, on February 5th, you can attend a Slow Cooker class at the Penfield Public Library. We also travel to schools to present programs to the children in their classrooms.

Note: When I asked Elizabeth what was involved in the off-site classroom programs, she told me that she created a program called Storybook Cooks, which is composed of eight programs using story telling to engage children from kindergarten through eighth grade. She explained how children are much more likely to eat vegetables if they are involved in preparing them in a fun atmosphere. One of the Storybook Cooks program called Stone Soup, allows kids to each contribute a vegetable to a soup made with a stone. As each child adds a vegetable, the story tells how the soup becomes more and more tasty. By the end of the story, the children have created a delicious vegetable soup, which they love to eat!

Food Mingle Blog: In what other ways has the local community used the TOPS Cooking School Kitchen?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager: As a Certified Kitchen, it can be used for commercial use. For example, a two-person team of chefs once rented it to launch their catering business, until they could afford space of their own. Also, several cooking shows have been taped here, including a demo by a well-known local family who owns several area restaurants. In addition, the National Dairy Association held a Kids Cooking Camp here.

Food Mingle Blog:  Do you have a large staff?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager: We have several part-time associates and instructors. They all have a love of food and cooking.

Note: Ms. Bauld pointed to the back page of the current brochure, which lists the names and brief biographies of the instructors. Including herself, there are eight instructors including a Certified Personal Chef, a restaurant chef, an amateur bread maker, a former bar/restaurant manager, and a few self-taught home cooks.

Food Mingle Blog:  There are other local establishments which offer cooking classes and demonstrations. What sets the TOPS Cooking School apart from the competition?

Elizabeth Bauld, Manager:  We do our best to keep our classes and demonstrations affordable, fun and relevant.  We cater to the ordinary person, who is a home cook. Attending one of our classes can be like both “dinner and a show!”.  It’s more of a casual night out with your friends.  It’s a nice alternative to going out to dinner.

Food Demonstrations and Samples

Tops Cooking School Bacon-Wrapped Tater Tots, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Cooking School Bacon-Wrapped Tater Tot Bombs, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

After meeting with Ms. Bauld, I decided to get my weekly shopping done and sample some of the open house food offerings.

Just outside the door to the school, I came upon a sample cart. The friendly demonstrator showed me how she prepared the Bacon-wrapped Tater Tot Bombs, which I gladly sampled.  She started by cutting the bacon in half, first lengthwise, then along the width, to get four pieces per slice.  Then she wrapped the cut bacon around one frozen tater tot and one 1/4″ square piece of sharp cheddar cheese. Then, she rolled it in brown sugar. Finally, she secured it with a tooth pick and baked it for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees. Parsley garnish is optional. I had to try another, just to make sure that I really did like them. Now, there’s a great idea for a super bowl party snack idea.

In the produce department, I was greeted by a friendly employee who showed me how to make a Cherry Berry Kale and Ginger Smoothie.  I was a little hesitant at first, but I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth and fruity flavor. Here is the recipe:

Mix together the following in a blender and enjoy immediately:

1 cup frozen cherries, 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup washed kale, 1/8 cup walnuts, 1 tsp. wheat germ, 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger and 3/4 cup green tea.

Raspberry, Kale and Ginger Smoothie from Tops Cooking School, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Cherry Berry Kale and Ginger Smoothie from Tops Cooking School, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

My journey through this happy place of free and tasty food samples continued as I strolled into the seafood department. The Imitation Crab Dip demonstration cart was strangely desolate. However, there was one sample sitting sadly by itself. I decided against tasting the sample. I did however, snap a photo because it looked rather tasty.

Tops Imitation Crab Dip, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Imitation Crab Dip, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Bruschetta, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Tops Easy Bruschetta, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Just a few feet away, closer to the prepared foods department, I spied another demonstration cart. This time, Easy Bruschetta was on the menu. The demonstrator quickly apologized for the lack of a French baguette. She explained that they ran out of it, and decided to substitute crackers instead. That’s different, I thought to myself. Still, I indulged in a sample and found that it was prepared with all the usual suspects: tasty tomatoes, minced garlic, dried oregano, salt, extra virgin olive oil and shaved, fresh Parmesan cheese. It wasn’t an overly exciting morsel, but it was satisfying and understandably expected. Sometimes, you just want a familiar bite and this fits the bill perfectly.

Did You Know?

The Cooking School at TOPS is so much more than an in-store learning kitchen. Did you know that in addition to offering a variety of class for children and adults, that they cater to your cooking needs in so many other ways? Their related offerings include:

  • Children’s hands-on classes starting at age 3
  • School Break Day Camps for children
  • Birthday parties for children and adults
  • Scouting Programs for boys and girls
  • Cooking classes and educational tours to enhance school curriculum
  • Classes designated as “Your Health” (often covered in part by most local insurances companies and taught by qualified Registered dietitians.)
  • Private parties such as bridal showers, bachelorette celebrations, retirement parties, etc.
  • Corporate Team Building Events
  • Gift Certificates and adult cooking school aprons for sale (for the cook in your life who has everything!)

To register by phone, call The TOPS Cooking School in Rochester at 585-663-5449. Preregistration for all classes is recommended at least three business days in advance.

Overall Experience

I enjoyed The TOPS Cooking School Open House. Over the years, I have attended two classes there. One was a ‘Cooking with Beer‘ class (no longer offered) and the other was a ‘Pie Making’ class, complete with a variety of pie recipes. Both classes were a lot of fun and I learned some new skills.

Talking with Liz Bauld, the Manager of the TOPS Cooking School in Rochester, was the highlight of the event for me. Many thanks to her for her generosity with her time and information.  If you are interested in knowing more about the classes or holding an event there, you should definitely give her a call.

My favorite food samples were the Bacon-Wrapped Tater Tot Bombs, closely followed by the Cherry Berry Kale Ginger Smoothie.  I would definitely recommend the TOPS Cooking School for your next children’s birthday party or night out with friends. Not only will you enjoy some great food, but you’ll also be entertained.  You can find their brochure of upcoming classes for Jan-March, 2015 here.

If you go:

The Cooking School at TOPS Markets
(inside TOPS International Supermarket)
3507 Mt. Read Boulevard
Rochester, NY 14616

Phone: 585-663-5449
Fax:  585-663-5952
Website: http://www.topsmarkets.com
Email: topscookingschool@yahoo.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cooking-School-at-Tops-Rochester/159177240772816?rf=175718879116180
Twitter: @TopsMarkets

***

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2 thoughts on “Event Review (and Interview): TOPS Markets – Cooking School Open House (Rochester, NY)

  1. Andi January 29, 2015 / 4:21 pm

    Looks like time well-spent! I will most def. try the black cherry smoothie recipe!!

    Liked by 1 person

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