Since when has a cooking school looked
and felt just like home, complete with a backdoor leading to
an outdoor deck and yard? Since Joe and Diane DiMeo started planning,
designing and creating the Neighborhood Kitchen Culinary Arts
school on Court Street at Baltic Street in Cobble Hill.
Already dotted with restaurants and cafes, the DiMeos felt that the neighborhood needed something more, something eye-catching, something out of the ordinary.
"We asked ourselves, ’Why open another restaurant? Why not teach people how to cook instead?’" Diane told GO Brooklyn.
So, instead of brainstorming restaurant names, menus and ambiances, the DiMeos brought out their hammers, nails and hard hats and began chiseling away at the previous Hill Diner location.
Although "home" may be a bit of a stretch considering that there is no mail piled on these kitchen tables nor cookbooks lining countertops, the DiMeos’ planning and long hours have created a cozy, 1,000-square-foot abode for chefs, beginners and masters alike.
"The kitchen is small to allow skills to be used in the correct space," Diane said.
While she created the curriculum, Joe, an interior designer, got busy with the design. The floor is made of Italian porcelain tiles, while beige walls await photos of future culinary triumphs. Against one wall, a 10-burner double oven, a six-burner single oven and one heavy-duty convection oven are waiting to be turned on.
Against another wall, double freezers and a double refrigerator are cleaned and ready for the fresh ingredients that will soon fill them up. The only other fixtures in the cooking area are seven stainless steel tables to be used during classes. Since each class allows a maximum of 12 students, one table is left for instructor demos.
And it sure sounds like the demonstrations are going to be a real treat. With the list of classes Diane has created, the chefs-in-training might not ever want to leave the kitchen. In fact, there are so many class options that choosing favorites was almost impossible for Joe and Diane.
After some thought, Diane, who is of Korean and Iranian descent, quite fittingly chose the recreational "Korean Table" class because students "will learn how simple it is to take so few ingredients and create a sensory overload in your mouth," and the "Fusion" mini-series, a blend of French, Italian, Asian and Mediterranean cuisines. Recreational "Ole Tacos" was another favorite of Diane’s, while Joe, who is Italian and Puerto Rican, opted for the recreational classes "Rustic Tuscany" and "Cooking Like Nonna (Grandma)."
"In the old Italian heritage, there’s that sense of community and that’s what we’re all about here," said Joe. "Besides, everyone wants to learn Italian food."
And who better to teach Nonna’s recipes than Joe’s uncle, and Nonna’s son, Gene DiMeo? Gene has stood by his mother in the kitchen since he was a little boy.
"He knows the heart and soul of her recipes," said Joe. "He’s the only one who knows her secrets." Students who enroll in that class are promised some of Nonna’s secrets before they leave.
The Neighborhood Kitchen also offers 21-week professional classes in which students will learn everything from how ingredients are combined to timing in the kitchen using all types of spices, meats, fish and produce. Students will take two comprehensive exams throughout the 21 weeks and receive a certificate upon completion of the course. Externship placements are also available.
Short-series classes meet several times over the course of one to two months and include classes such as "Meals Made Simple" and "World Series-Fusion."
In couples classes, friends, partners or siblings are able to enjoy the evening lesson together. According to Joe and Diane, it is a way to make "date night" fun night. The list of recreational classes is seemingly endless, ranging from "Vietnamese Vegetarian" to "Autumn Pies."
"The schedule changes every three months," Diane said. "We base our classes on the seasons because we want the flavors to reflect the times."
Perhaps a highlight for many families will be the selection of "Kids Klasses," hands-on participation classes created especially for kids. "Kids in Asia" and "Kids Pizza" are two of the options. After learning the tricks of the trade, the children will not only leave with a wealth of knowledge, but also a chef’s hat and custom-made chef’s coats. The Neighborhood Kitchen can even schedule birthday parties.
At the back of the Neighborhood Kitchen, a door leads to a deck equipped with an outdoor, commercial char-broiler and smoker in preparation for the recreational "Grilling" class. The backyard provides the perfect setting for a barbecue, so chefs-to-be will feel right at home.
Joe and Diane have hired instructors who are able to bring a world of flavors to this familiar environment.
After 100 applicants took exams, were interviewed and gave demonstrations, the DiMeos have settled on nine professional chefs to instruct the Neighborhood Kitchen’s classes. Although most are from the New York area, some have studied in other states, while some have apprenticed in European kitchens. Diane, who said she has her culinary arts certification in classic French training, has a lengthy resume featuring stints as a teacher in the culinary arts program in Manhattan’s Project Renewal, as head chef at Galaxy Global Eatery in Union Square, as pastry chef at Le Deux Cafe in West Hollywood and as a tournant in Alan Harding’s Patois restaurant on Smith Street.
Besides the unique selection of classes offered, the handpicked instructors and the comfortable setting (in comparison to other large culinary institutes), what is even more amazing about the Neighborhood Kitchen is the chemistry between Joe and Diane.
They smile and laugh at all the same times. Each brags about the other. They finish each other’s sentences. They love to travel and eat. Often, they work on four hours of sleep. They have plans involving homeless shelters and schools. They are ready for anything and are prepared for trial and error.
"We’ve worked very hard and saved our money," Joe said. "Everything is from our piggy bank - no loan. It’s our heart and soul."
At a time when people are cooking less and eating out more, the DiMeos are bringing joy and fun back to the kitchen.
Said Diane, "Life begins and ends with cooking well and eating well."
The Neighborhood Kitchen Culinary Arts
at 231 Court St. at Baltic Street in Cobble Hill, will open on
Sept. 7 for classes. There will be an open house on Aug. 24 at
7:30 pm featuring chef demonstrations, wine pairing, food and
Professional classes are $5,000 for 21 weeks. Short-series are $500 per series, per person. Couples classes are $250 per couple. "Kids klasses" are $100 per child (ages 4 -10), per class, and $150 with a parent. Recreational classes are $150 per person, per class, and $250 per couple. Cash, personal checks, American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa are all accepted. Call (718) 246-2433 for information regarding early registration discounts. For a detailed description of classes, including dates, times and prices, visit www.neighb