Sweetwater Center for the Arts is known for its hands-on learning with less traditional classes like metalsmithing and drawing and the human form, as well as trending favorites like ceramics and jewelry making.
While the creative hub in Sewickley has housed a fully equipped kitchen, it had been used more for birthday parties and small gatherings until new executive director Christine Brondyke decided to incorporate unique culinary experiences to broaden the class spectrum.
“Subject matter experts are the doers of a particular craft, and they are the ones leading our unique classes, so culinary should be no different,” Brondyke said. “We also didn’t want just a typical culinary experience, so we went all in with different age groups, themes and practicality.”
Sweetwater has tapped Sewickley native Andrew Alvarez to teach one of the unique classes like Thanksgiving 101, and he has his sights set on a cooking for pets’ class, eventually. For now, he will settle for a steak, pasta or pierogi night, date night, or even a Tacos Y Salsa session, all best suited for approximately eight students.
“Every chef has a wheelhouse, plus I am always watching my students,” said Alvarez, who has been a culinary teacher in Pittsburgh and other cities. “These classes are designed to see people develop, to wonder how to approach a cooking step, or figure out what to do if the outcome wasn’t successful.”
Alvarez sees Sewickley as family-oriented, community-driven, and he sees the kitchen as a vehicle for cultural connection.
“Good food is the center point of any gathering,” he said. “I want to make sure I am respecting the cultures as well by something as simple as keeping habaneros in the salsa recipe if it is meant to be spicy.”
While Alvarez’s work portfolio includes high end restaurants, his cooking passion is open fire grilling with logs for that flavor release that traditional ovens don’t often provide. That knowledge, uniqueness and relatability made him the perfect host for the high school ‘how to’ on Saturdays, as well as for the foods of culture classes starting at the end of the month.
“Foods of the Philippines/Guam will feature specialties I have grown accustomed to, like grilled eggplant,” he said. “These are entrees that at first glance are different.”
The Food of Korea specialty dish will be the Budae Jjigae, better known as Army Stew, a recipe that features spam, beans and government cheese.
“This is indicative of Korea’s economic disparity during the war,” he said. “All food has a story.”
For more information or to register for culinary classes, visit sweetwaterartcenter.org.