BY BARB BERGGOETZ
To Jan Bulla-Baker, cooking is more than bringing together the best ingredients to create a succulent dish.
All of that is important to the co-owner of the Bloomington Cooking School, but she says cooking can also create a sense of community with friends, family, and even people who have just met.
“It’s kind of like a communion over food,” says the former English teacher turned businesswoman who is known for her truffles.
Bulla-Baker and the chefs she recruits share their expertise and affinity for cooking with people who take classes on everything from soups, appetizers, and truffles to pasta, salads, and international cuisines. Two-hour classes, with about 12 students in each, are offered at the school’s state-of-the-art kitchen in Uptown Plaza, 115 N. College, on the downtown Square.
Dedaimia Whitney, who taught at Franklin College, has taken at least 10 classes since retiring three years ago and moving to Bloomington. She says she loves the hands-on experience, as well as learning about cultures and food from countries like Armenia. “The Cooking School helps me widen my repertoire,” says Whitney. “You always learn something new.”
Bulla-Baker wants the classes to encourage creativity, through trying new ingredients and new ways of preparing food. “Some of the best food I’ve made comes from leftovers,” says Bulla-Baker, a self-taught chef.
After running the Chocolate Factory for three years in a video store here, she started the school in 2001 with two partners. Her remaining co-owner, Matt O’Neill, has been on sabbatical for two years setting up a restaurant out of town, so she has been running the growing business on her own. It attracts some 600 people annually. Her husband, Jack Baker, who is retired from Indiana University’s chemistry department, is a 20-year wine collector and shares his knowledge in wine classes at the Cooking School.
Some classes are geared toward experienced cooks, while others are for novices. Bulla-Baker also provides private classes for families. She wants those attending classes to bond over cooking and share what they learn at home.
“People email me and say a certain dish is ‘my go-to recipe,’” she says. “That’s rewarding.” Nancy Seitz, who has taken several classes each year for four years, appreciates the sense of community Bulla-Baker creates.
“I respect her for her vast knowledge of different kinds of cultures and cooking techniques,” says Seitz, who especially loves the pasta class. “It’s easy to get hooked.”