Cooking class provides extraordinary culinary experience

Most UM students think of the Herbert Wellness Center as a place to work on their fitness, whether by logging miles on the treadmill, hitting the weight room, or dancing through a Zumba class. But on ocassional evenings, a group of amateur chefs take advantage of an under-utilized offering at the gym: a gourmet cooking class.

Tucked away behind the Sales Office, the Wellness Center has its own fully outfitted instructional kitchen, which houses these culinary classes on a weeknight every few weeks. Over the course of the two-hour class, students are divided into groups and work together to make an assortment of themed recipes by julienning, roasting, blending, juicing, and so forth.

On the menu for a recent class, entitled “Summer’s Bounty”, was a trio of salads: spicy roasted corn and Feta, Thai green papaya and mango with cilantro dressing, and lentils with Kalamata olives and fresh mint.

The evening was taught and supervised by Chef Mercedes Varela-Mendez. Students learned more from her than merely the steps of the recipe. During “Summer’s Bounty”, she demonstrated how best to slice basil, the difference between store-bought and fresh-ground pepper, and the importance of sharpening kitchen knives. Under her watchful gaze, even the most inept cooking novice will not only have a fun time but also learn a vast amount in just the short two-hour duration.

At the end of the night, students don’t just get to admire their culinary creations.The class concludes with a family-style dinner where everyone can savor the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

There are five more classes throughout the semester, including vegetarian, Spanish, Thanksgiving and French menus. Next up on Oct. 1 is a night of distinct Miami flavor with Cuban dishes.

Classes are $20 for gym members. Interested participants can sign up in person at the Sales Office, by phone at 305-284-5433, or online at

Feature photo courtesy of University Communications/University of Miami.