CRESTVIEW — Organizers of the city’s first Taste of Home Cooking School were pleased with the event’s attendance and promised Tuesday’s event would be the first of more to come. Sponsored by WAAZ/WJSB radio and the GFWC Woman’s Club of Crestview, the school and accompanying vendor showcase drew an estimated 700 attendees.
“The turnout is unbelievable,” the radio stations’ general sales manager, Cal Zethmayr, said.
Overflow required the city Parks and Recreation staff to dash over to Warriors Hall to fetch more chairs for the Crestview Community Center. The 60 VIP tickets, which included a private reception with Chef Michelle “Red” Roberts, sold out within a week of going on sale, Zethmayr said.
As Roberts visited with VIP ticket holders, other attendees formed a giant queue that snaked past exhibitors’ tables at the hall’s rear, signing up for door prizes that included cookbooks, airline tickets, day spa packages, body wraps and kitchen appliances. Vendors and organizations offered wine tastings as well as baked goods and jewelry for sale.
“We support our community and try to help any way we can,” Winn-Dixie floral department manager Jenny Bettis said as she displayed autumn-themed table arrangements.
However, Roberts, Taste of Home magazine’s celebrity chef and senior culinary specialist, and her recipes grabbed the spotlight. Many audience members had seen Roberts’ demonstrations during Taste of Home Cooking School programs in DeFuniak Springs, where the program has been presented for 18 years.
“Taste of Home is a well-known national brand,” Roberts said. “A lot of people here tonight have seen our show in DeFuniak Springs and came to see us again.”
Though the national magazine is proud to offer “recipes from families just like yours,” some audience members said they were just there for the evening’s entertainment.
“I cooked for 57 years so I quit cooking,” Beach Campbell, of Crestview, said. “I came to see someone else do the cooking.”
Sarah Myers, Campbell’s daughter, wasn’t sure if she’d tackle any of the recipes presented during the evening.
“Somebody needs to teach me to cook, but at my age, I don’t know if I’ll learn anything,” Myers said. “My husband does all the cooking. I should’ve sent him here.”
“I’m already a pretty good cook, but my wife and sister wanted to come tonight,” Baker resident Roger O’Neal said.
Long-time Crestview resident Billye Carter joked that she could probably teach Roberts a thing or two after decades of preparing local country cuisine for her own family.
“Yeah, I’m going to teach her cornbread, ‘okry’ and black-eyed peas,” she said, laughing.
Roberts attributed the school’s large attendance to Taste of Home’s reputation for offering simple-to-prepare dishes that don’t require exotic ingredients. In fact, all of the recipes she prepared, such as steak and bleu cheese bruschetta, were made with ingredients purchased locally earlier in the afternoon.
“The ingredients are easy to find, and ours are down-home recipes that are easy to do,” Roberts said.
Zethmayr said organizers faced one glitch as they started organizing the program.
“We needed 240-volt service but the Community Center only has 120,” he said.
After he bought $500 worth of electrical parts, two city employees, working on their lunch hours, put together a power board that allowed the on-stage kitchen appliances provided by the Crestview Sears to operate. That effort in itself virtually assured Tuesday night’s program won’t be the Taste of Home Cooking School’s only Crestview appearance.
“We own this equipment now so we have to do another school,” Zethmayr said with a chuckle.