Armed with a dream and a love for cooking, Cyndi Sterne was determined to make the idea of owning her own cooking school a reality. As the Director of Youth and Family Programming for the Marcus Jewish Community Center and then later as their Cooking School Instructor, Sterne spent several years teaching cooking classes for kids and adults at the center. While she enjoyed the experience, she found that it also served to fuel her passion for creating her own cooking school. With encouragement from her father Hal, Sterne’s dream finally came true. In July, she opened Hal’s Kitchen, which houses a wide variety of classes taught by both Sterne and culinary director Jessica Ray, and she couldn’t be happier.
Have you always loved to cook?
Yes, I loved to cook and entertain. When I was a young child, my father was home recuperating from surgery, and he and his business associates met for lunch at our home. I was given the responsibility to make lunch for this group every day and really took ownership of it and enjoyed creating new dishes every day and receiving their positive feedback. From then on, I’ve loved cooking for groups.
What was the first dish you ever cooked on your own?
Sugar cookies from my great grandmother’s recipe. My mother gave me my initial skills and comfort in the kitchen, but mostly I am a self-taught cook who really enjoys exploring cookbooks and creating dishes on my own.
What was the inspiration behind Hal’s Kitchen?
I was the cooking instructor for adults and children at the Marcus Jewish Community Center and really enjoyed this role and wanted to expand their program. When I found out that they didn’t want to expand their program, my father, with his well-known twinkle in his eye, gave me the motivation to open my own cooking school.
What makes Hal’s Kitchen unique?
We really focus on having fun while cooking, rather than keeping things regimented. I always feel that everything tastes better if you’re having fun preparing it. Also, Hal’s Kitchen is a one stop shop. You can learn your cooking skills, enjoy some food and wine, purchase a unique tool in our retail area and what’s also very different is our two kitchen studios also serve as showrooms. So if you feel comfortable using our Wolf stove, or love the way our cabinets look, you can order all of this from us too!
How did you meet your culinary director Jessica Ray?
I took a class from Jessica when she was Culinary Director at Viking and was really inspired by her. She and I have a similar philosophy of having fun while cooking, which unlocks so many creative juices. We are so lucky to have her at Hal’s Kitchen, which is evident by her huge following throughout Atlanta.
What has been the community’s response to Hal’s Kitchen?
We have been so grateful how receptive everyone in the Sandy Springs and surrounding areas have been. Not only have they been signing up for classes and booking private events, but after their classes and events, they are going back to their friends and families and signing up again with them.
What are typical dishes you cook at home for your family?
Every Friday I make a big family dinner for my kids, brother and sister-in-law and friends are always invited. Usually there are at least 10 people. To feed so many people, I will make a roast with three or four different sides made from seasonal produce.
What can people expect when they take a class at Hal’s Kitchen?
They will have fun while learning valuable cooking skills. We have so many different types of classes that no matter what your passion is or what type of cuisine they are looking to learn, they leave here excited to use their news skills when they go home.
How do you lead a healthy lifestyle?
I find it hard to resist all of the amazing food that we cook up every day, and we are constantly testing new recipes. Even the ones that don’t turn out perfectly are usually pretty tasty! I make running and push-ups part of my nearly daily routine. Even though I taste a lot of great food, I watch how many calories I consume in a day and make sure that fresh and seasonal fruits, vegetables, and salads make up the majority of my diet.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Concentrate on your strengths, but more importantly, understand your weak spots. Find people be it mentors, employees, or even an accountant to make up for your deficits.
For more information on Hal’s Kitchen (404) 847-6991, www.halskitchen.com