When husband and wife team Jacki and Mike Selby started designing and teaching cooking classes in 2006, they had little idea that it would lead them to where they are today. As the owners of Pensacola Cooks, the Selbys are making an impact offering unique culinary learning experiences, delicious food for the community, and a place for aspiring food entrepreneurs to begin the journey into the industry. The pair had retired from careers that trained them in instructional design for organizations ranging from school systems to military contracting, so turning their passion for education to the culinary world was a natural step. The pair and partner culinary instructors formed the basis of their cooking classes at Distinctive Kitchens.
“We developed our kids programs there and we started listening to what the customers wanted,” says Jacki. “It just evolved and it got bigger and bigger.”
After Distinctive Kitchens closed, the team continued doing classes at other locations and developing mobile cooking classes that brought their instruction everywhere from offices for corporate team building to private home supper clubs to children’s birthday parties.
Soon the 30-plus instructors and chefs they worked with started pointing out that the Selbys could grow their concept even more with their own kitchen, and after cautious deliberation and research, Pensacola Cooks acquired its own commercial kitchen space. Modeled after the incubator kitchens the couples saw sprouting up in the Midwest and along the east coast, the 1,000 square foot space at 3670 Barrancas Ave. has allowed Pensacola Cooks to grow its reach to both hungry learners as well as aspiring caterers and food entrepreneurs. Under the leadership of executive chef Nick Farkas, Pensacola Cooks Kitchen also started a lunch and dinner service from 11 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday with a menu built on the Hungarian family recipes from Farkas’ own parents’ kitchen. This month they launched a breakfast service, as well.
“You can carry out your lunch or you can have a $1 cooking class,” Jacki says. “You come in and get a Hungarian meat loaf for $5.95, and for $6.95 you can stay, talk and interact, so we’ve turned it into a learning experience.”
The menu expands globally as patrons can pin their culinary heritage on a large wall map, and they can even submit family recipes that might be chosen as the recipe of the month and served as a special that the submitter can even come help cook. Jacki says this is their way of sharing heritage with others and connecting people with their culinary roots. Another aspect of Pensacola Cooks Kitchen is the incubator kitchen. People with a catering business or food product they’d like to sell beyond the cottage food industry need a commercial kitchen to prepare products, which can be a huge expense. The Selbys offer initial consulting with interested entrepreneurs, even supplying the city and county forms necessary to get started, before contracting with the aspiring business people to offer space in the kitchen to prepare their goods. Jacki says they want to help other people in the industry become successful, and her own daughter even initially rented space to launch her handcrafted frozen custard company.
“The idea of a successful incubator is they come out of the incubator and they can get out into the community and get a storefront if that’s what they want,” she says. “This is an opportunity to help them so you don’t have the overhead that you have in a commercial kitchen.”
A shared kitchen client is showcased monthly at the kitchen and guests are invited to taste and critique their offerings to give feedback to the entrepreneurs. Pensacola Cooks continues to offer traditional onsite cooking classes, with variations for children, couples, and families, as well as mobile classes. They offer catering and will fit a completely customized menu to a specific budget. The possibilities of the kitchen space are often explored by creative clients, including women in need of space to cook for a family reunion, groups that do massive holiday baking, and even a father celebrating his 80th birthday by getting behind the line and preparing his favorite meal for guests.
“When the phone rings we just don’t know,” Jacki says. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the response and the creativity of people when they realize what they have available to them.”
Look out for a full calendar of classes, events and announcements at facebook.com/ pensacolacooks or pensacolacooks.com.