EAST NORRITON — When she was nine, Kathy Wolper mixed a cup of salt and teaspoon of sugar — instead of the reverse — into the batter for her first-ever “from scratch” cake.
She’s come a long way since then.
As the driving force behind Kathy’s Just Desserts and Kitchen Wizards, the East Norriton woman has been introducing all ages to the joys of baking and cooking for the past 19 years and consistently rates rave reviews for an extensive culinary repertoire that runs the gamut from desserts and candy to soups and casseroles.
At press time, Wolper’s fans were voting for her in the online Favorite Chef competition (www.favchef.com). Top prize: $50,000 and a two-page spread in “Bon Appetit” magazine.
Wolper’s usual class settings range from summer camps and community centers to her signature in-home “Supper Club” for adult foodies. Ironically, COVID-19 put the kibosh on such gatherings at the same time cooking and baking took on wide appeal as antidotes for pandemic-induced stress. In fact, Wolper’s busy in-person schedule all but collapsed when the virus’s physical distancing protocols shutdown her usual host venues…until the former elementary school teacher decided to go virtual.
“I used my technical training skills and teaching skills to quickly learn how to use Zoom, and I rewrote my lesson plans to adapt to virtual teaching,” she says. “It was like starting all over, but at least I had contacts. Also, I had no geographical limits to who could take my programs. Last summer, I worked with an online camp company and offered virtual camps to kids from all over the country.
“I use two cameras — one for close-ups of what we’re preparing so participants can see if their recipe looks the same and one for me to explain the steps to the group of Zoomers. If someone has trouble, I’m able to spotlight their camera so I can assist them with their questions.”
Along the way, Wolper began reaching out to area libraries as potential virtual hosts. That resulted in classes like the recent kids session – homemade chicken soup and cheddar biscuits, anyone? — hosted by Conshohocken Free Library.
“Libraries…and park and rec centers,” she continues. “I’ve begun to offer programs for kids and adults with many parks and recs in partnership with Kitchen Wizards. They can offer the program being held at the same time as other parks and recs, but because there’s strength in numbers, programs are less likely to be cancelled due to low enrollment…a win for the parks and recs.”
A Kitchen Wizards kids’ program “always includes reinforcing skills they learn in school…math, science, world geography, presidential history, art and, in Catholic school programs, religion” — like her “Eat Like the Pope” class when the Pontiff visited Philadelphia.
“Our kids’ programs also include critical thinking, and with the virtual programs, children create recipes at home for the family to share,” Wolper adds. “That gives their confidence a boost to share food they prepared with others in the household. Learning a life skill is also great for helping kids lend helping hands at home and become comfortable working in the kitchen.”
The anxiety-reducing effect of at-home baking and cooking during the pandemic has been addressed in numerous professional studies and articles during the past year. Kneading bread dough, mixing cake batter, chopping carrots: Versions of self-care that can help calm the quarantine jitters.
Beyond that, Wolper says, shared time in the kitchen and around the table “help the family bond” during good times and bad.
“Sharing food they prepared…is a perfect way to grow together,” she believes. “There’s something so comforting about taking time to prepare a meal and eat it. Prior to the pandemic, who had time? Especially in the first three months of quarantine last spring, people were baking sourdough and other breads, desserts and other foods like crazy. I think it was instinctual that they knew these activities and foods would bring comfort in an uncertain world.”
Wolper’s virtual programs include networking events, corporate team-building, “Ladies’ Night Out,” Scout workshops, kids’ birthday parties, school socials and fundraisers, after-school and weekend kids’ programs and camps. Registration includes a Zoom link and list of required ingredients and kitchen tools.
Information about upcoming classes is available at www.kitchenwizards.info and 610-348-5284.