Nestled between modest residential homes in Beamsville, a community on Niagara’s wine route about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, is the Good Earth Cooking School. What appears to be a driveway quickly becomes a farm lane leading up to a barn-board schoolhouse, which abuts the 55-acre Novak family farm, teeming with herb and flower gardens and orchards of cherries and peaches.
Proprietor Nicolette Novak grew up right here, and turned her love for the region’s food and wine into an unusual and charming culinary experience that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Novak invites local chefs from top restaurants, including the school’s resident chefs, to teach themed classes using seasonal and locally grown products. The school’s primary motivation is to feature fruits and vegetables at the height of their ripeness and availability. In fact, you might even pick your meal’s ingredients from the Good Earth garden—the school’s “pride and joy,” according to executive chef Patrick Engel.
Good Earth’s teaching methods are equally fresh. Forget boring, one-sided cooking classes where students simply watch from a distance as a chef prepares a meal they’ll likely never make themselves. Intimate and interactive instruction is the only menu staple here—besides fun, of course. “The focus is as much on the social aspect as the educational component,” says Engel.
Both hardcore food enthusiasts and those a bit kitchen-shy can step up and get their hands dirty, plus enjoy the fruits of their labour afterwards. Chefs demonstrate how to prepare multi-course menus, no two of which are alike.
All From Around Here
No matter the experience, showcasing Niagara’s cornucopia of food and wine with unbridled enthusiasm lies at the heart of Good Earth’s mission. Much of the produce used—asparagus, salad greens and edible flowers—is grown right in the school’s gardens. What the school doesn’t harvest itself—cheese, meat, wines—is bought from local farmers whenever possible.
And the surroundings are as amazing as the food. Three-hour classes take place either in the alfresco barbecue area or indoors in a bright yellow kitchen.
“This is pretty incredible, considering many kitchens don’t even have windows, and we’re looking at this all day,” explains Engel as he points to the expanse of gardens and orchards. “There’s so much in this area, and it’s all so good. The less I do to it, the better. Just pick it off the vine and eat!”