By Susan Marquez
One by one, a dozen women come through the doors of the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood. It’s a Saturday night, and the women are there to celebrate the 40th birthday of a friend. For a couple of hours, they forget about their jobs, children and husbands as they check their cares at the door. They visit for a bit, then settle in as the instructor talks about what they will be cooking that evening. The women take notes during a demonstration before donning aprons to chop, stir, whisk, grill and sip wine.
The Viking Cooking School is the offspring of Viking Range, a Greenwood-based company that has gained a worldwide following. Started by Fred Carl in the late 1980s, Viking manufactures restaurant-style ovens as well as other kitchen appliances and cookware.
Kimberly Gnemi has been the general manager of the cooking school for nine years. “I started at Viking in June 2003 as an accountant. At one time, there were cooking classes held at the Viking Corporation’s manufacturing facility, but in 2005, Viking Cooking School opened on Howard Street in downtown Greenwood.” With the Alluvian Hotel, opened in May 2003, across the street, it became a perfect scenario for people to come from across the country to experience the Mississippi Delta and to learn cooking techniques from world-class chefs. “We had chefs who flew in from all over to guest-teach classes,” says Kimberly. “Covid put a stop to that for a while, but we will bring that back the end of this year.”
Classes are still happening, with one full-time chef and five part-time chefs. “Loren Lefleur is there every day,” says Kimberly. “She is our kitchen manager, and she teaches classes.” Part-time chefs, who are the best at their craft, include Leanne Gault, Nikita Quarles, Morgan Meredith, Chris Byrd and Paul Brown. Seasonal menus, all tested in the Viking kitchen, are offered along with current cooking trends.
Kimberly is a native of the Greenwood area and says there was a time when she knew everyone in town. “But now it’s different. I look at the rosters for the weekend classes, and I often don’t know a single person on the list. We have a huge draw from Little Rock, Memphis, West Monroe and the Jackson area. Many of the people who come are repeat guests, or they have been recommended by previous guests. We have a lot of wedding parties, reunions and just friends who get together to do something fun and different.”
There are six classes each weekend, two on Friday evening, two on Saturday morning and two Saturday evening. “We sometimes do classes on Thursday nights,” says Kimberly. “We also do a quarterly ‘Tuesday on the Rocks’ class that is 100% supported by locals. It’s dinner and cocktails and it’s just a lot of fun.” There are typically 12 people in a hands-on class. “We can host more people in our demonstration classes.” Classes usually run for about an hour and a half, with the goal of teaching at least one cooking technique. “We have seasoned cooks and beginners. Even the seasoned cooks are amazed that they learned a new technique or a new way of doing something they’ve done forever. Overall, we aim to provide a wonderful experience for everyone.”
Of course, all recipes are made in the Viking Cooking School’s state-of-the-art kitchen, outfitted with the newest Viking appliances, cookware and cutlery. There is also a store attached that sells Viking products. For more information on class schedules, visit the Viking website at www.vikingrange.com.