Bringing It Home

passionsWritten by Wini Moranville
Photo by Duane Tinkey

“… And so, finally, at the age of 47, I found what I was created to do,” said Deb Cazavilan, as we sat sipping espresso in the mint-condition kitchen of her Wooden Spoons Workshops cooking school.

She was recounting her path to becoming a cooking workshop instructor, and what struck me most was not that she was the proverbial late bloomer, but rather her passion—not just for food, but for teaching.

Yes, she lights up when she tells me her recipe for a pear dessert. But when she talks about how she’ll break down the recipe for students (poached pears, you see, is basically a braise …)—that’s when you see her enthusiasm really catch fire.

While the path to her Ankeny business may have been long and winding, she never took any major off-road detours. In her youth, the New York native worked at a variety of venues, including the famed Alice’s Restaurant—yes, the one in the Arlo Guthrie song. Over the years, she’s been a cook, caterer, personal chef and pastry chef.

And a restaurateur. In 1992, she and her husband, Bob (a real estate agent), moved their young family to Ankeny. She owned and operated Cappuccino’s, a coffeehouse, from 1992 to 1994, and A Little Blue House, a bistro/café, from 2001 to 2003.

When she decided to close the bistro/cafe, her most loyal customers asked her if she would teach them to cook the wonderful things she had served. So she began teaching cooking classes in the building A Little Blue House had occupied.

Her first class was awkward, to say the least. “The topic was 10 dishes you could do with chicken breasts,” she says. “Two people showed up, and it lasted four hours.”

It wasn’t long, however, before she dialed it back and found her groove. Soon, former customers of her earlier restaurants started coming, and the size of the classes grew to an average of 10 to 12 (the latter is her limit).

The Cazavilans sold the building in 2008, and she opened Wooden Spoons Workshops and Cooking Classes in 2009 in a cute (but small) rented building near downtown Ankeny.

At first, her success at teaching came as a surprise. “I am by nature a shy person,” she says.

Yet as Cazavilan talks about teaching, it occurs to me that she’s teaching so much more than technique. She demonstrates more than how to choose the perfect fruit or make the perfect pie crust.

She teaches attitude. Above all, she teaches confidence—comfort in the kitchen.

“It’s not open-heart surgery,” she says. “Students watch me cook, and they see that I don’t break into a sweat. They watch me make mistakes and recover from them. They watch me, and they think, ‘Hey. I could do that.’ ”

And indeed, they can. Cazavilan likes to say that if you can eat it, you can cook it.

These days, her classes are nothing like the 10-recipe cooking marathon of her first class; they’re lively, two-hour sessions, with plenty of easygoing back-and-forth between Cazavilan and her students. Recent classes have included “Ramen and Pho,” “Pie Baking from Scratch” and “Cajun and Creole Favorites.”

This past January, she held her first class in her all-new kitchen, which is also the kitchen of her all-new home on an acreage just west of Ankeny. Here, a 12-foot work island, with plenty of room for cooks to move around, doubles as a massive dining room table—a convivial spot where cooks can enjoy eating what they’ve learned to cook. The state-of-the-art kitchen also boasts a professional-grade six-burner gas stove, two built-in convection ovens and a large working pantry.

But perhaps the best thing about it is that it’s home. Says Cazavilan: “The goal was always to have the cooking classes held in my home.”

You May Also Like

Let’s Do Brunch

Local chefs get creative for the weekend’s most leisurely meal.

Dos Rios Hits Its Stride

Executive Chef Mike Holman brings ambition and flair to the Latin-inspired entrées at Dos ...

The Many Faces of Steve Berry

Whether portraying a tormented 19th-century Frenchman or a washed-up 21st-century lounge lizard, the entertainment ...