Take a cooking class with Chef Cass and crew

Cassandra Spence, better known as Chef Cass, opened the Culinary Annex in Valley Junction with a party on Sept. 29. Photo: Brittany Brooke Crow

Writer: Michael Morain

If or when you get your fill of turkey and gravy, take some Tums, a nap and a hike over to Valley Junction. A new place called the Culinary Annex opened in September at 304 Fifth St. in West Des Moines to offer classes on making ceviche, pupusas, sushi and other dishes the Pilgrims never even knew they were missing.

But the spirit of that first Thanksgiving applies here, too. “It’s definitely about camaraderie and not competition,” said the owner, Cassandra Spence. “I want to share food and share knowledge in a way that brings people together.”


Better known as Chef Cass, Spence grew up in Des Moines and developed an adventurous palate early on. (As she tells it, her grandmother once declared, “She is the only baby I know with breath that smells of onions and mushrooms.”) She studied art at Morningside College in Sioux City before moving to New York, where she explored the city’s famously diverse eateries.


She eventually returned to Iowa, earned a degree from DMACC’s Iowa Culinary Institute in 2015 and started teaching cooking classes at the Des Moines Social Club in 2016. After it closed, she taught classes here and there until opening the Culinary Annex this fall.


It offers public and private classes led by Chef Cass herself and a growing roster of other locals with various specialties. Even the class names are tempting: Bibimbap it Up, Give it a Thai, Dim Sum & Then Some and — who could resist? — Dumpling Extravaganza! Chef Cass recently hosted a “quirky turkey” class and a drag brunch where one Crimson B offered tips to make an omelet, garnish a bloody mary and rock an apron.   


From 9 a.m. to noon this Saturday, swing by the Culinary Annex to pick up discounted gift cards for classes. Plus, the 
Waffles & Whip food truck will be parked right outside, in case you get a post-Thanksgiving hankering for hot cocoa and a Belgian waffle slathered in whipped cream, Nutella, caramel or any other decadent toppings that would have scandalized the folks at Plymouth Rock.

And for that, let us give thanks.

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