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ASMAA BENBABA

Asmaa BenbabaAsmaa was born and raised in Rabat, Morocco and came to the United States to join graduate school when she was 26. While working as a lecturer at Auburn University, Asmaa taught her first Moroccan cooking class. Now teaching at the University of Kansas, Asmaa continues to enjoy sharing the cultural heritage of her homeland through a love of cuisine and teaching. Asmaa has been teaching classes with The Culinary Center of Kansas City since 2021.

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TRACY BLIZMAN

Tracy RichterTracy credits her mother and father for her love of cooking. Her dad did the majority of the cooking in their house and her mom baked every Wednesday and Sunday. Tracy learned how to cook and bake from them, which led her to a lifelong path of learning and loving food. Her passion for cooking continued while studying music (French horn) in college. She started catering for her fellow music friend’s recitals. This allowed Tracy to share her passion for food with others. Her love of desserts led her to learn cake decorating techniques and eventually start a home-based bakery. Tracy started living a vegan lifestyle in 2014 (she was vegetarian several years prior) and now everything she cooks, and bakes, is 100% vegan. She loves traveling the world and has taken cooking classes in India, Indonesia, and Italy. She truly believes that vegan food can and should be fun and delicious and is excited to share her knowledge and passion for all vegan food. We are pleased to welcome Tracy to our awesome team of instructors!

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Bruce CampbellBRUCE CAMPBELL

Bruce is a graduate of the Hotel and Restaurant Business School at Michigan State University. With over 30 years in the restaurant business, Bruce brings his passion and knowledge to a variety of culinary topics. As a founding member of the Rib Stars BBQ team, he has competed on the BBQ circuit for more than 17 years and has won numerous awards. Bruce has been teaching at The Culinary Center of Kansas City since 2006.
(full resume available upon request).

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CHEF MATT CHATFIELD

Chef Matt ChatfieldMatt Chatfield received his Culinary Arts training in the Kansas City area while working alongside some of the region’s most acclaimed chefs. With experience in restaurants, country clubs, hotels, teaching classes, and TV appearances, he has made a name as one of the top demonstration chefs in the Kansas City food scene. He enjoyed his time as Executive Chef at The Culinary Center of Kansas City from 2006-2013. He is welcoming, with a relaxed style and enjoys helping others in the kitchen. He and his lovely wife Sophia, also a trained chef, have beautiful teenage triplet daughters.

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CHEF SOPHIA CHATFIELD

Sophia Chatfield came to the United States from Solo, Indonesia in 1998. She went to JCCC to study in the Culinary Arts program and graduated in 2004. During that time, she was an apprentice at Brookridge Golf Country Club and became a Sous Chef. She was also the Executive Chef at Meadowbrook Country Club, Brookridge Golf and Fitness, Foxwood Springs Retirement Home and Leawood Country Club.  Currently, Chef Sophia is the Food & Beverage Director/Chef at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Lenexa, KS.

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DR. LISA SHARPE ELLES
Dr. Lisa Sharpe Ellis

Lisa started cooking as a young child with anyone who would let her in the kitchen. Now as a biochemist & assistant teaching professor at University of Kansas, her love of cooking has expanded to the laboratory. Chemistry lectures often turn to how molecules in the kitchen produce yummy food. Not only is cooking a science, but cleaning is too.  Lisa makes soap using natural ingredients and loves to share this science to anyone who will listen. 

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CHEF DANIEL ETHERTON
Chef Daniel Etherton

Having been an immigrant twice in his life, Chef Daniel Etherton grew up on very culturally diverse cuisine. That cuisine is what influences his cooking to this day. When Daniel was five, he and his family left Johannesburg, South Africa during the apartheid and immigrated to Amiad Kabutz in northern Israel. After the army he moved to Tel Aviv to pursue a career in cooking. He worked at Jeremiah Cafe, Onami and Third Steak House in Tel Aviv before moving to the Tri-state area where he took a position at a Kosher restaurant. He ended up here in Kansas City where he met his wife, Natasha Goellner, who happens to be an accomplished pastry chef as well as an instructor at The Culinary Center of Kansas City.

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PASTRY CHEF NATASHA GOELLNER
Chef Natasha Goellner

After graduating from The French Culinary Institute in New York City, Chef Natasha headed back to KC, where she opened Mulberry & Mott, a pastry shop on the Country Club Plaza. Her pastries have been featured in Williams-Sonoma and Dean and Deluca catalogues, and her French macarons were a best-seller in Dean and Deluca stores. Her desserts and ice cream have been on the menus of some of KC’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, and her wedding cakes have been acclaimed for their artistry and flavors. After 14 years of running Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott and Cirque du Sucre, Natasha has embarked on a new adventure as Executive Pastry Chef, working with her brother Nick Goellner’s talented team at the James Beard-nominated restaurant, The Antler Room.

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CERTIFIED SOMMELIER BRENT GRIDER

Brent GriderBrent’s passion for the food & beverage world at the beginning of the ‘Coffee Craze’. Starting as a barista, he worked his way up through the industry, and is now Director of Food & Beverage at Hotel Phillips (KC).  We’re proud to say that Brent shares his knowledge and passion of wine and spirits with students at The Culinary Center of Kansas City – cheers!

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CHEF GARY HILD

Gary HildWhen it comes to making great food, Chef Gary Hild’s love for cooking is exceeded only by his passion for teaching and mentoring others. His interest in nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is expressed in a broad range of cooking styles. Gary taught at The Culinary Center of Kansas City for 18 years, then tried out retirement in Florida before returning to our kitchens to teach once again.

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CHEF YVETTE HIRANG

Chef Yvette HirangLeaving behind a career in sales and marketing, Yvette decided to pursue her life-long dream of attending culinary school and becoming a chef. Born and raised in the Philippines, this music-loving, jet-skiing mom brings to The Culinary Center a passion for world cuisine and a knowledge how to help you prepare it!

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CHEF DANA HOLLAND

Dana HollandAlthough Chef Dana is new to the Kansas City area and to The Culinary Center, he’s certainly not new to cooking OR teaching. This well-seasoned chef has been “in the biz” for more than 35 years, involved in everything from creating restaurant concepts, training culinary staff and developing computer software for cost & recipe management to catering, being Executive Chef of a restaurant and, oh yes, appearing in (and WINNING) Food Network’s Cupcake Wars!  What can’t this guy do?!

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TODD JOHNS

Todd JohnsTodd Johns, founder and chief pitmaster of Plowboys Barbeque, and his brother-in-law Randy Hinck started the barbecue competition team Pork Pullin Plowboys in 2001. For the next six years, they traveled across the country participating in weekend competitions, learning their craft and perfecting the art of smoked meats. The duo won their first Grand Championship in Kearney, Mo., and were named “Show Me State” Team of the Year. Johns began selling his Yardbird Rub, an award-winning blend of sweet and salty with a bit of heat, that now sells more than 100,000 pounds a year worldwide. By 2009, the team had racked up 22 KCBS-sanctioned competitions in seven states and five championship wins. The most sensational moment was when Plowboys returned to the American Royal Invitational. After placing 5th in Chicken, 8th in Pork and 1st in Brisket, Johns was crowned the American Royal Grand Champion. Johns opened Plowboys Barbeque in Blue Springs, Missouri, in 2013, followed by a downtown location, two concession stands at Arrowhead Stadium and a third full-service location in Overland Park. Plowboys Barbeque also has a franchise at Barry’s Husker Bar in Lincoln, Neb. Even with newfangled pit ovens and a drift at competitions to cook in vertical drums that speed up the cooking, Johns continues to believe the best barbecur is all about Kansas City’s time-honored mantra: “low and slow.”

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LADONNA JOHNSON

LaDonna JohnsonAn autodidact specialty chef, LaDonna Johnson owns and operates Organic Soul KC, a plant-based catering company located in Kansas City. Because of her lifelong passion for growing and preparing food as well as living a plant-based lifestyle for many years, LaDonna saw a need for good, accessible and diverse plant-based food and decided to address the problem head on! Since launching OSKC in 2016, she has won accolades for creating a one-of-kind plant-based, chicken/meat alternative called ‘Chictan’. LaDonna’s mission statement for her company and career is to Nourish the body and feed the Soul, and she accomplishes her mission with love and compassion for people and the planet!

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CHEF ANDREW KNEESSY

Chef Andrew KneessyChef Kneessy has 20+ years of experience as an Executive Chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he completed his internship at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, worked at Hyatt Hotels in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and even cooked at the Canadian Embassy, Blair House, and the White House (for Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton). After spending time cooking in Europe and competing as a finalist at the Bocuse D’or Culinary Competition, Chef’s travels brought him to the Kansas City Country Club, where he was the Executive Chef for 16+ years. He has attended classes at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley and has passed the Court of Masters Sommeliers Introductory Course.

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CCKC ‘MAIN DISH’ LAURA LAIBEN

Laura LaibenLaura, owner of The Culinary Center, enjoys teaching the occasional class, as well as running the place! In addition to her extensive experience as a culinary arts instructor and teambuilding facilitator, Laura was a practicing attorney for 18 years before creating The Culinary Center.

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SUSY LARA

Susy LaraSusy’s profession is a grade school teacher, and she loves to teach! She cooks authentic Mexican cuisine and with her sister, Vicky Lara (our own “Chicana in Charge”) teaches authentic Mexican cuisine here.

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VICKY LARA

Vicky LaraVicky knows how to cook authentic Mexican cuisine just like her Mom used to make for her! She and her sister, Suzy Lara, teach classes in Mexican cooking especially the very popular “Talamada Party” classes.

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KERRI LESH
Kerri Lesh

Kerri, Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), Society of Wine Educators, was born and raised in Kansas. She’s lived in various countries and parts of the U.S. learning about food, language and wine.  She came to the Culinary Center of Kansas City in hopes to whisk you away to foreign lands and foods without leaving the table, incorporating her love of education and the cultures she’s experienced.

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CHEF RICHARD McPEAKE

Chef Richard McPeakeChef Richard has been teaching our Smoking, Grilling & BBQ classes as well as our very popular Professional Series classes for over 10 years, He is also a Chef Instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College as well as cookbook author. (full resume available upon request)

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CHEF ISAAC PERRY

Chef Isaac Perry gets his love of cooking honestly. He grew up learning to cook alongside his mother, and her influence lives on through the many techniques he learned from her, and enjoys making the simple midwestern dishes his mother taught him. He started in the professional culinary world at the age of 15 when he worked for Dean and Deluca part time after school. At 18, he began working full time at NoRTH and then worked the line at different restaurants including Coopers Hawk where he was promoted to Sous Chef at the age of 23, plus a 2-year stint as Sous Chef at Pierpoints. In 2017, he helped open Stock Hill as a Chef De Tournant, while also starting an apprenticeship under Nick Goellner at the Antler Room, where he was promoted to full-time Sous Chef in 2020. When not cooking, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters, fly fishing with his dad and hiking outdoors, especially in Colorado. Chef Perry has been teaching with The Culinary Center of Kansas City since 2022. 

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CHEF MARI RUCK

Chef Mari RuckMari Ruck has been teaching great classes with us since we opened! She co-owned The Food Bin, a specialty food store, from 1983 to 2004. After college, bread baking took priority and led Mari to the Chef Program at Johnson County Community College, graduating in 1999.

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CHEF JILL GARCIA SCHMIDT

Chef Jill Garcia SchmidtCCKC Chef and Lead Instructor Jill Garcia Schmidt grew up in Newton, KS surrounded by family and food. She learned to make authentic Mexican cuisine from her great grandmother, classic comfort food from her grandma, and family-favorite dishes and baked goods from her mother. She has spent 25 years in the food industry, and her dream is to share her passion for food with the world. She describes her approach to cooking as ‘full of fun, with a touch of manic perfectionism’.

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CHEF RICHARD SINNING

After retiring from a career in hospital IT, Richard Sinning decided to take up his lifelong passion of cooking and baking.  He has experienced different cuisines through travels to many different countries with his wife.  Richard enjoys entertaining and feeding family and friends. Richard has been an instructor at the Culinary Center since April 2022. 

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PASTRY CHEF ERIK SHARP

Erik Sharp“It’s in my blood,” says Erik Sharp. From a grandfather who owned a bakery to foodie parents who exposed Erik and his siblings to cooking, he was hooked at a young age. He started out as a day broiler cook at the American Restaurant. After ten years of experience and learning there, he went on to work at the Downtown Marriott, the Allis Plaza, Hen House, Farm to Market Bread Co. and Whole Foods, as well as owning his own business.  While he continues to learn and keep up with changes in the industry, Erik says he truly believes most in fundamentals and proper technique. These remain constant even when trends change.

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KIM STEWART

Kim StewartKim Stewart’s interest in cooking started young. Because her parents were often busy working late, she started menu planning, shopping, and cooking on a regular basis at an early age. She was also motivated by knowing that if she made dinner, she knew her brother would be tasked with dish duty!  Kim enjoys taking cooking classes and seeking out local cuisine while traveling, both in the United States and internationally.  At home, she enjoys grilling and barbecuing, as well as experimenting and perfecting recipes from all types of cuisines. Her experience started at the Culinary Center years ago as a student in CCKC’s Midwest Barbeque Institute (MBQI) barbecue and smoking classes.  She attended the very first Pro Series offered by the Culinary Center back in 2008, started volunteering shortly after that and has been working here since 2009.

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 LAURA THOMSEN

Laura ThomsenAlso known as “Goddess of Good Eats”, Elle T has been drawn to the culinary world since she was a child delivering coffee, sandwiches and homemade banana bread to her farming father in the field. She was hooked. After developing her resumé at New Century Catering, the bakery at Dean and Deluca, The New Theater Restaurant, Union Station, area schools and Unity Village, she joined the CCKC family in 2014. She is not only a fabulous baker and instructor, but also manages our Made In Our Kitchens™ program.

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CHEF JESSE VEGA

Jesse VegaChef Jesse has a sincere passion for teaching the culinary arts and has done so with us for many years now. He is a graduate from the Johnson County Community College Chefs Apprenticeship Program and was also a team member of the JCCC culinary team.

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LARRY WHEELER

Larry WheelerLarry has been teaching tabletop design and other popular classes at The Culinary Center of Kansas City for over 20 years. He has massive success and experience in the design and direction of social and civic events of note from small intimate parties to grand social occasions. His resumé includes his position as Director of Ambiance at the landmark Intercontinental Hotel in Kansas City for 29 years. Larry is a beloved institution here at The Culinary Center of Kansas City and our students look forward to his humorous and fun presentation style.

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JACK WILLIAMS

Jack Williams was proud to serve in the United States Army and, after 26 years, retired as a Major. He then worked 35 years as an Engineer/Manager for Hallmark Cards.  Upon his retirement, he decided it was time to follow his lifelong obsession for pickles and became the Founder/Former Owner of Great Gran’s Pickle Company.  Jack taught himself the process of pickle-making and worked out of his Kansas State/FDA approved licensed kitchen from 2010-2015. But he’s been perfecting his pickling techniques for over 20 years and loves to share his knowledge and passion by teaching others the art of pickling.  Jack has been teaching with The Culinary Center of Kansas City since 2022.

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JAMES WORLEY

James Worley (a/k/a The Tomato Whisperer) is a lifelong grower of all things delicious as well as a classroom teacher and naturalist for over two decades. James has a green thumb and an ability to teach people how to be successful gardeners no matter their previous experience. He’s a board member of Slow Food KC and believes in giving back to the Kansas City area community as much as he can. James has been a member of our awesome team of CCKC culinary instructors since March 2022.

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CHEF REYAM YAS

From sweet to savory, Chef Reyam Yas is well diverse in her field. She loves teaching what she has learned from every country she has visited. She is very excited to take you on a journey through food from around the world and is especially eager to teach ethnic Arabic food starting from her homeland Iraq, and from cakes to pastries. She is a melting pot of culinary knowledge that and we are happy to welcome Chef Yas to the Culinary Center’s awesome team of instructors!

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LEESA YATES

Leesa YatesLeesa is a 30-year veteran elementary school teacher, and she thrives on teaching others.  She is very creative and found an outlet for that in cookie decorating! She took her passion and started an in-home cookie decorating business, Cookies by Leesa. She believes that everyone can create beautiful sweets after they learn some basics, and Leesa wants to share her decorating expertise with you.  

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