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Our Culinary
Rock Stars

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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MATT DEMOSS
Matt DeMossMatt DeMoss, owner/operator of The Meat Shed in Frontenac (SE corner of KS), started a business to share the great food he learned to make as a child. He left a teaching career to help carry the torch for the recipes & traditions he loved. He learned to source local products and to establish a market that understands quality is more important than quantity. Over the years, Matt’s love for charcuterie has grown, and he enjoys focusing on providing better food alternatives.

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CHEF SANDY DIGIOVANNI
Chef Sandy DiGiovanniSandy teaches a wide variety of classes with us with emphasis on Italian cuisine (her heritage). She’s been with us since 2012 and brings her own unique and humorous style of education. Chef Sandy was a finalist on NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant” with Bobby Flay and is a contributing writer for Edible Magazine. She’s also a heck of a bartender!

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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 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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ARIEL JOHNSTON
Ariel JohnstonAriel’s passion for cooking & baking came from her mom, who encouraged her to try any recipe (and didn’t mind a little mess in the kitchen). After college, Ariel moved to Australia for 4 years. Since moving back to KC, Ariel has taught nutrition and cooking classes to adults & kids for the local food bank, Harvesters. Ariel incorporates her passion for nutrition and cooking into her life and work as a Registered Dietitian.  She recently opened her own practice in the Kansas City area and is offering individual nutrition counseling and cooking classes.

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CHEF NORA KASCHUBE
Chef Nora KaschubeNora has had 2 passions in her life — and both involve dough. After a 30-year career in investment banking, the Kansas native attended the French Pastry School in Chicago, combining her love of dessert and art. After graduation, Nora started her own catering company called Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Lawrence. She has also taught pastry classes at the Bayleaf in Lawrence and Public Market in Lenexa.

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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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KAY MAIER
Kay MaierKay began decorating cakes about 25 years ago. Being a single mother of three sons, she wanted to make special birthday cakes for them. It was a way she could save money, and she loved playing with frosting and trying new techniques.  She developed her skills over the years, and has since even made cakes for her son’s wedding!  Kay has operated a catering business, and enjoys cooking for her friends and family. Besides being an instructor here, Kay, a valued member of the CCKC staff since 2009, works with us as a class assistant and helps in our Kitchen Shop.

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PAUL McCOOL
Paul McCoolPaul McCool has been baking breads for family and friends since 1977. Paul’s other passion is teaching, which means he’s really happy to be able to combine the two by teaching baking classes in his home and at private events. He has been an extraordinary baking instructor with us since 2013.

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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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CINDY NEWLAND
Cindy NewlandAuthor, speaker, certified health coach and experienced cook Cindy Newland is the perfect person to give you information about eating a plant-based diet, not only about what it means to eat this way but about how to make it happen. After struggling with a debilitating back injury, Cindy made drastic changes, lost 125 pounds and discovered a whole new way of eating and nourishing her body. Now she shares that knowledge to help others interested in learning to eat a plant-based diet.

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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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CYNTHIA SAMSEL
Cynthia SamselA native of Los Angeles, Cynthia developed a taste for world cuisine in the cultural melting pot of southern California. Influenced by her father, who grew up in Kansas City working in a family restaurant, she also started working in restaurants at a young age.  Cynthia has worked in restaurants and backstage hospitality for major concerts, and her catering  company, Classic Catering, provided catering services for movie sets. She taught cooking classes at Pacific Flavors Cooking School, as well as private and local school culinary programs. Cynthia relocated to KC in 2017 where she is connecting with family roots and exploring barbeque history. Along with private Chef services, she has a passion for teaching and hopes her approach to world cuisine will bring inspiration to many kitchens.

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CHEF JILL GARCIA SCHMIDT
Chef Jill Garcia SchmidtJill 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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 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 Dinners on Demand™ program.

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RACHEL VAN STRATTON
Rachel VanStrattonRachel began her cake decorating career at a local cake and candy supply store where she learned the basics of cake and cookie decorating. In 2014, she opened her own home-based small business, Sweet Ideas, that specializes in custom cookie and cake orders and any other sweet idea you’ve got. Once a month, Rachel teaches a cookie or cupcake class at the Keeler Women’s Center in KCK.

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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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CHEF DUKE WALTER
Duke WalterChef Duke Walter, raised in SE Kansas, lived about a mile down the road from a large dairy farm, and had a father who loved to garden, grandparents that raised cattle and parents who insisted they eat well. Chef has spent most of the last 20+ years working in & around food – much of it spent as a bartender & wine guy. Working with Chef Matt DeMoss of the Meat Shed allows him a level of creativity and camaraderie that all lifers look for in the kitchen.

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LARRY WHEELER
Larry WheelerLarry Wheeler, known as the “Director of Ambiance” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kansas City, manages the floral department at this landmark hotel and directs social and civic events of note from small intimate parties to grand social occasions.

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LEIGHANA WILLIAMS
Leighana WilliamsLeighana Williams is one of our newest instructors, and is a passionate cake artist and baker who has worked with some of the best pastry chefs in the country. She studied art at Kansas State University and has spent the last decade cultivating her unique pastry style. After several years in San Francisco and Minneapolis, she has come back home to Kansas City to put down roots.

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CHEF ALLI WINTER
Chef Alli WinterAs a self-proclaimed Kitchen Crusader, Chef Alli believes that the more we are inspired, encouraged and empowered in the kitchen, the better our families and lives will be. She is a sought-after speaker, who is honored to share the story of Kansas agriculture and how our food is grown. A “fancy farm wife” and mom at heart, she and her husband, Pat, live in rural NE Kansas along with their three (hungry!) sons.

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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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