Tracy Blizman 

“Vegan meals can be fun, east to make, and delicious!”

Tracy 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 vegan bakery. Tracy started living a vegan lifestyle in 2014 (she was vegetarian several years prior.. She loves traveling the world and has taken cooking classes in India, Indonesia, and Italy. When Tracy isn’t in the kitchen, she teaches at a Blue Valley Elementary School. She is also an active French Horn player on the KC area. She is member of the Overland Park Orchestra, KC Civic Orchestra, Lenexa Summer Orchestra, and the Kansas City Horn Club. 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! Tracy has been a valued member of The Culinary Center of Kansas City’s team of instructors since 2021.

Bruce Campbell

“I teach to promote the ‘en’ words – engage, enthuse, enlighten, entertain, and enjoy”
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.

Chef Sumana Dey

“Good food is always made with the three Ps: Passion, Pride and Panache.”
Since her childhood, Sumana Dey followed her mom around the kitchen whenever she could while her mom cooked her amazing dishes. Her fondness towards cooking started to grow back then and continues to be an integral part of her life. Though she’s a scientist by profession, she’s an epicurean by passion. Sumana loves to explore the world of food and takes immense pleasure in cooking as well as creating new recipes. Her specialty is not only Indian cuisine, but also various other cuisines: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indo-Chinese, Moroccan, Greek and Italian, to name a few. Her favorite part, though, is bringing together ingredients from different cultures and merging recipes. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her husband and daughter, developing recipes, food blogging, travel, and painting. Sumana is excited about sharing her culinary knowledge with class-goers!

Dr. Lisa Sharpe Elles

“Teaching allows me to share my love of both food and chemistry with others”
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.

Tarra Freberg

“I love sharing my passion for cooking and baking.  Good food makes people happy!”

Tarra Freberg is a foodie currently teaching advanced culinary students at a local high school. She has worked as a culinary educator for 20 years, specializing in yeast breads, pies and easy weeknight meals. Tarra enjoys her relationships with students, helping them develop culinary skills and  motivating them to love cooking and baking. During the holiday season, she sells freshly prepared pies and cinnamon rolls to friends. Tarra grew up on a farm in north central Kansas where her mother and grandmothers made everything from scratch. They raised their own fruits, vegetables and proteins, processing their food. She learned to can fresh pickles & green beans, freeze sweet corn and fruit, fabricate chickens, bake bread and whip up meals. She especially loves working with dough. When she is not working with students or cooking, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children, creating container gardens, reading inspirational books and completing home improvement projects.

Pastry Chef Natasha Goellner

“Life is sweet. Baking makes people happy and brings joy. Enjoy!”
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.

Chef Gary Hild

“Healthy cooking and plant-based meals are nothing short of culinary medicine”
When 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.

Todd Johns

“Experimentation and discovery of smoking and grilling is my passion.”
Todd 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 barbecue is all about Kansas City’s time-honored mantra: “low and slow.”

‘Main Dish’ Laura Laiben

“You can’t lick the bowl watching the food channel. Let’s Cook!”
Laura, 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.

Susy Lara

Susana Lara Ramirez has a passion for cooking. She grew up in the kitchen beside her mother who taught her the secrets of preparing authentic Mexican dishes and as the oldest of 6 children, she prepared many of her family’s daily meals. When Susana isn’t creating culinary magic in her kitchen (or ours!) she enjoys her full-time position as a 2nd grade teacher. She has been an instructor and The Culinary Center of Kansas City since 2007 and teaches one of our most popular classes: The Traditional Art of Tamale-Making. 

Vicky Lara

“Foods of my Mexican heritage are important to me, and I love to pass that along.”
Vicky knows how to cook authentic Mexican cuisine just like her Mom used to make for her! She and her sister, Susy Lara, teach classes in Mexican cooking especially the very popular “Talamada Party” classes.

Kerri Lesh

“I want to whisk you away to foreign lands and foods without leaving the table”
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.

Chef Richard McPeake

“I teach people cooking is about “FATT” (Flavor, Aroma, Taste, and Texture) & understanding a recipe.”

Chef Richard has been teaching CCKC classes for over 20 years! Assorted Cooking classes including, smoking and grilling as well as our very popular Professional Series classes for over 10 years. He is currently a Lead Chef Instructor at Kansas City Community College. He also enjoys teaching the culinary arts to 9-12 year-olds in our Junior Chef Academy classes and camps. His wife Kris, helps him do his “mise en place” for every cooking class at CCKC. Enjoys cooking in his backyard, and walking his dog Marley! He was awarded the KCKCC Outstanding Faculty of the Year 2016, ACF KCCA Chef of the Year 2016, 2008 Presidents Gold Medal Award from the American Culinary Federation, Member Past Grand Champion of 1982 American Royal Barbecue Contest, 2 time 4 Diamond Award Winner from AAA for Food Excellence, Awarded 15 Travel Holiday Awards for Food Excellence at Plaza III, Bristol Bar & Grill and Fedora Cafe & Bar.


Shriti Plimpton

“Wine is an experience meant to be shared.”                                                                                                                                              Shriti Plimpton is the owner and winemaker of Fence Stile Vineyards, Winery & Distillery (est. 2006) in Excelsior Springs, Missouri (30 minutes north of Kansas City, MO). Shriti is involved in all aspects of the vineyard, winery and distillery. She is committed to making wine approachable and a great experience for wine drinkers of all levels and is focused on education for guests so that wine is not a mystery. Shriti studied wine making and vineyard practices at VESTA (Viticulture & Enology Science & Technology Alliance). She is currently the Vice President of the Northwest Missouri Wine Trail.  She uses sustainable practices at Fence Stile by cultivating instead of spraying for weeds, hand harvesting, solar energy, underground facility to manage heat and light, geothermal heating and cooling, no irrigation to strengthen the vines, and focusing on featuring the expression of the grape. She is one of the first in the Midwest to make unique wines such as white port-style, piquettes and orange wine. Her hope is to bridge the gap to meet consumers who are not as familiar with the local varietals and wines. Born in Kenya, raised in India and Canada and has experienced the culture and wine of many countries. She considers her work at Fence Stile to represent a taste of the world, even though she is making Missouri wines and enjoys the opportunity to develop an array of quality wines. She extends this passion by leading wine groups on wine trips around the world.

Chef Mari Ruck

“Life is too short to eat bad. I love to show people how easy it is to create delicious food.” 


Mari Ruck has been teaching great classes with us since we opened! She co-owned owned a specialty food store, from 1983 to 2004 which inspired her to attend the Chef Program at Johnson County Community College, graduating in 1999.  She loves baking and has become known as the cinnamon roll queen.  

Paul Santalauria

“Food is a beautiful thing.”

Chef Paul Santaularia is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America Paul has been employed in various small hotels and restaurants from Arizona, Dallas, Omaha, New York, and Kansas City. He is Kentucky transplant, #5 of 6 boys and nearly lifelong Kansas resident. Paul retired as a High School Culinary Arts Instructor in Platte City, Missouri in 2014 to pursue other opportunities. He spent 8 years in retail foodservice with Hy-Vee and Price Chopper and is currently a Kitchen Manager with the DeSoto School District. His Class moto while in school was and still is “food is a beautiful thing”. Paul’s love of food began while in the kitchen with his mother preparing food for the “boys” each has his own “special” dinner night – his was Stuffed Peppers. Those memories led him to his culinary career and desire to share his love of food and the conviviality those moments created into lasting memories. Chef Paul has been a valued member of the CCKC Instructor team since 2022.

Richard Sinning

“I am a foodie and love to teach about and share my love for food”

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.

Kim Stewart

“My inspiration is Julia Child. Learn the basics and never be afraid to try new things.”

Kim 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.

Laura Thomsen (Elle T)

“It feeds my soul to feed people & see their delight when equipped with new culinary skills.”

Also 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.

Rachel Van Stratton

“I believe everyone has the space to be creative, you just need a safe space to learn and play.”

Rachel Van Stratton 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 specialized in custom cookie and cake orders, and shared her decorating talents at many pop-up shops around the Kansas City area. She now teaches at the Culinary center and spends every other spare moment baking with her son.

Chef Jesse Vega

“Perfect a recipe, then you can put your stamp on it and change it to your liking and taste.”

Chef 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.

Larry Wheeler

“I get soooo much pleasure and ideas in return for teaching, it seems almost unfair.”

Larry 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.

Dr. Heath Wilt, DO,

Heath Wilt, DO, FACC, is an experienced, award-winning invasive, non-interventional cardiologist with AdventHealth Medical Group. He currently serves as Medical Director for AdventHealth cardiovascular department as well as the Board President for the American Heart Association in Kansas City.  Dr. Wilt is Board-certified in cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology and cardiac CT. He earned his medical degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, completing residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before his fellowship in adult cardiology and cardiovascular disease at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.   In 2019, Dr. Wilt was named a Kansas City Top Doctor by Ingram’s magazine.  His approach for treating his patients is through a comprehensive integration of diet, lifestyle, and individualized treatment plan.  In 2020, he and his wife co-founded, an online platform for nutrition, exercise, and health-directed education. 

Chef Reyam Yas

“‘No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing’ – Julia Child”

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!

Leesa Yates

Leesa 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.