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.

Catie Wiley

Baking is about transformation. Turn flour into cakes, eggs into custard, and ideas into something people enjoy & share.”

Pastry Chef Catie Wiley joins our teaching staff full-time after an illustrious career on the East Coast. Since early childhood, when Catie was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always answered “a baker.” She grew up in the Hudson Valley, and often spent her birthdays at the Culinary Institute of America’s Apple Pie Cafe. She began pursuing her passion for baking at Johnson and Wales University, and followed that up with a Masters of Art in Teaching. On the East Coast, Catie worked at a number of bakeries, including an iconic French patisserie in Providence’s historic Federal Hill neighborhood. After honing her skills across Rhode Island’s vibrant food scene, Catie spent time teaching baking and pastry arts to high school students in Falls River, Massachusetts. Her passion for learning and exploring new techniques continues, with a current obsession for sourdough, perfecting pizza dough, and discovering Midwestern regional favorites like bierocks and gooey butter cake. Catie is thrilled to start this new chapter at The Culinary Center of Kansas City, bringing her collective knowledge and skills from total beginner cookie baking to experienced enthusiast levels. Catie’s classes will inspire you to fall in love with baking!

Melissa Houston

“I create my own spin on regional and global dishes. Variety is the spice of cooking & food.”

A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Melissa has travelled the globe cooking and teaching for over thirty years. Hailing from the West Coast, Melissa has worked and lived in many places: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach, the Cayman Islands, Southeast Alaska, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Portland, and Los Angeles. Melissa uses her incredible breadth and depth of culinary experience to put her own unique spin on regional and global cuisine that is both healthy and delicious. Melissa is both classically trained and also fluent in contemporary culinary trends, diets, and sports/medical nutrition.

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!

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.

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.

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.


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 

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

Also known as “Goddess of Good Eats”, Laura 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.

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.

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!