PUBLIX OPENS SECOND APRON'S

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Publix made a splash with the opening of another themed cooking school at a new store, featuring celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and John Ash, as well as the retailer's own culinary team.With much fanfare, Publix introduced Apron's Cooking School to local shoppers at a 61,000-square-foot store in an upscale, professional community. It's only the second such school to open since August

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Publix made a splash with the opening of another themed cooking school at a new store, featuring celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and John Ash, as well as the retailer's own culinary team.

With much fanfare, Publix introduced Apron's Cooking School to local shoppers at a 61,000-square-foot store in an upscale, professional community. It's only the second such school to open since August 2001, when the retailer inaugurated the Apron's concept at a store in Tampa.

During the Sarasota class, held in a well-appointed stainless steel and granite kitchen on the second floor of this six-month-old store, Puck showed a small group of home cooks who paid $100 each how to make a quick pasta dish from his Wolfgang Puck brand of tomato basil soup. The cooking star attracted attention from the media and consumers -- a local TV station featured Puck's appearance on a morning news show, and at the store, a crowd of fans seeking autographs formed a line that stretched out the door.

One of them, a local consumer who tried unsuccessfully to get into Puck's sold-out class, paid $60 for another class starring John Ash, an acclaimed Northern California chef, author and educator. The author of "Wine Country Cuisine," Ash kicked off the first class for Apron's Cooking School in Tampa last year. This time, he offered home cooks lots of encouragement, prepared bass and salmon dishes, and served them up, along with wine, the consumer told SN.

"We ate like queens that day," said Theresa Pizzarello, a full-time homemaker who lives down the street from the store with her husband and two sons. "To have the greatest chefs in the country come here to teach us is very cool. My family loves it."

The consumer, who took the class with a friend, intends to take another class at Publix this month, featuring Todd English, the celebrated Boston-area chef and restaurateur. English, scheduled to teach at both of the retailer's schools, will show cooks how to pair beer with food.

In its cooking school book available at the store, Publix lists a multitude of upcoming classes, including Basics in Culinary, Basics in Knife Skills, Baking Basics, Pizza with Pizazz, Soups and Quick Breads, and Holiday Appetizers. Class fees range from $25 to $75. Some classes let consumers do some cooking themselves. A few classes are aimed at children -- Pizzarello said she and her friend planned to enroll their young sons in a gingerbread house-making course.

A store associate told SN a three-member crew of chefs employed by Publix teaches classes in the store, in addition to the celebrities. "We have a beautiful kitchen," he said.

To market the program, Publix opened its kitchens to the public a day before the school's debut. In addition to the actual cooking school, Publix set up Apron's Quick Cook kitchen, a fast-meal demonstration station, near the front of the store on the first floor. Lots of in-store food demonstrations and wine tastings created excitement.

"The open house was mobbed," Pizzarello said. Publix also posted signs in the store promoting the classes.

The Florida retailer is the latest to expand or roll out a cooking class curriculum. Earlier this year, D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., opened a cooking school in what used to be an in-store cafe in a booming suburban community just outside that city [see "D&W Plans to Open Cooking School," SN, Sept. 16, 2002].