Elkridge Furnace Inn, Secolari offer food, recipes and fun at cooking classes

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Chef Ravi and Chef Alba Carbonaro Johnson teach a cooking class together at Secolari in Columbia.

Maureen Shanks would never have thought to combine dill with tomato sauce.

She also never would have put olive oil over ice cream.


"Its like an adult creamiscile," the Laurel resident said, of the dessert. "This is fun to do."

Shanks and her friends were learnning Hot Summer Cool Italian recipes during a cooking class at Secolari in Columbia. Since April 2014, the store, which sells a variety of olive oils and vinegars, has offered cooking classes.


"We just ramped them up to once a week in the spring," said Erin Beers, manager of the store, of the classes. "They are really, really popular."

Elkridge Furnace Inn has also seen a spike of interest in cooking classes. While the restaurant has offered classes for years, it was not unusual to cancel classes due to lack of participation, according to Matthew Balan, office manager. That's not true anymore.

"They are definitely becoming more popular," Balan said. "We do one a month at the restaurant and they are selling out completing. We did bread making and I thought it would not sell whatsoever and we had 14 people sign up. We only can do 10."

At Elkridge, the restaurant's chefs teach the classes. At Secolari, the store has three different chefs take turns teaching the weekly Wednesday night classes. The Cool Italian recipes class was under the tutelage of Chef Alba Carbonare Johnson, who adviced the 12 participants on everything from chopping garlic to the best tools to use to prepare a meal..

"I plan the menus," Johnson said. "Erin and I talk about what products they have. Erin is really good about mixing salts and the vinegars."

Johnson, who is known for her Italian/Meditaranean recipes, plans a different menu for each class, though Beers has asked her to repeat some classes — like a lemon-inspired class —that are popular.

"I do dishes that are not going to be found in a restaurant," Johnson said, nodding towards the pasta with dill sauce. "Dishes that they would find if they got to go to someone's house or off-the-beaten path."

She also chooses dishes that are simple and realtively easy to prepare.


"You don't have to have a lot of ingredients to taste good," Johnson said.

Elkridge Furnace Inn offers classes at least once every month for 10 people, though they will host private classes for six or more people," Balan said. "We'll do whatever topic you can imagine," Balan said. "Wild game is always very popular here. Boar, venison, not your normal meal."

The weekly classes at Secolari are a three-course sit down dinner, Beers said, with the guests getting up and pariticpating with each course's preparation.

"It's hands on ... and you get to eat," said Patricia Hanyok, of West Laurel, said after the Italian class. "Instead of looking at a menu and reading about the offerings, you experience the cooking of it and can go home and try it."

She and her husband, Robert, have attended several classes at Secolari and have signed up for several more.

"A friend of ours told us about Secolari about six months ago and we had so much fun," Hanyok said. "The staff is wonderful. It's a fun, laid-back time."


While Chef Alba is known for her Italian/Mediteran menus. Chef Ravi Lahori offers Indian-inspired menus and Chef Daniel Wecker, head chef at Elkridge Furnace Inn, offers typically offers French or Spanish menus.

"They do really good things over there," Balan said, of Wecker's participation." We use their products. It is a great partnership."

Occasionally, Secolari will have two chefs teach together In June, Chef Ravi and Johnson taught a class that was sold out.

"We see lots of girlfriends. We see lots of couples," Beers said, of participants. "Singles, couples, families. A full class is 16 people."

Howard County Times: Top stories


Daily highlights from Howard County's number one source for local news.

Classes cost typically between $60 to $70 at Secolari. A sausage class at Elkridge costs $80..

Michael Butera, of North Laurel, came to learn some new techniques.


"You always learn something, even if it is a small thing," Butera said. "Like the way she knew she had the right amount of oil by using her hands. It wasnt just taste. The process."

A former Columbia resident who now lives in Annapolis, Johnson enjoys traveling back to Howard County to teach the classes both for Howard County Parks and Recreation and Secolari.

"People get so excited," she said. "Everyone who comes in is hungry and they leave happy. I love it."

Secolari, 10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, will offer the next class, Dishes from the Sunny Eolie Islands of Sicily, on Aug. 9, at 6:30 p.m., with Chef Alba. 443-367-0010.

Elkridge Furnace Inn, 5745 Furnace Ave., will offer a class on sausage making on Aug.2, at 7 p.m. 410-379-9336.