Jeri Kopecky baked her first cake with her mother in the kitchen of her family's home in Ennis, a city south of Dallas. Batter wasn't the only thing transformed by the heat of that oven, and after years of helping her mother decorate cakes for friends and neighbors, Jeri took it upon herself to make her passion her career. In 1998, she bought a cake shop, expanded its size to 4000 square feet, and leapt into business for herself. One short year later, her own daughter Kelli joined her in the baking business, and the pair now whip up multilayer bridal cakes and creative birthday cakes for their ever-growing neighborhood. Cake Carousel's ample kitchens also provide a venue for eager students to come and learn the decorating techniques that have twice been passed from mother to daughter. Basic classes teach everything from leveling batter to simple frosting-piping techniques, and students in advanced sessions sculpt complex sculptures out of fondant or learn the elements of design behind a cookie bouquet. Several instructors aid Jeri and Kelli in keeping their year-round calendar of classes running. Occasional guest and celebrity sugar artists—such as Lauren Kitchens, various Food Network chefs, or a peanut-flavored fondant sculpture of George Washington Carver—supplement the lineup with classes in their particular specialties. The candy and cookie store also offers supplies for cake, candy-making, and cookies such as gelatin, isomalt, fondant, and gum-paste.
Don't be fooled by Hot Chocolates' name—the bakery focuses on more than one flavor. In fact, even the handcrafted chocolate candies come in more than 40 varieties, such as dipped Oreos, peanut-butter creams, and 12 types of truffles made from imported ingredients. The staff also bakes custom cakes in 35 flavors, including piña colada and devil's food. To personalize these desserts for special occasions such as parties, weddings, or breakfast, bakers top them with assorted icings and buttercreams. These creations once caused a customer to describe the patisserie as a place “where everything tastes as good as it looks,” which the business uses as its motivation to create new eye-catching delicacies. Hot Chocolates' bakers also teach the secrets behind many of their treats in group classes, during which students learn to decorate cookies and bake desserts.
Every graduate of The Premium Institute of Bartending Schools' 34-hour mixology program can count on one thing—being hired as an on-call bartender with Premium Event Staffing, a company that provides staff for private parties and corporate events. Like a pie-fight truce, this guarantee benefits everyone involved. Students get to earn income while they use the institute's job-placement services to find a steady gig at an affiliated bar or elsewhere. Premium Event Staffing in turn gets access to bartenders who have completed the mixology program and who know their way around a muddler.
The reason even the institute's most recent graduates are so comfortable behind a bar isn't that they're wearing footie pajamas under their clothes—it's that classes take place in such a realistic setting. Students work at a bar setup that includes bar guns, liquor bottles, and 14 types of glasses, and they learn to pour on a real draft-beer system. This hands-on approach also characterizes the four-hour introductory classes the school holds for people who wish to learn to make martinis, shots, frozen drinks, or other specialties.
Light trips across the edge of a steel blade as fingertips guide the knife over a row of colorful vegetables. A sharp crunch follows each chop. Droplets of water fly from the neatly diced plants as a hand carefully transfers them from chopping board to mixing bowl. These hands belong to Chef Tonne, who, for almost a decade, has dreamed up an ever-evolving catering menu of international and American cuisine. Guests can put together a menu that complements their taste and event, from prix fixe party packages that assail diners with relentlessly delicious courses to à la carte hot and cold appetizers, side dishes, entrees, and desserts for less formal occasions. Wedding guests can nibble on bacon-wrapped sea scallops during the cocktail hour and later dig in to a glazed-blueberry-chicken entree. Each catered event receives complimentary linens and china. Chef Tonne also handles the cooking duties for everyday meals. The company delivers dinners to doorsteps comprised of locally raised meat, wild-caught fish, fresh produce, and minimally processed ingredients.
"Gardens are a lot like people,” Marilyn Simmons told Now Magazines. “As they grow and mature, they come into their own.” Marilyn and her daughter Donelle, owners of Garden Inspirations, have their own unique plot. “A Radio Flyer wagon is home to an assortment of flowers and trailing potato vines and an herb garden is flourishing in a nonfunctioning barbecue grill.”
At their farm, the two work to show pupils how to plant their own beds with pesticide-free veggies, which blossom into sources of personal pride. The full schedule of classes includes introductory courses on overcoming the gamut of challenges that aspiring gardeners face, such as inhospitable soil, lack of time, and accidentally planting their car keys. Knowledgeable about diverse garden types—including rooftop, field, and aquaponic—the instructors impart their wisdom on the best kind of garden for each grower’s individual needs, as well as which vegetable varieties grow most readily in North Texas and how to plant them. When not brewing compost tea or working beneath trellises tangled in emerald wisps, the crew does a radio show which talks about how to obtain baskets of naturally grown peaches, cucumbers, and squash.
Atmosphere is an essential part of fine dining. Crowds frequent five-star restaurants not only for their food, but also for the mood created by their décor. That's why in-home chef service Cooks For Your Kitchen brings a posh atmosphere to their patrons' homes in addition to their cooking utensils and groceries. Linens, china, silverware, and stemware decorate tabletops, where candles flicker and fresh flowers waft fragrances that please loved ones or pet bumblebees. Four-course dinners revolve around entrees such as chicken lemonata or lobster in creamy champagne sauce, and finish with rich desserts such as crème brûlée or tiramisu. All aspects of each meal are made fresh on the spot and can be altered to accommodate vegetarian diets or food allergies. Alternatively, chefs can entertain groups with a dinner party, cooking lessons, and movie nights, where chefs show up to homes with a DVD and movie-night snacks, such as flatbread pizzas and root-beer floats.