Local chef teaches virtual cooking class

All-ages class brings people together during isolating pandemic

Shorewood residents, like those of every community, have been forced to find new ways to connect during the pandemic. Kathy Papineau, a local business owner and chef, has made the best of these unique circumstances by creating innovative ways to help people interact with one another.

Papineau owns MKE Kitchen, a commercial kitchen in Riverwest, which she uses for her own work as well as renting out to tenants. Recently, she has been using her kitchen to host virtual cooking classes for all ages.

“Participating in the class and sharing experiences between kids and adults helps people feel less isolated,” Papineau said. “I think that’s really important.”

The classes demonstrate Papineau’s passion for helping kids express themselves through cooking. As a child, she regularly cooked meals for her family.

“I liked it as a kid, “ Papineau said. “It was creative, it was productive, it made me feel independent. I’ve always thought that the to-go world, that the food industry, is shorting kids out of that experience.”

The cooking classes have been a hit with younger participants—and their families. Betsy Gnau, nine, has taken multiple cooking classes.

“On a scale of one to ten, I’d rate the classes a 5,000,” Gnau said. “Both my parents said they were the best cinnamon rolls they’ve ever had. I think I did [a good job].”

Papineau also hopes that encouraging children to cook will lessen the burden on their parents.

“Parents and kids are under a lot of stress,” Papineau said. “It takes pressure off the family to put together a meal… and it provides independence, creativity and a lifelong skill that [the kids] are learning.”

Before each class, Papineau drops off the necessary ingredients at each participant’s house. The classes are interactive and hands-on, and can often be adjusted to fit dietary needs. Papineau hopes to teach children healthy eating habits that they can sustain for their whole lives.

“What can be core at how we feel and what affects our mental health is what we put into our bodies,” Papineau said. “Let’s teach [kids] how to feed themselves with healthy food.”

Papineau also works to make sure her business is environmentally friendly and sustainable: she grows celery in an aquaponic system, and her classes are designed to be plastic-free.

“It’s a commitment,” Papineau said. “I try super hard not to violate that commitment.”

Another way Papineau is supporting a sustainable community is by working with the middle school’s Environmental Club, supervised by Sarah Kopplin, Shorewood Intermediate School teacher. Papineau is helping the club fundraise the building of a beehive in Shorewood. 

“We’ve lost 60% of our bee population since 1964 in the United States,” Kopplin said. “And one third of everything we eat is dependent upon bee pollination. So [bees] have a huge impact on our system and on our ecosystem in general.”

The club is doing multiple fundraisers to raise money for their beehive, and Papineau’s help will be invaluable to their project. She will host bee-themed cooking classes, all with honey as a central ingredient, to help contribute to the fundraising.

“She is just so generous to do this. She’s just so kind. We never could have done anything like this on our own,” Kopplin said.

Papineau’s classes are fun for the participants, but perhaps more importantly, they help to build a strong community in an isolated time.

“That is super important, that it breaks down the isolation in this crazy pandemic time, and kids can learn the joy of food,”  Papineau said.

“I feel like this is just a really powerful way for people to get together, and enjoy food, which we all love,” Kopplin said.