When most people think of the first-class dining experience that can be seen on cooking shows, it seems to be more of an idea than a reality. Especially in a rural tri-state area, it doesn’t seem like an occurrence you would find anywhere close to home.
Pastor’s Pantry Cooking School in Wheelersburg, Ohio is a live and in-person demonstrative cooking school that offers just that type of experience. The school is led by Pastor Sam Peters and his wife Joyce.
Sam has long been a food connoisseur; it’s a passion he says began to grow in him at the young age of 14. He was a student of the various cooking shows that appeared on public television during his youth, and Sam quickly took a liking to the styles of pioneers in the industry such as Julia Child, Graham Kerr, and Jeff Smith.
Much in the same way that a young athlete or musician is inspired to reach for the stars by their predecessors, Sam viewed the way these chefs prepared food as a major opportunity to flourish. He also possessed a knack for creativity, which he says was also a major key in his attraction to the culinary arts, “These were the television chefs back in my day. I loved to eat, but I also loved what they did with food. Being the creative person that I am, I love to create anything and I have a lot of creative hobbies. Food was something I took to very naturally.”
Sam’s professional journey as a chef began at the age of 16 and he quickly realized that this was a legitimate calling for him, “I just had this natural inclination to cook for people and I loved the enjoyment that something well-prepared brought to other people.”
That cooking beginning only served to fan the flame of Sam’s passion for cooking. He worked as a chef throughout college before deciding to cook as a hobby instead of professionally. During that time, Sam explored other business ventures while continuing to cook for fun and polish his skills in the presence of friends and family, “I love cooking for large groups, and during that time it was pretty common for Joyce and I to invite a dozen friends over just so I could cook. I would say ‘I feel like I want to cook this or this so let’s invite some friends over.’ and that’s what we would do. I did that for all those other years.”
During that in-between time, Sam says he had no idea that this passion would end up growing into what it is today, “It was just a hobby for me until we actually started our business.” That was the case until May of 2009, when that hobby would quickly transform into something much larger, “I made a Jamaican jerk sauce for my brother’s birthday party and people went crazy over it. We called it Patter Fam Jamaican Jerk Sauce.” The name for the sauce came from Sam’s longtime nickname, which was given to him by a young boy in his congregation at church who pronounced “Pastor Sam” as “Patter Fam”.
Within six months of the sauce’s debut, Sam says that the business began to really establish itself, “I was bombarded, just through word of mouth. Cooking eight hours a day to keep up with phone orders. We prayed about it and just felt a lead there to go for it and take the risk.” The business was officially established in October of 2009 as primarily a sauce business in which Sam and his wife were out selling their sauce on their own.
According to Peters, after successfully getting their foot in the door with the sauces, the business lost a major contributor, “When we lost our co-packer about 5 years ago, we had to come up with another way to make our sauces. We could not find another micro-batch co-packer anywhere near us at all. Everyone had a minimum batch size of 100 to 200 gallons which pretty much kicked us out of the ballpark.”
Instead of giving up on the vision so early on, Sam and Joyce decided to take a leap, “We took a leap of faith and decided to create our own micro-batch co-packing company. We took a lot of risks to do that. We mortgaged our house and put all of our savings into it, but we were all in.”
The risk would prove to pay off in the long run, as the Peters’ were able to come up with all the financing they needed to make the company work, buying a building and inserting the necessary equipment. Sam says however, that though there was overall success, there were still multiple bumps in the road, “We had a lot of construction delays, and another financial hardship was the precursor to what is now the Pastor’s Pantry. We decided to take another leap of faith and now go back to what my original passion was and that was to cook for people.”
Although Sam was looking at making food for people in his own building, he didn’t want it to be done in the way of a conventional restaurant. He wanted to put his own spin on things, “I wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t a restaurant. I had done those hours of a chef and worked 12-18 hours in a day and cooked whatever people ordered. I wanted something fun and creative that would play into the two passions that we have which are to be a good steward of food while teaching people about good food that is prepared well, and our passion for community. Joyce and I are very passionate about community and really there’s no greater metaphor for community in our mind than food. Food brings us together. It was something about that aspect that we saw in scripture where Jesus was constantly eating with people and building relationships. We said ‘this is what it’s about’.”
Now, over 10 years later, Pastor’s pantry has established itself as a one of a kind dining experience that can be enjoyed right here in southern Ohio. “This is not just eating, it’s a unique dining experience. We’ve had many people tell us that they will try foods here that they would never order in a restaurant because they are seeing us cook it fresh in front of them and pour the love into it.” Peters said.
One big factor in this approach is that patrons are able to enjoy exclusive, freshly made meals that are prepared specifically for them, “One of the great things that comes with this experience is that everything is so fresh and the flavors are unbelievable. It’s because I don’t have to feed a group of people all day and keep food under warming lamps or stir a pot of soup on the stove all day. I get to make it fresh for one group of people. It’s like going to a place to eat where you have your own personal executive chef for dinner.”
Peters says that there is also an experience of community in which there is a good amount of dialogue and entertainment, “It’s about building community. If all I did was stand there and cook it would be pretty boring. We take the time to converse with people, to tell jokes, to have a laugh. Building that community is so important to us that we made that priority number one. We want people to come in and enjoy the experience for an evening and have some great food. We want people to leave saying ‘wow.’ Just like they would when they watch a great movie or TV show.”
The demonstration cooking school teaches the participants how to cook a wide variety of dishes ranging from Asian, Italian and Latin America to domestic styles of Barbecue, Cajun and Lowlands regardless of their experience level. Pastor’s Pantry Cooking School is located in Wheelersburg, Ohio and reservations or private sessions can be booked by visiting the Pastor’s Pantry/ Patter Fam Sauces website (patterfamsauces.com).