When snowboarder Casey Easton opened Boulder’s amateur cooking school, Food Lab in 2015 at 1825 Pearl Street, she wanted to create a place where anybody could have fun learning how to cook.
Unlike South Boulder’s Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Food Lab doesn’t certify chefs professionally; it connects teachers to with the normal cooks among us to learn techniques and new dishes, from dim sum to empanadas.
The 2,700-square-foot space, right next to Boxcar Coffee and Cured on East Pearl, features hardwood floors, plenty of counterspace, a communal table, a massive central island with two six-burner stove ranges and a stainless steal hood and an open feel.
Food Lab hosts a different class most days of the week, some in person and some virtual, and the classes can stand alone without needing any prerequisites other than showing up. (It offers both private classes for standalone groups, like families or team-building events, and those open to the public at large.)
Part of Casey’s vision for the school lies in helping people connect to food in a way they can really enjoy, rooted in her own journey with food, which initially began sans meat.
Growing up in Arizona as a vegetarian in the 1980s and 90s, she had a more limited view than the vast food landscape that exists now.
“It was like, I’d eat hot dogs without the hot dog,” Casey remembers. After high school, instead of college she moved to Washington state to snowboard, and realized she needed a better approach. “I was so sick of being a vegetarian and not being able to eat good food when I knew it was out there.”
She decided to Google “vegetarian cooking schools.” According to Casey, at the time, she could only find two such schools in the country — one in New York City and one in Boulder.
Boulder has a thriving farm community and she wanted to keep mountain biking and snowboarding, so in 1999, Casey packed up her truck and moved to Boulder to join the School of Natural Cookery.
“It was very alternative back then,” Casey says. “You learned with different beans and grains, and being dairy-free and gluten-free was so on the fringe.”
Closing the gap
Casey wanted to create a space where people could hang out with the chef, learn and eat together, like an intimate gathering of family and friends around a bustling kitchen. Nothing’s warmer.
“There’s the person cooking and the person eating,” Casey says. “How do we close that gap?”
Working for a long time as personal chef after school, Casey had fallen in love with the connection between people and food — specifically, the education piece.
The first year came with its challenges: the City didn’t quite understand what her business did and Casey spent nearly 13 months paying rent without opening, and later running it solo nearly 24 hours a day the first month. By the end of 2019, Food Lab had 90 to 100 events booked a month.
Food Lab’s program has also always included kids classes, starting at age five. Now, with many classes going virtual, Casey has designed individual kits for the children to pick up and save for anytime.
These kits include all the ingredients needed to bake goodies like cupcakes and rice Krispy treats, and get planned seasonally (like last week’s Halloween box.) And this boxed meal method has also hit Food Lab’s adult classes.
A Food Lab class. Image: Food Lab
Though Casey says she’s heard people say “Boulder doesn’t have good food,” — and maybe the valley does lack certain cuisines (like, only having three vegetarian restaurants) — she believes that Boulder’s dedication and passion, and focus on sustainability, makes up for it.
While Colorado’s short agricultural season makes a locally grown style eating more difficult to do year-round than other warmer places like California, those few months where people try to cook with whatever they possibly can lends itself to a level of discipline either in sourcing or creativity — or both.
“It’s a very passionate town, both outdoors and in,” says Casey. “If I was a runner in Arizona, I’d be good; but here, I suck because Boulder attracts the best of the best. You see that passion in the restaurants — everyone is struggling and NOT shutting their doors.”
Header Image: Food Lab’s founder Casey Easton. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.