Building community through cooking

Corporate chef Cate Smith talks to students about gingerbread making techniques
Corporate chef Cate Smith takes the time to explain cooking techniques before every cooking class.

This fall, Sweet Briar’s dining services partner, Meriwether Godsey, and its corporate chef, Cate Smith, held a monthly cooking class in the College’s dining hall. The class gave members of the campus community the chance to get to know each other, but also deepened the relationship between the College and the Lynchburg-based company.

Smith has a past rooted in teaching others how to cook. She is passionate about providing techniques and tricks to make cooking easier and more fun. The cooking class fits in with her overall philosophy. “Food is about community,” she said. “I am all about making the connection between food and community and then figuring out an identity together.”

Smith used the classes at Sweet Briar to teach a variety of cooking techniques and recipes throughout the fall, including no-bake vegan recipes, sushi, omelets and gingerbread houses. “We wanted to provide a variety of options for students interested in learning more about cooking.” says Smith. “Students learned how to make sushi without all of the fancy stuff, as if you were in your first apartment”.

Some participants have come to multiple lessons, while others came for a specific topic that interested them. Jessi Pugh, one of the College’s admissions counselors, has attended three lessons because she’s new to campus and enjoys cooking. “I thought this would be a good way to learn more about cooking and get to know the students while doing it,” she said.

First year, Brianna Rabassa decorates a gingerbread house.
First year, Brianna Rabassa decorates a gingerbread house.

Smith selects the monthly topics based on requests from the Sweet Briar community, which is why the group found themselves building gingerbread houses during the final class of the semester, on Dec. 10. “I love making gingerbread houses, but I haven’t made one in a really long time, so I thought it would be fun opportunity,” said first-time attendee Brianna Rabassa ‘23.

Both Meriwether Godsey and Smith hoped that the classes would bring the community together and help students build a more meaningful relationship with the company. “We want students to know that we aren’t just the cafeteria,” said Cate.

The classes have been a huge hit. The spots fill up quickly each month and there have been requests for more classes next semester.

Meriwether Godsey has been a local food service provider for over 30 years. The women-run company provides the food and dining experience for other local institutions such as Virginia Episcopal School, Guilford College, Hollins University and Chatham Hall.