Get to know Executive Chef Omei Eaglerider (also known as Chef O) of Fry’s Signature Marketplace Cooking School.
What prompted your interest in the culinary arts?
My earliest memories are of cooking with my mom, grandmother and Aunt Deb. It was as if they were magicians. All these bits and pieces of food would be brought together and then, suddenly, from my viewpoint, there would be delicious things to eat. There was also an artistry to it that spoke to me – to make edible art that also makes people happy. I had to learn these superpowers on my own. I was also fortunate to be a Girl Scout where I had numerous opportunities to learn the magic called “cooking.” Cooking has become part of how I express myself.
How does your background in the film industry translate to your current role at Fry’s?
I was a special effects artist in the film industry where I built hard models (a k a physical structures) on set before computers were used, super old school. The work requires a fantastic combination of skills. Design, art, carpentry, sculpture and welding, just to name a few. Beyond the technical skills I learned, I think the most valuable skills I gained were problem solving, communication and teamwork. Running the Fry’s Cooking School and teaching requires all of these skills: explaining a recipe to new cooks, keeping the process on the right track and working together to make something delicious. I view food as another art form. It’s part science, part technical skills, and a lot of creativity! So, the transition from film design to chef instructor isn’t as big of a shift as some people may think.
Tell us about your experience owning your own coffee and bake shop.
For me, it was both wonderful and overwhelming. It was a lot of moving parts to keep going, but I am so glad I did it. I loved the community. As a small local shop, I had the chance to get to know my customers and be a part of their lives beyond a good cup of Joe and a pastry. It was probably what I liked most about owning my own shop. I enjoyed being able to put on events, sponsor activities and support local needs in the community. I was lucky to also have the privilege of sharing the simple joy of food.
A moment I treasure in my shop was watching a young girl who has severe diet restrictions get to eat a cupcake for the first time because we catered to special dietary needs. It was a tough decision to step away from my business, but the right call at the time. It ultimately led me to my current position at the Fry’s Cooking School, a job I very much enjoy doing. I am fortunate to interact with so many wonderful people every day.
Tell us about Fry’s Signature Marketplace Cooking School and your role there.
The Fry’s Cooking School is open to everyone and most classes are hands-on. We also do birthday parties, corporate team building and charity events. Tuesday afternoons are dedicated to our Junior Chef After School Program for kids ages 7 to 12. We also offer additional classes for kids during school breaks. This summer kids participated in the “Cook the Books” program where they made recipes from their favorite books, such as Harry Potter.
Wednesday through Sunday we offer a variety of adult classes from Sunday Date Nights and holiday-themed dinners to knife skills and cast-iron cooking. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. Thursdays is our Supper Club class which is demonstration style. Attendees get to sit back and indulge in a little wine while we cook dinner for them. We’ve also added wine cellar events where we create a five-course wine pairing dinner. I’m very excited about the upcoming Jan. 24 class where we’ll have the wine maker from Grgich Winery at the event to chat with attendees about wine making and pairing.
I’m responsible for all aspects of the Fry’s Cooking School including writing the schedules, menus, recipes and, of course, teaching the classes. I am also very lucky to have a fantastic assistant, Chef Emily, to assist me. Besides teaching classes, she helps keep me on track and manages social media for the school.
What are your favorite classes to teach? Would you say you have a specialty?
I am a pastry chef, so I lean toward the baking classes. The best classes are those that require full participation and interaction with our guests. I love when they get excited, ask a lot of questions, go off on unexpected tangents and really get into the cooking experience. Sharing a passion for food is what it’s about.
How does teaching junior classes differ from the others?
I like teaching the Junior Chef classes. In some ways, they’re easier to teach than adults, once they overcome the initial “shy” phase. The kids that come to class want to be there because they are interested and excited about cooking. They are eager to learn and show you what they can do. There is a different rhythm with kids. It takes an extra breath or pause while they absorb the information, you can’t rush the process.
As we head into Christmas, what rules-of-thumb or advice do you have for home chefs?
Have a plan but be open to change. Something unforeseen can come up and you will have to adjust. This happens quite often in the chef world. Don’t panic and review your plan to see what can be altered at the moment.
Don’t try a recipe for the first time at a holiday dinner. Leave that multi-step fancy item for another time.
Do your prep work and make any dishes you can ahead of time. The less you have to do the day of, the easier everything will flow.
Try not to add unnecessary stress to the occasion. Even though food is a big part of our family and friends’ gatherings the most important part is just being with each other. And lastly, enjoy!