There's a new cooking school coming to town: chef Matthew Kenney's eponymous vegan culinary school is opening in Santa Monica this month (soft opening is Saturday), along with his vegan restaurant, M.A.K.E. The chef's growing empire includes restaurants in Chicago and Oklahoma City (where he also has a culinary academy), numerous cookbooks, and a restaurant consulting arm. Great, we're all for more cooking schools in L.A. — except for a rather glaring location issue. The new school is within a few feet, literally, of The Gourmandise School in The Market at the Santa Monica Place Mall.

For restaurants, numerous dinner-hour colleagues in the same area is often a benefit, as diverse hot dog and sushi options draw a broad tourist crowd. Cooking schools are arguably in the opposite position; they require longer term community relationships to woo recurring students. The Gourmadise School, one of the first local vendors in the 2-year-old retail space, is also one of the few vendors to stick it out during The Market's tough retail times (Röckenwagner Bakery being among the many local shops to close after a slow start in the space).

“This isn't a tourist business,” says Gourmandise co-owner Clémence Gossett, as she sets up sound equipment for a recent cooking demo with Melisse chef Josiah Citrin. “As a cooking school, we require a large local demographic, one that we've slowly cultivated.” And one that she hopes to sustain when Kenney's school opens (among the Gourmandise School's course offerings are vegan classes taught by local reporter and vegan instructor Kirsten Gum).

Empty Retail Spaces At The Market At Santa Monica Place; Credit: JGarbee

Empty Retail Spaces At The Market At Santa Monica Place; Credit: JGarbee

Santa Monica Farmer's Market manager Laura Avery shares the sentiments of many of Gossett's students. “Clémence has done an amazing job, kept (The Market at Santa Monica Place) together when everyone else has been leaving. She stuck around, despite it all, and also has vegan classes. This isn't like a restaurant, where it's fine to have two [competing businesses]. This should not be happening. But if anyone can make it still work, she can.”

The redesigned mall has been a source of local controversy since it re-opened in 2010. Among the concerns: the absence of preservation efforts for the original mall design, which was, not insignificantly, the work of Santa Monica resident Frank Gehry. The Market was also promoted as a take-off on San Francisco's Ferry Building marketplace with a similar emphasis on local food businesses and restaurants. In Santa Monica, the 3rd floor of the mall (adjacent to The Market) includes Northern California's Pizza Antica and Ozumo, two of the mall's first restaurants. Zengo and La Sandia restaurants nearby are both are both part of New York-based Richard Sandoval's empire, with Kenney's new cooking school to come. [Local businesses include Groundwork Coffee, N'ice Cream and several others, though on a recent visit “for lease” signs were more abundant than artisan retail shops.]

“I want The Market to spread the gospel of good food, and Matthew is a nice guy, so I'm happy he's coming,” continues Gossett, ever the positive chef instructor. She hopes to use The Gourmandise School's small retail shop to help locals start their own food businesses — locals who might one day lease some of those empty retail spaces. “We already teach classes on the business of baking, so a pop-up shop sort of thing in our retail space could be a great way to get those students started. I want to see The Market become a place where people can explore food, in all ways. Having Matthew here, with his vegan knowledge, helps do that. Hopefully we can all work together to maximize our local customer demographic.”

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