Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Food Dude

Culinary Loft debuts


The first time I interviewed Zach Mannheimer, I was impressed by his talent at piecing together multiple sources of funding. Similar coalitions of generosity had been assembled to save the Temple of the Performing Arts from the wrecking ball. That was part of a local civic effort to preserve an historic architectural treasure, and it was organized by lifelong Des Moines supporter Harry Bookey and his wife Pam. Mannheimer was an East Coast guy who wanted to build a social club with a myriad of activities — theater, circus, wrestling, art, music — many of which appealed more to hipsters than the old guard of Des Moines.

Porchetta with caramelized fennel at the Culinary Loft.

Porchetta with caramelized fennel at the Culinary Loft.

Mannheimer’s vision for the Des Moines Social Club found a permanent home last year in another historic architectural gem — the former downtown fire station. Last week, its latest feature opened to the delight of an older demographic than earlier perceived. The Culinary Loft is a cooking school and events venue like no other in town. Its space took over what had been seven different rooms in the firehouse. Because the windows outside were deemed historic, changing them was not possible. They were old windows that were far from soundproof. That noise factor scared off the first two organizations who considered running the school — Meredith Corporation and Orchestrate Inc.

Mannheimer decided to have the DMSC run the place themselves. “I really wanted this. Nothing engages a community like food,” he explained. Both Meredith and Orchestrate remained as sponsors. Steve and Cathy Lacy joined a team that also included organizer Chris Diebel. They raised $360,000 to get going, with Kitchen Collage chipping in with state-of-the-art equipment. Mannheimer found Jeff Claeys and a crack staff at Weitz Company. They added an inner layer of soundproof windows and converted seven rooms into one with a storage and refrigeration room behind it. Then he hired Amanda Mae Phillips from Whole Foods to manage the school and venue. It’s so popular already that it has events booked into 2016 and anticipates hosting 700 showers, receptions, etc. a year. The school seats 100 for sit-down dinners.

The first event served excellent treats: cheddar Bearnaise with asparagus and caramelized apples, roasted plantains and rice cakes with shallots and poblano salsa, and almond honey cakes and lemon semolina ghoribals (from Little Morocco). The feature was magnificent porchetta from bone-in shoulders with twice the back fat one finds at local supermarkets. It was presented with caramelized fennel and walnut lemon gremolata.

The loft released its schedule of cooking classes for spring and summer. There is something for all tastes: breakfast and yoga on first Saturdays, elementary gastronomy on third Tuesdays, a non-specific cheese series, a “six-ingredient date night” on first Sundays, global kitchen on fourth Wednesdays, Libations 101 on fourth Tuesdays, gastronome’s book club on fourth Mondays, dinner and movies on third Tuesdays, a rotating restaurant series on fourth Fridays, Baking 101 on third Sundays, networking lunches on first Fridays, a farmers market “shop and cook” on various dates, wine seminars on second Wednesdays, Pico Brew on the 15th of each month, and health nut on first Saturdays.

Classes range in price from $20 to $50 and details can be reserved at


Side Dishes

Competitive eating superstar Molly Schuyler came back to Jethro’s Bacon Bacon for two new challenges in late March. She broke her own “Emmenecker Challenge” record by consuming its 5 pounds of pork tenderloin, burger, brisket, bacon, fried cheese, chicken tenders, cheddar cheese, white cheddar sauce and tater tots in 2 minutes and 55 seconds. The 130-pound Nebraska lady also submitted an appeal to the Guinness Book of World Records for consuming 5 pounds of cooked bacon in 5 minutes and two seconds. CV


Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.


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