Julia Child said, "People who love to eat are always the best people," and I agree. We were proven correct at The Salt Lake Culinary Center’s Meatless Monday:Vegetarian Basics class.

The class of nine became acquainted over red wine and a tempting appetizer of roasted cherry tomatoes and ricotta over toasted crostini. Everyone was friendly and there was good food and drink; I felt right at home. Our instructor, Shirley Zorn, is enthusiastic about teaching and food. “I love sharing ideas, recipes and bringing families and friends together. We each develop our own cooking style,” said Shirley. She also shared her love of animals and healthy food, saying, “Being vegetarian is not only kind to our animal friends, but also very nourishing and supportive of our health.”

We split into teams to conquer the menu. I was fortunate enough to have the owner, Diane Sheya, and her husband Rich on my team. They both knew their way around a kitchen. The couple purchased the Viking Cooking School, which was going out of business, and created a cooking school focused on learning and community. Diane, a self-taught chef, instructed classes at the old school and appeared regularly on the news with cooking demonstrations before embarking on this new adventure. “I love to be around foodies, which is one of the reasons why we purchased the Viking Cooking School,” she said. “I love to introduce new techniques and ingredients to those who love to cook and to see their imagination sparked is wonderful.”

The menu was well-suited to someone just learning to cook and experiment with a vegetarian diet. Each dish taught us new skills (I can sure use a knife now!) and introduced unique ingredients. Our class prepared a quinoa waldorf salad, which was as interesting as it sounds. We added quinoa, which is a super healthy grain, to the usual waldorf stuff: apples, celery and walnuts. Red onions sauteed with balsamic vinegar and cubed gouda cheese also made an appearance.This is my new solution for potlucks: the flavors are all unique and the textures are amazing—and it’s impressive looking.

The next course was curried lentil soup, which was my favorite of the evening. It came together quickly and was rich and savory. This was also my first time eating a parsnip and cooking with real ginger, which isn’t that difficult, it turns out. (Look at me gaining confidence in the kitchen!)

Ragout, which refers to a stew worthy of a main dish, was next. This is the sort of thing I enjoy cooking the most. I get to use my favorite yellow Le Crueset, stir things and feel chef-y. This dish is a great excuse to practice using a knife; we chopped up a whole lot of veggies. We topped our colorful vegetable stew with bottled pesto from Costco. I can totally handle this in the kitchen.

Baked apples were for dessert. They were easy and elegant, filled with chopped nuts and dried cherries, topped with real maple syrup and butter then baked. So simple! This dish would be an ideal end to a heavy holiday meal, and they look pretty glamorous.

The Salt Lake Culinary Center is a friendly place to learn, and I feel I have a couple new friends. Food people are the nicest! The center offers an array of cooking classes, and are available for corporate and private events. There’s something for every type of foodie. Whether you want to brush up on the basics, like knife skills, or prepare a new cuisine, this is the place to go. “We have the premier cooking school for the home cook in the area, and intend to take it to the next level with creative classes, and more of them,” said Diane. “I have a creative staff who also share my passion for teaching.”

There are more Meatless Monday classes planned for December and January. The menu for Monday, December 16, sounds remarkable: Israeli Couscous with Feta and Pistachios, Seasoned Pita Chips, Roasted Vegetable Risotto, White Bean and Tomato Polenta and for dessert, Berry-Yogurt Panna Cotta. Check out their calendar for more upcoming classes.