Classic Thyme Cooking School is Westfield man’s dream realized

Working for a car insurance company in 1989, David Martone, now the owner of Classic Thyme Cooking School in Westfield, used to dream about what he would do when he “grew up.”

At 31, the newly married new homeowner dreamed of following his culinary dreams but saw no way to do it with a wife and mortgage — until he fatefully met a pharmacist-turned-attorney.

“I was out to dinner with my friend, Rick DiDonato, and George Jurecky, an attorney we worked with at The Archers Ristorante, a very nice restaurant in Jersey City at the time,” he said. “I told them that I loved to cook and wished I had gone to culinary school, but how could I now that I was newly married and just bought a house?”

Jurecky laughed. He said that he had come to the United States from the Czech Republic as a pharmacist, and he finally decided to act on passion for law and go back to law school. Martone felt so inspired that within two weeks, he was registered at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

Courtesy of Classic Thyme Cooking School

“I felt so inspired by this attorney and I’m a pretty impulsive person,” Martone laughed. “And luckily so, because two weeks later my wife told me she was pregnant, and had I known that I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to enroll in culinary school.”

Clearly, Martone’s impulse was a correct one. Today, he owns and operates Classic Thyme Cooking School in Westfield, which offers public group classes, private classes, parties and events as well as corporate team-building classes on topics including culinary basics, ethnic cooking, vegetarian cooking, baking and more.

During the classes, which need a minimum of 10 students and can go up to 40 for a private class and cost about $65 per person for a public class and about $80 for a private event, students are broken up into groups and assigned tasks to work together to complete a designated meal throughout three hours.

Professional cooking instructors teach the students, who come from all ages and cooking backgrounds from beginner to those at an advanced level. High school students can attend during the week with an adult, and those attending weekend classes must be 18 and older.

“People are a little unaware of how they are going to put together this amazing meal at first. They’re like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re only here for three hours, how are we going to get all of this done?’” said Martone.

Courtesy of Classic Thyme Cooking School

“However, they find that they not only get it all done, but they sometimes have a whole hour to sit and enjoy it as we transform the cooking studio into a tableclothed dining room.”

Martone said that the classes can be like a little “staycation” for students, who can spend a few hours learning about the cuisine of a culture they’re interested in, and the classes can be especially rewarding for those doing team-building exercises.

“You work together to complete a common goal, which is to eat,” said Martone. “Suddenly, you’re in this homey Tuscan environment and you’re like ‘This is delicious, and we made this.’ You’re sitting across from your colleague at the table, which now feels more like a family table, and it just drives home that effort and sense of accomplishment.”

Martone should feel his own sense of accomplishment when it comes to the opening of Classic Thyme Cooking School. Following his graduation from the French Culinary Institute in 1990, it was a long time coming.

Courtesy of Classic Thyme Cooking School

After Martone graduated, he kept his corporate job yet worked part-time at Chez Catherine in Westfield one night a week, then two nights a week, then three nights a week until he had to started traveling more for his day job and had to quit.

But he didn’t give up there. Instead, he decided he wanted to teach culinary classes with the Fanwood Scotch Plains Adult School.

Martone’s classes, which were the first of their kind for the Fanwood Scotch Plains Adult School, were an instant hit when he began in 1993. They quickly sold out and they helped to fund many of the other school’s classes that may not otherwise run. With this, Martone had a new idea — to open his own culinary training school with a Tuscan theme.

“Unlike children today, my wife and I had never traveled out of the country as kids, so when we had kids, we took them to Europe including Italy,” Martone said. “We fell in love with it. We thought it was the greatest place in the world. I loved the feel of Tuscany and the European culture.”

He scraped together his savings and in 1995 bought a Westfield location at 401 W. Broad St., where he continued to teach Fanwood Scotch Plains Adult School classes and also taught for the Westfield Adult School.

Courtesy of Classic Thyme Cooking School

The school continued to grow, so he moved it downtown to 161 E. Broad St. in 1996 and opened a retail component, until he wanted to move away from the retail aspect and bought its current location at 710 South Ave. West in Westfield in 2007.

It was only then that Martone quit his corporate day job.

“Before I began teaching, friends always wanted to be in the kitchen with me during dinner parties that we had and they wanted to see what’s happening and learn,” said Martone. “I thought, ‘If I have people hanging on my every word in my kitchen, maybe I can give some of this knowledge to someone else.’”

Classic Thyme Cooking School

Where: 710 South Ave. West, Westfield

Cost: $65 to $80 per person

Contact: 908-232-5445, classicthyme.com

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