Taste of Home tickets on sale

WEIRTON -Tickets are now on sale for the Taste of Home Cooking School with culinary specialist Michael Barna, hosted by the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.

The cooking school will take place April 2 at the Serbian-American Cultural Center located at 1000 Colliers Way. The doors open at 5 p.m., and the show, featuring 10 dishes prepared on stage by Barna, begins at 7 p.m.

“I love being on stage, entertaining and sharing my love of cooking,” said Barna. “It’s all about bringing the family back to the table.”

Barna will prepare seasonal recipes that can be re-created by cooks of any skill level, using readily available ingredients. He also will be sharing time-saving tips. The two-and-a-half hour show will include appetizers, entrees and desserts.

“My goal is to teach the audience how to easily make the 10 recipes we show and have fun being in the kitchen doing it,” said Barna. “I work very closely with the master of ceremonies and stage assistants to ensure the attendees have a great time and never let it get boring. I have many years of having to get it right where time and ease in the kitchen really paid off, so I share everything I’ve learned with the audience. After going through the pre-show vendor area and giving away as many gifts as we do at a show, it’s not hard to feel good talking about cooking.”

Before Barna became a culinary specialist for the Taste of Home Cooking School in Greendale, Wis., he served as an executive chef and general manager at a gourmet food emporium in New York City. His love of family food can be traced back to his grandmother’s Hungarian cooking, which he describes as “comfort food from loving hands.”

“I would run to my grandmother’s house a field away for dinner in the tiny town of Port Murrary, N.J.,” he said. “She would ask, ‘what would you like to eat,’ and literally start taking out a smorgasbord of entrees, sides and desserts she had already made. One day I asked if I could help prepare the meal, and that’s where it all began.”

He has been cooking since he was 13, and earned his associate of occupational studies degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“I started washing dishes at a retirement home at 13, then moved up to prep cook at a local country club at 16, where the chef mentored me and guided me in applying to the Culinary Institute of America, where he had recently graduated,” he said. “I was asked once, ‘If cooking didn’t work out, did you have a Plan B?’ but I remember my dad told me, ‘you should never have a Plan B, because then you never fully commit to your Plan A.'”

He has facilitated private and online cooking classes, appeared in local and national television commercials, and been featured in national recipe showcases.

“Ask any performer – if you’re prepared for the show, it feels fantastic,” he said. “I have learned it’s never just about you, but if you do your homework and put in the time and effort, everything falls into place. I was taught preparation is everything.”

His favorite part of live shows is interacting with the audience and stage assistants before, during and after the show.

“Some of the nicest people want to tell you their stories of successes and failures, and I love to listen,” he said. “My second favorite part is the food in the towns I’m in and the chefs and owners who run the restaurants. I’ll always ask if anything is fresh or from scratch, or I’ll ask my waiter, ‘You’re eating here tonight, what are you eating?’ That usually gets me the best they have to offer. When pasta or bread, lavish or gelato or most anything is made from scratch at the table, the end result is typically terrific.”

Barna has helped open three gourmet casino restaurants in Atlantic City and spent time as executive sous chef at a five-diamond, four-star hotel in Philadelphia.

“A great dish always starts with your eyes, what something looks like on the plate,” he said. “Aroma of the dish always is a indication of how wonderful it may be. Additionally, textures also are a big factor of a great dish – crunchy, soft, al dente. All these are the first impressions your mind receives from your tongue. A great dish should have flavor upon flavor upon flavor – flavor profiling or layering. Salty, sweet, tart, spicy, bitter are just some of the flavor layering that make up a great dish. It’s always easy to tell when someone is eating something great – the smile, then the ‘mmm’, and, last, the low, slow ‘wow.’ I truly believe anyone can train themselves to taste and cook well. I always teach taste constantly while you cook. It’s important for the ‘wow’ factor.”

He also has worked as a culinary hand model.

“Just watch a commercial on television, and any time you see only a male or female hand on the screen with the product, 99 percent of the time, it’s a hand model,” he said. “I mainly do culinary work. My wife had the brilliant idea that I’m versed in using kitchen tools and comfortable in kitchens and have been doing this hand modeling thing, so who better to represent a product and do it correctly. I’ve done ads for Crisco, Lancaster brand meats, Herr’s chips and was Mel Gibson’s hand double in ‘Signs’ – I chopped the alien’s fingers off.”

In his spare time, Berna enjoys drumming, motocross, watching classic movies and great food. He lives in Wynnewood, Pa., with his wife.

“The Taste of Home Cooking School is always one of our biggest promotions of the year,” said Ross Gallabrese, executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. “This year’s edition has been made bigger and better, and we’re sure residents from around the Tri-State Area will enjoy the entire experience.”

The show is sponsored in cooperation with Hancock County Savings Bank, Weirton Medical Center and Create-A-Room. Kelli McCoy of Lex Multi-Media will be mistress of ceremonies. M&M Hardware and Frank and Jerry’s Appliances also are show sponsors.

“The Taste of Home Cooking School is a great event for area residents, whether you are an experienced cook or just starting out,” said Craig Howell, Weirton Daily Times managing editor. “We’ve had a packed house every year, and I’m sure it will be no different this time around.”

Tickets start at $10 for general admission, $20 for preferred seating and $45 for VIP tickets.

VIP ticket holders may attend a special meet-and-greet reception with Barna, sponsored by the Serbian- American Cultural Center, including refreshments, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the center’s Tesla Lounge; receive a free autographed copy of “Taste of Home Best Loved Recipes”; and have reserved seating in the front of the auditorium. Only 50 VIP tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Preferred seating ticket holders will be seated immediately behind the VIP ticket holders, and preferred seating is limited.

All those attending will receive goody bags including Taste of Home magazines, coupons and samples. Ticket stubs will be drawn for door prizes throughout the event.

Tickets are available at the Herald-Star and Daily Times office at 401 Herald Square in Steubenville; the Weirton Shop’n Save, located at Pennsylvania Avenue and Penco Road in Weirton; and M&M Hardware on Sunset Boulevard in Steubenville.

“We are so excited to offer VIP tickets this year – it’s a brand new experience for our cooks,” said Maggie McGinnis, inside sales supervisor at the newspapers. “Not only do they receive VIP seating and ‘Best Loved Recipes,’ but they’ll be able to have one-on-one time with Michael.”

During the event, those attending may purchase copies of “Taste of Home Best Loved Recipes,” a $35 retail value, for $25. The book includes more than 1,400 recipes in more than a dozen categories and hundreds of color photographs. Several other cookbooks will be available, including “Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook,” “Taste of Home Winning Recipes Volume 3” and “Taste of Home Ground Beef Recipes,” at as special discount rate. These cookbooks also will be available for purchase at the Herald-Star and Daily Times office at a future date.

In addition to the cooking show, a vendor show, including more than 30 vendors offering a variety of products, will be held. Additional vendors are being accepted. For information on becoming a vendor, contact McGinnis at (740) 283-4711, extension 328.

The Tesla Lounge will have a buffet available from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. A prize drawing will be held, with the winner receiving their choice of either a Webber gas grill or a patio set, supplied by M&M Hardware. The drawing will be open to the general public, and tickets will be available for purchase at the Herald-Star and Daily Times office at a future date.

Nearly 5 million people have attended Taste of Home Cooking Schools over the past 20 years, and Taste of Home holds more than 300 cooking schools each year, attended by approximately 300,000 cooks.

Each year, thousands of people from across the United States and Canada submit more than 40,000 recipes to Taste of Home, 3,000 of which are published. Every recipe published is evaluated and selected by the Taste of Home Test Kitchen, which ensures it can be prepared with affordable, everyday ingredients. Taste of Home content is available in print; online at TasteofHome.com; in books; via digital download on iPad, mobile apps and Kindle; and Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Obtain a subscription at www.TasteofHome.com or on a digital download device.

For information about the Taste of Home Cooking School, visit the website at www.TasteofHome.com/Cooking-Schools.

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at swallace@heraldstaronline.com)