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Delve into 12: Viking Culinary Center

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 4, 2012
Chef Christopher Covelli
Chef Christopher Covelli
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — For chef Christopher Covelli, working at the new Viking Culinary Center on Lakewood Ranch Main Street is much like being a kid in a candy store.

“This fits like a glove,” Covelli said of his new job as Viking’s new executive chef and facility manager. “It’s almost like (the owner) Jim Butler built this for me.”

Covelli reaches out over a hibachi-style cooking demonstration area and lifts up an electrical outlet that normally lies flush with the countertop. Then, he points to a movable faucet arm that easily maneuvers over the stovetop. Its presence eliminates the need to carry heavy water-filled pots from the sink to his cooking area.

“It’s an adult chef’s playground — a big box with all the toys you’d ever (want),” he said, grinning.

Less than two months into his new role, Covelli already has cooked up big plans for the culinary school dreamed up by Butler, owner of Paradise Homes and Extreme Remodelers of Sarasota, more than a year ago.

“If it’s up to me, this place will be known nationally and internationally,” said Covelli, a regular product demonstrator for the Home Shopping Network and others.

Viking has been hosting interactive cooking demonstrations, special events and cooking classes such as “One-day Culinary Basics” and “A Taste of Italy” since opening in September 2011. The facility celebrated its official grand opening in mid-November. The 4,000-square-foot space on Lakewood Ranch Main Street also sells pots and pans, cutlery and more, and is a retailer for Viking appliances.

But Covelli said he aims to bring more than local attention to the culinary center he now calls home. He also wants to start a full-fledged supper club — the details of which, he says, are still being determined — and eventually to get the facility its own wine label.

“We’re the entire culinary package,” he said. “We’re hands-on and retail in one.”

Viking Private Events Coordinator Ashley Gruters said the facility is doing well, and she expects to see business boom in 2012.

“There’re so many opportunities here,” Gruters said. “We wanted to focus on the fact that we’re a cooking school. It’s an elite, exquisite atmosphere with hands-on (training).

“It’s really developing,” she said. “We’re really wanting to use the whole facility. People are loving it.”

Not only are individuals able to take a variety of cooking classes, but also businesses are finding the venue is a great way to entertain clients. Companies can bring clients to enjoy a cooking demonstration or lesson and a high-quality meal while also using the facility’s flat-screen televisions to give presentations, she said.

“People are getting creative,” Gruters said. “At sit-down demonstrations for under 50 people, they’ve even had karaoke during desserts, with the words on the (televisions).”

“It’s quality,” she said. “You get a complimentary glass of wine. It’s not just going to dinner.”

Viking also has become an active participant in the farmer’s market held each Saturday on Main Street, and grills up its signature 1-inch-thick burgers for the plaza’s monthly Music on Main concerts, she said.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

About Chef Christopher Covelli

Chef Christopher Covelli, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, has been teaching people how to cook for decades, and for the last 12 years, has visited Italy twice yearly to teach.

He previously owned a bed and breakfast in Cape Cod, which he sold before moving to Sarasota four years ago. The chef also is a familiar face to thousands of people who watch the Home Shopping Network and other shopping programs, where Covelli regularly demonstrates cooking products.
He’ll also be featured in an upcoming show on Food Network, called “Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri’s Celebrity Cook-off.”

“I live and breathe food,” said Covelli, who grew up in New York City. “I love it. Whether I’m at home or (working), I adore what I do.”

Covelli also loves baseball and has a particular affinity for the Boston Red Sox, he said.

Viking Culinary Center offers cooking classes and demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 6-9 p.m. daily, unless a private event is booked. Prices range from about $65 to $100 per person per class.

Each class includes a complimentary glass of wine and a meal.

Individuals can register for classes online at

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