Since 1994, The Seasoned Gourmet has been enhancing Wilmington’s culinary scene, with offerings of everything from specialty cookware to locally roasted coffee. But in the past two decades, the business has changed. In 2005, Randy Newton bought the shop from original owner Diane Williams. Yet, Newton made the biggest change for The Seasoned Gourmet in 2016 by moving it to a new location at Market Street near Eastwood Road. Originally located on Military Cutoff before switching to a space in the Lumina Commons off Eastwood Road, The Seasoned Gourmet has been used to change.
“I really wanted a building that could be set up with a stand-alone kitchen and a location with road visibility,” Newton says. Though a risk, loyal customers have responded well to its relocation.
“Once they come in, they love it,” manager Pam Williams tells. There’s more room in the retail space, so customers can browse easier as they check out the spice bar, locally made goodies or the boutique wine selection.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the addition of the kitchen at the back of the shop. They can expand on the cooking classes they offer through membership to the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, which has been connected to the Seasoned Gourmet since 2011.
“I decided, with some good advice, that if I were going to continue the business that the cooking school space would be something Wilmington doesn’t have,” Newton says.
Classes now take place any time of day, and they’ve amped up their offerings. About a dozen local food and wine aficionados teach, including Keith Rhodes of Catch and Dean Neff of PinPoint Restaurant. Former manager Susan Boyles teaches hands-on workshops, and personal chef and foodie tour guide Courtney Matheson is starting to offer lessons. Certified sommelier Mike Summerlin is a wine educator there, while Sherry Storms leads classes for kids.
Folks who want to experiment with vegan cooking or gluten-free recipes can find special sessions. All in all, the classroom lends itself to a wide variety of uses. The glass doors make it open but separate from the retail area. Students can sit at the counter for an up-close look at food preparation, or tables can be arranged to seat up to 28. It’s also an ideal spot for private functions, like baby showers or wine tastings. “It can be tailored for whatever you’d like to do,” Williams says.
“We looked at a number of spaces and tried to envision how we would arrange each space to make it work,” Newton notes. “The Market Street location just seemed to fit what we wanted to do.”
Though not the most likely owner of a gourmet business, Newton—who is currently working as a nuclear engineer—grew up in western North Carolina with a farm-to-table lifestyle. He originally bought The Seasoned Gourmet as a partnership and credits his stubborn streak for staying with the shop.
“I think it has a place and serves a purpose in Wilmington,” he says. “What I like about owning the shop is I hope that I offer a comfortable, friendly place for foodies, where the staff is anything but pretentious. I know from my early years that good food and wine doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Some of the best food in the world came straight out of the garden and passed through Grandma’s hands. It’s also just nice and comforting to talk and share some time with customers.”
The Seasoned Gourmet celebrated its sixth month anniversary in August at 5500 Market Center, which hosted a reopening of sorts with tenants such as Tongy’s Shmackhouse, Adam & Eve and JohnnyLukes KitchenBar near the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Market Street. In addition to samples and coupons available to passersby, Cape Fear Food & Wine Club members could learn how to make meals at The Seasoned Gourmet cooking classes. Their current class schedule includes more than 30 offerings through December, and they focus on everything from authentic curries to gluten-free biscotti to mother sauces to vegan holiday meals. One on the docket is “Date Night with Gwen Gulliksen.”
It was while she was a student of art history and studying the Renaissance in Italy and France that Gwen Gulliksen learned to appreciate food. As she awaited to begin a Ph.D. program, she took her first culinary class. Now, with a 30-year career in the food industry, Gulliksen has traveled around the world. She studied with Madeleine Kamman at the School for American Chefs, and was chef at Robert Mondavi Winery and the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where she managed a staff of more than 100 that sometimes served 26,000 people a day. She’s worked in many aspects of the culinary business and developed a passion for sustainable local food and for teaching. “Teaching food is my dream job,” she said. “I love seeing the light bulb go on.”
She recently saw that spark with a student who learned to make a difficult, classic walnut cake—one which turned out perfectly. “You could see the smile and the twinkle in the eye,” she said.
Gulliksen gradually settled in NC with her husband and children. She moved to the area three years ago and has since become an instructor for the culinary program at Cape Fear Community College. She’s been teaching at Seasoned Gourmet for two-and-a-half years. On one recent Friday-night class—typically called “Date Night”—she demystified seafood preparation for six couples, who sipped wine and socialized while Gullisken prepared a saffron potato-leek soup with smoked salmon. She walked attendees through the steps for individual berry brown-butter cakes, too. They then sat at a 12-person table to enjoy their meal while the chef talked with them about buying local seafood and making a simple fish entree topped with seafood imperial (a mix of shellfish).
Although there were new faces in the class, it wasn’t the first Gulliksen experience for George and Judy Scott. “She’s a favorite of ours,” Judy says. “It’s all very accessible, and her recipes are great. They always work.”
Gulliksen is very conscientious, and meticulous, in writing and testing her recipes. She wants to equip her students with classic techniques and the confidence to know they can succeed in the kitchen, too. Depending on her work schedule, she often teaches two to four classes a month at Seasoned Gourmet. Longer Saturday sessions allow for more intensive preparations, such as duck confit or slow braising.
Lisa Andree often works as an assistant and helper for classes at The Seasoned Gourmet, including for Gulliksen’s. But she wanted to take on her own classes to share her interest in vegan cooking. An avid home cook—who has to balance vegan meals for one son and carnivorous ones for the other—Andree has been a vegan for seven years. She teaches “Learning Vegan Basics,” and on a recent Sunday, a handful of students lined up at the counter for her “ABCs of Being Vegan” course. Most only had thought about eating more vegan dishes. Andree took them through some of her favorite techniques and substitutions used in vegan cooking, as she shared her favorite products, cookbooks and resources that make the lifestyle more interesting and fun.
“It’s so much easier now than it used to be,” Andree says. The seven-page handout for the class included information using flax seeds as an egg substitute and a page on cooking with aquafaba (or the bean water than comes with a can of chick peas). The aquafaba mayonnaise made in class was a revelation to some. “It’s really good,” says Paula Hammac, who eats a vegan diet but doesn’t always have time to cook.
There was also a taste-test of vegan cheese, two of which were made by Andree and two purchased from local stores. Students got to try a variety of dishes, including a quinoa salad with roasted beets, a lentil version of barbecue with cole slaw and a veganized carrot cake. For Barbara Bombar, who is considering eating more plant-based meals, it made the idea easier. “I just didn’t know where to start,” she says. “But here you can try things and know if you like them.”
The Seasoned Gourmet is located at 5500 Market St. #110, (910) 256-9488. www.theseasonedgourmet.com.