The culinary instructors listed below represent some of the best and the brightest culinary educators in the industry.   Not only that, but each is trained in what our students have come to expect as the most professional and highest quality class experience possible.  There is more experience among this group of folks than you can shake a stick at ... or a spatula, if you are so inclined.  They are passionate about making sure that you go home with real and user-friendly cooking information to make you a better and more informed cook.  Look at those mugs!  Do they look like slackers?  I think not.  Read on.... you'll see.


Think you've got what it takes to be an instructor at The Culinary Center of Kansas City? If you have a passion for food and the culinary arts and you like people and teaching, then this may be the place for you...

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Sergio Lara
Executive Chef & Instructor
Sergio Lara was raised in 'la cocina'… and has been working in the professional kitchen for 20+ years. He apprenticed in senior living communities, country clubs, hotels and fine dining restaurants. Chef Sergio, culinary instructor and CCKC Executive Chef, brings a true gift for understanding great cooking technique, and a passion for creativity.
Lauren Abel
Healthy lifestyle educator by profession, Lauren loves helping people improve their wellness through healthy cooking, eating, lifestyle and exercise choices. She teaches people how to make favorite recipes healthier through simple ingredient substitutions, and her dishes include vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, paleo and cooking for various medical issues such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Bottomline, she shows people that healthy cooking can be fast, easy and delicious.
Bill Allinder
Bill is an award-winning local beekeeper and pollinator habitat conservationist as well as a wine collector, retired attorney, and enthusiastic foodie. He’s the 2017 Vice President of the Missouri State Beekeeper Association, and he and his wife were the 2001 Clay County Soil & Water Conservation District Conservationists of the Year. Bill is excited to share his passion for sustainable beekeeping and how to cook with local honey.
Jason Bowers
Jason, who was born and raised in Kirksville, MO, developed a love for cooking at an early age, and it was no surprise to his family when he went on to culinary school in Iowa and then also graduated from Johnson and Wales Culinary School. After a few years on the east coast, he and his wife and kids moved back to the Midwest. He was Exec Chef at Dean & DeLuca, then opened Café Trocadero in 2003. He has also worked as Exec Chef at Hotel Phillips and Cerner Corp in the KC area.
Jackie Caldwell
Jackie is an avid student of nutrition and a holistic nutrition coach. Her belief is that food is medicine and that many of the current autoimmune diseases can be controlled through diet. She is a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and certified as a Wheat Belly Instructor and has taught classes at Your Wellness Connection, Turning Point, and Natural Grocers, and has published articles in Evolving Magazine and Health Hunters.
Bruce Campbell
"The Food & Beverage Guy" and CCKC Class Instructor
Bruce has been in the food and beverage industry for many years. As a founding member of the Rib Stars BBQ team, he has competed on the BBQ circuit for more than 12 years and has won numerous awards. He has been teaching our Grilling, Smoking & BBQ classes for over 10 years. (full resume available upon request)
Bruce has been teaching at The Culinary Center of Kansas City™ since 2006.
Sandy DiGiovanni
Class Instructor
Sandy teaches a wide variety of classes with us with emphasis on Italian cuisine (her heritage). She's been with us since 2012 and brings her own unique and humorous style of education. Chef Sandy was a finalist on NBC's "America's Next Great Restaurant" with Bobby Flay and is a contributing writer for Edible Magazine. She's also a heck of a bartender!
Mark Friend
Mark is the bread master behind Farm to Market Bread Company in Kansas City, with more than 45 years of baking experience. A founding member of the Bread Bakers Guild in 1993, Mark started his career with on-the-job training. He went on to study at both the San Francisco Baking Institute and the American Institute of Baking.
Brent Grider
Brent’s passion for the food & beverage world at the beginning of the ‘Coffee Craze’. Starting as a barista, he worked his way up through the industry to his position today as Complex Director of Restaurants & Bars for the Westin KC and Sheraton KC at Crown Center. We’re proud to say that Brent shares his knowledge and passion of wine and spirits with students at The Culinary Center of Kansas City – cheers!
Shannon Hartnett
After working sales, marketing and baking for several local grocers and bakeries, Shannon couldn't deny the 'buttercream in her blood', so she decided to focus on her true passion, cake decorating. When she's not working as a special education para-educator, she's running her small home-based business called 'Simply Sweet'. Shannon wears many hats @ CCKC, from Retail Therapist to Class Facilitator, Waitstaff and Instructor.
Gary Hild
When it comes to making great food, Chef Gary Hild’s love for cooking is exceeded only by his passion for teaching and mentoring others. His interest in nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is expressed in a broad range of cooking styles. Gary has taught at The Culinary Center of Kansas City for 17 years.
Yvette Hirang
Leaving behind a career in sales and marketing, Yvette decided to pursue her life-long dream of attending culinary school and becoming a chef. Born and raised in the Philippines, this music-loving, jet-skiing mom brings to The Culinary Center a passion for world cuisine and a knowledge how to help you prepare it!
Marcella V. Ibarguren
An experienced baker, Marcella is also an incredibly talented pastry artist. After years in the corporate world, she followed her passion & moved to NYC to attend pastry school at the Institute of Culinary Education. She gained valuable experience in the kitchens of Danny Myer’s Maialino, Dominic Ansel’s Bakery and Daniel Boulud’s Boulud Sud, then moved back to her roots in KC and spent time at Rye and French bakery Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott. She started Brigabon Confections in...
Joe Kieltyka
After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts in Special Education from the University of Kansas, Joe Kieltyka spent five years in the classroom before opening up his first of several successful restaurants, including neighborhood favorite, The Stonewall Inn. He teaches the world how to make his famous pizza and fried chicken. None better!
Laura Laiben
Main Dish & CCKC Instructor
Laura, owner of The Culinary Center, enjoys teaching the occasional class, as well as running the place! In addition to her extensive experience as a culinary arts instructor and teambuilding facilitator, Laura was a practicing attorney for 18 years before creating The Culinary Center.
Susy Lara
Susy's profession is a grade school teacher and she loves to teach! She cooks authentic Mexican cuisine and with her sister, Vicky Lara (our own "Chicana in Charge") teaches authentic Mexican cuisine here.
Vicky Lara
"Chicana in Charge" at the CCKC & Class Instructor
Vicky knows how to cook authentic Mexican cuisine just like her Mom used to make for her! She and her sister, Suzy Lara, teach classes in Mexican cooking especially the very popular "Talamada Party" classes.
Daniela Mancinelli Abel
Growing up in a big Italian family, Daniela knows and loves Italian cooking, and her background in training and cooking lessons makes her natural as a culinary instructor her at CCKC! Italian food is her forte but she also dedicates a lot of energy to cooking with organic, seasonal and non-GMO produce. She can’t wait to show the beginner cook how easy, fun and affordable it is to make delicious and sustainable meals.
Paul McCool
Paul McCool has been baking breads for family and friends since 1977. Paul's other passion is teaching, which means he's really happy to be able to combine the two by teaching baking classes in his home and at private events. He has been an extraordinary baking instructor with us since 2013.
Chef Richard McPeake
"Educator of Que"
Chef Richard has been teaching our Smoking, Grilling & BBQ classes as well as our very popular Professional Series classes for over 10 years, He is also a Chef Instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College as well as cookbook author. (full resume available upon request)
Margo Mikkelson
Margo has been teaching kids’ cooking classes for us for several years now. She brings her expertise to every class. She’s passionate about showing little ones that cooking, entertaining, and creating can be fun as well as educational.
Raven Naramore
Raven was raised on an organic self-sufficient farm in Lawrence, KS, where she learned that quality ingredients make the best food. She operates Raven's Table Catering, and has taught cooking & nutrition classes for 10 years. She co-owns Bubbly Love Ferments, which specializes in small batch sauerkraut & kimchi. Raven enjoys teaching cooking classes, catering in wilderness areas & local events, and serving her community by making healthy delicious food. Visit
Katie Newell
Katie Newell is a reformed junk food junkie turned healthy eating expert and real food advocate. Good food is a gift that should be celebrated. Katie wants to share that gift, and the celebration, with you.
Keri Lauderdale Olson
Keri is founder/CEO of Chocolate Cork, where chocolate meets wine in interactive chocolate/wine pairing classes, kits & events. Her love of chocolate began early. At age 8, she learned to make chocolate items to sell at school. Years later, a trip to Sonoma introduced Keri to her first perfect chocolate/wine pairing. She knew this was something she wanted to explore & share. Keri has taught fine chocolate tasting classes for 10 years as well as in-home wine tasting parties.
Jason Provo
After beginning his culinary career at Panera Bread, Jason went to Dean & Deluca as baker and then Pastry Chef. He took a short break to start a bread program with “Baked in Kansas City”, then returned to D&D and initiated a Viennoiserie and cake program, as well as a bagel program, which led the company to begin making all of their baked goods in-house. Chef Jason received his formal culinary training in the D&D corporate kitchens in NYC and in the JCCC pastry program in KC.
Stacie Robertson
Stacie, certified tea specialist, holistic health coach, blender and teacher, is passionate about tea and healthy cooking. Her resumé includes certifications from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, The American Assoc. of Drugless Practitioners, The Tea School and Specialty Tea Institute of the USA, to name a few. In 2002, she opened a retail shop, Tea Market, and offers tea classes, consultations, corporate training, private events and much more.
Mari Ruck
Mari Ruck has been teaching great classes with us since we opened! She co-owned The Food Bin, a specialty food store, from 1983 to 2004. After college, bread baking took priority and led Mari to the Chef Program at Johnson County Community College, graduating in 1999.
Laura Thomsen
Also known as “Goddess of Good Eats”, LT has been drawn to the culinary world since she was a child delivering coffee, sandwiches and homemade banana bread to her farming father in the field. She was hooked. After developing her resume at New Century Catering, the bakery at Dean and Deluca, The New Theater Restaurant, Union Station, area schools and Unity Village, she joined the CCKC family in 2014.
Jesse Vega
Chef Jesse has a sincere passion for teaching the culinary arts and has done so with us for many years now. He is a graduate from the Johnson County Community College Chefs Apprenticeship Program and was also a team member of the JCCC culinary team.
Larry Wheeler
Larry Wheeler, known as the “Director of Ambiance” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kansas City, manages the floral department at this landmark hotel and directs social and civic events of note from small intimate parties to grand social occasions.

The Culinary Center of Kansas City®

Located in Historic Downtown Overland Park 

7920 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, KS 66204

Phone: 913-341-4455

Fax: 913-341-5070


Kitchen Shop Hours:

Monday - Friday
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
12 - 4 p.m.


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To consistently exceed client expectations and enrich our community by providing education and appreciation for the culinary arts through a variety of experiences including cooking classes, interactive culinary experiences and creative catered events, all of which are brilliantly conceived, precisely and joyously executed in an immaculate and comfortable environment.

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