Chef Rod Schultz believes that everyone can cook. If you walk into the kitchen with him, you might as well be a believer.
The kitchen is his happy place. Entertaining and teaching people how accessible cooking can be keeps it going. Each week he welcomes a new class to the cooking school at Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake. It curates a playlist, creates a menu, and provides easy-to-follow recipe cards. No one leaves hungry.
After decades working in department store security, Schultz found himself focusing on the negatives. He looked at what made him happy, and cooking was at the top of the list. He never set out to be a professional chef or teacher, but found that his patience and attention to people made him a good fit.
The cooking school is a bit of a hidden gem at the resort and the classes provide the experience, food and drink. Current classes range from soups and pasta making to French pastries and baked scallops (a recurring favorite). Classes usually sell out, including cocktail classes, and options change seasonally. Festive cooking classes in December will include gingerbread houses and cake making. Schultz also teaches private lessons and team-building activities, with prices ranging from $49.99 to $99.99 per person.
The Osthoff is also home to the Concourse and Otto’s restaurants, plus the Aspira Spa, where the salt room is the newest attraction. You do not need to be a guest to take lessons or visit the restaurants or spa. Schultz started here as a line cook and now oversees all classes, plus the spa cafe menu and the resort’s pastry program.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Osthoff’s Old World Christmas Market, which runs from 10am to 5pm from December 1st to December 10th. Look for Schultz’s creations in the popular apple strudel sold at the market.
Schultz spoke with us after a recent class, explaining how his search for what makes him happy led him to cooking and Osthoff.
How his family’s food roots shaped his future
I was born in Texas; my family, I would call them Southerners. They moved to Washington State when I was young. I grew up in wine country in Walla Walla, Washington. This was not wine country when I was a kid. It was more sweet onions, asparagus and wheat. My father grew all his own vegetables. We had a cow, a pig. We were self-sufficient. I have five siblings and my cousins lived next door. My grandmother lived with us. I had the choice of cooking or cleaning. I chose cooking. I would cook all the time with my grandma.
The first recipe he mastered
My Grandma’s Cloudy Biscuits. I have since modified the recipe because I learned some new processes. Hers are very Southern biscuits. I put some laminated oil in mine. She called them biscuits. I cut them.
Finding security in food
I moved to Seattle at 17 and started working during the day as a department store security officer catching shoplifters. Then at night, because rent in Seattle is insanely expensive, I worked at a bakery. I would bake wedding cakes. I didn’t decorate them, I just pumped them up. It was a small bakery, not a chain. I learned how to make hundreds of wedding cakes in one batch, with a mixer taller than me.
Making a choice to be happy
I worked security at department stores and Nordstrom is based in Seattle. … The Nordstrom people moved to Chicago and said they were going to hire. My ex, at the time his parents lived in West Bend and some of his family lived in Illinois. We moved to Chicago. I climbed the security ladder at Nordstrom. Then one day I thought that all I deal with is the negatives. I don’t trust anyone.
I had to change something in my life. I thought, what makes me the happiest? Two things, cooking and baking, and then dancing. Gotta do both here now. I am a club goer and I like to dance. I wanted a disciplined form of dancing and started taking Latin and ballroom lessons. I got certified to teach. I compete and Badger State (a ballroom dance competition and showcase) is held here at Osthoff. The John Michael Kohler Art Center offered me a teaching position there. I had these (classes) for 10 years, but after COVID they stopped them.
Now I teach private choreography to ladies and lessons for wedding couples, and I teach at the cookery school. I have the best of both worlds.
From line cook to lifelong learner
I started here (at Osthoff) doing front-of-house. When I was in culinary school, I felt it was important. I did well and I like to host people. I like to have guests. I wanted to know that part and I was going to take the VIP guests. Then I went back to the kitchen.
I started as a line cook here and just kept working. Pastry is where my heart is and I said I wanted to be a pastry chef. They saw what I could do and then COVID hit. We lost almost every employee here. After COVID they brought in an outside chef and it didn’t go well. They needed someone to teach a class. I said ok, I will teach this class. Then it was, I’ll learn this one too. In the end it just stayed. I love to teach.
His next target
We started with just a few classes. I now have about 25 courses to offer. There are some international dishes, now I’m working on ramen for Japan. I love making ramen and pho. This is my specialty. We will make miso eggs, noodles and broth.
Who attends cooking courses
We get a little bit of everything. Right now there’s a group of local people who come regularly, then some people from Green Bay check things out. … We get a lot of people from Cedarburg, Mequon and Milwaukee.
People are willing to travel for the classes and that’s part of the fun. There are 16 to 20 people in a class. Eventually I want to do a Chef’s Table in this space. We’ve done private events, cooking challenges and competitions.
These are the most popular classes
Italian food – the risotto, chicken Marsala and cannoli class – is the most popular at the moment. Italian food, pasta, it’s all delicious and actually quite simple. What you think is so fancy is actually country food. Poor people made this food happen out of necessity. Everyone should be able to do it.
In the summer we made ice cream. It was really popular. I started doing it for kids. It turned into something for kids and adults, which made it a lot of fun. We can do ice cream or melba on one side, then grasshoppers and Brandy Alexander on the other side.
Kids can also cook here
I find that there are many young people who want to become chefs. There are 4 of them making custard on the stove while standing on a chair! It’s amazing. The interest in children’s classes has grown a lot.
Plan ahead for these classes
The midi class always sells out immediately. When I cooked for Lola’s (now the resort’s restaurant, Concourse), I probably made 200,000 clams. I wrote it down. We made a grill where we put a wood grill outside. We smoked brisket on the Fourth of July. People loved that.
Strudel is a specialty
We are a small bakery here, but we try to make everything from scratch and by hand. We make the strudels entirely ourselves; The German influence is big here and we always will be. Croissants are a big thing that I’m trying to fit in now. It’s a process to get them out by 6am every morning.
What else does he want to learn?
There is so much to explore in the culinary world, I will never stop learning. Right now, Persian and Moroccan food are things I really want to delve into.
fork. A spoon. life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and beyond) have with food. To suggest future profiles, email [email protected].