Too many cooks in the kitchen is common for a lot of households, however enthusiasm for cooking is a timeless way for families and friends to connect, spend time together, and develop and strengthen lifelong skills such as communication and teamwork. The best part? You can enjoy and share what you’ve made with family and friends.

At Sweet Basil Gourmetware and Cooking School in Scottsdale, owner Martie Sullivan established the business in 1993 with a recreational approach in mind. In this model, people can come and learn as much as they want about cooking—whether that’s taking a class or participating as a student in the cooking school. In addition, Sullivan wanted a store in the same location that would offer items needed for cooking; Sullivan combined the two, and Sweet Basil was created.

Martie Sullivan established Sweet Basil Gourmetware and Cooking School in 1993. (Photos by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

Sullivan and her husband had lived in Scottsdale for many years before creating Sweet Basil, and decided it was the perfect location to build their business.

“I felt like Scottsdale was the culinary hub of the valley…and thought North Scottsdale was an area where a lot of people would probably be interested in learning to cook and purchasing cooking items,” Sullivan said. “I never really thought about going anywhere else, Scottsdale seemed like the perfect location, and when I found this shopping center, I researched traffic patterns and realized Scottsdale and Shea are pretty busy areas.”

After acquiring their location, Sullivan developed her business plan, learning about the retail aspect of the business. Her restaurant background and experience as an instructor at Scottsdale Culinary Institute assisted her in creating the programs and classes. By attending trade shows for a few years, Sullivan learned about the housewares business, and narrowed down areas of merchandise that fit the concept for the gourmet cook.

“Then I realized the school needed to have enough space so people could cook in it and have a place to sit down and eat,” Sullivan said. “When we started in 1993, we were in a smaller space and could seat 12 people and that was it, and capacity in the school was about the same. We were in that space for about five years, then moved to our current location, which is about three times bigger. I really wanted the two concepts to play off each other, so when people are students in the school, they are given a small discount to shop in the store,” Sullivan continued.

“With some recipes, you’re learning about the certain tools it takes to make the food, as well as the recipe to make it, so I think it’s important to have both. As years have gone by, we’ve increased our inventory and tried to focus on what people are most interested in, such as learning about different cooking subjects and products from the store.”

Sweet Basil offers classes taught by six instructors on a regular basis that include making pizza from scratch, cake decorating techniques, and learning how to create dishes from cuisines from around the world. In addition to certain types of food, they also have classes that teach cooking techniques such as baking, knife skills or sauce making, and how to use gourmetware like cast iron and silicone to create tasty dishes.

“There are a number of subjects that people are universally interested in, so those are subjects we will offer maybe two or three times a year,” Sullivan said. “We don’t repeat our recipes, so for example, if we have a grilling class this month, we might have another next month, but the recipe and lesson are going to be different, but the subject matter remains the same.”

When creating the class schedule, Sullivan looks at what subjects people have expressed interest in and requested, and determines what topics they want to offer. Afterward, she evaluates the instructors’ strengths and availability, and matches the class subjects to complete the schedule. Monthly class schedules including descriptions of the class, times, and instructor information are available on Sweet Basil’s website.

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What’s most rewarding to Sullivan about Sweet Basil is seeing people get excited about cooking. “It’s part of a lifestyle, if you cook for your family and/or your friends you’re not only sharing your knowledge of cooking, but you’re sharing a time together…you’re sharing food you’ve taken the time and interest to learn how to make,” Sullivan said. “The joy that people get in learning how to cook is something you can see on their faces, it’s something that is very valuable and it lasts forever if you use the skills that you can attain here.”

Sullivan said if someone can go from reading and following a recipe directly to knowing how to make something and not needing the step-by-step instructions, that’s a great place to get to. When they increase their knowledge of cooking and build their confidence, then recipes are used more as a reference instead of a how-to, and people can have more fun and creativity when they can work on their own without a recipe.

In addition, if you’re cooking for yourself, Sullivan said you are more likely to cook healthy, good food, and you know what you’re feeding yourself and your family or friends.

“I love to see adults learn to cook, but even more I love to see children learn to cook,” Sullivan said. “Because if they gain skills at a young age, then cooking is always something they feel comfortable with and it’s something they can build upon as they get older, and through their adult lives.”

Through the years, Sweet Basil has had more corporate groups take classes, which Sullivan said is fun to see more people participating and having a good time. “The more people we can get involved in the kitchen and learning to cook, the better from my perspective,” Sullivan said.

She hopes Sweet Basil can continue to provide fun experiences for people.

“We want people to get whatever they want from it, but most of all, we want them to have a good time. Whether you come and take a basics class, or you come as a corporate participant, or you take our 12-week class that teaches you A to Z about cooking, want you to have a good time with it, because that’s what it’s all about.”