Transformation at the Table
Photos by Cole McCauley
Story by Sarah Chaney
Lofty yellow ceilings, a table dressed in provincial cloth — it seems more like a depiction of the French countryside than a Chapel Hill cooking school.
“That’s what we were going for,” said Dorette Snover, who owns C’est Si Bon cooking school in Chapel Hill with her husband Rich Snover.
After I spend several minutes getting to know Rich and Dorette in their kitchen, they beckon me outside. We amble through a garden filled with apple trees, fig trees, blueberry bushes — almost every kind of fruit and vegetable you can imagine, waiting to burst forth come spring. Next to the garden is a 1,000-square foot kitchen and dining room. We begin and end the tour of this cooking school at one of Rich and Dorette’s favorite places: the table. It’s the best place, they say, to learn about humanity.
“The table just makes life easier,” Rich said.
Both children and groups of adults filter through the doors of C’est Si Bon, which is French for “It’s So Good.” Unlike many cooking classes that teach proper knife-holding mechanics and the best tricks for the perfect chiffonade, C’est Si Bon courses focus on sharing a meal without a smartphone. Often critiqued for being behind the times, this vision at the heart of French dining represents something deeper than the cuisine itself: the people around the table.
Shielded under trees whose branches sprawl out in so many directions they create only small windows through which the sky becomes visible, Rich and Dorette’s cooking school was once — a few decades ago — just a home off a dirt road.
Hurricane Fran hit in September of 1996, and many of the trees that loomed over the houses in the Snovers’ neighborhood gave way. The very table at which I sat swirling my mug of water as Rich and Dorette recounted C’est Si Bon’s origins was constructed from one of those trees.
Dorette began cooking with many of the neighborhood children post-Fran, and in 2001, the couple built the cooking school building, complete with its subtle French flair.
Rich and Dorette’s cooking knowledge stems from Dorette’s rich culinary education and the couple’s travels through the south of France. A binder of recipes easily weighing five pounds almost makes Dorette smile as big as the framed photo of her and Julia Child. For Rich, his greatest pride comes from his cappuccino, which he guarantees is the best around.
The children who come to Rich and Dorette’s classes learn to develop a palate, they say.
Children, who are often told what to eat, make and critique recipes for themselves such as beef dishes stuffed with goat cheese, mustard greens and mushrooms — and everything is from scratch.
“You have to taste (the ingredients) as you’re cooking,” Dorette added.
Some of their students have gone on to be photographers, Food Network employees and writers. But mainly, Rich and Dorette hope they continue to value cooking in the home.