Are you a foodie? A cook? Interested in food science? Or just hungry? No matter where guests fall in the spectrum of cooking, from out-of-a-box to gourmet, Bob Neroni and Lenore Emery-Neroni have a lot to offer at their cooking school, EVOO Cannon Beach. Here, they present live dinner shows five nights a week in the summer. Guests at the popular attraction see 25 to 30 different recipes created in an “eatertainment” restaurant-school hybrid. This is just one of the business models alive in their small Cannon Beach location on Hemlock Street. Bob and Lenore also run a catering business, a culinary shop and offer traditional cooking classes in addition to their dinner shows.
Their success is thanks to their rich backgrounds in the industry. Together they have run the culinary gambit. Bob has held positions as executive chef at many locations and was regional director of events and catering at Compass Group USA, a global leader in food service. Lenore is a food and nutrition expert and has taught students from preschool to college level. She has also worked advising in food safety and quality for corporations. All said and done though, Lenore says this is the most satisfying endeavor and also the toughest. “I have always loved everything I’ve done and I’ve learned a lot from other positions, but this is the hardest, so therefore the most satisfying,” she shares.
With lifetimes of experience under the aprons, Lenore and Bob embarked on their new adventure of creating EVOO Cooking School together. Their business in Cannon Beach was a dream a long time coming. Years ago, the couple would travel through the area on their way to Seattle and loved the coastal town. They shared a vision of teaching together and in 2004 it came true. Their opening night was broadcast on PBS’s cooking show “Best of Taste.” “The audience was truly engaged and enthralled,” Bob remembers. “So here we are 15 years later doing the same thing.”
Over the course of an average evening show, dinner guests see three entrees cooked and plated. The dinner is presented in a Mediterranean style of eating with a plant-forward, healthy component and an animal component of four ounces or less, Bob explains. The class seats just over twenty participants, so each guest has a front row seat as Chefs Lenore and Bob cook and plate the courses in front of them.
Each of the three courses is paired with wine to enhance the flavors and dessert wraps up the feast. “The show is an opportunity to showcase to our guests many different recipes and techniques to cook with,” Bob explains. The recipes are made with local, organic and mostly sustainable food. Because of the focus on regional ingredients, the plate is often a mix of what is in season. “If it grows together, it goes together,” Bob says. “You can’t make a bad decision.” He mentions a recent apple fennel slaw that he paired with Anderson Ranches’ grilled lamb shoulder, grilled homemade bread and a full-bodied red wine.
Anderson Ranches, a family run grass-fed farm, is just one of the Oregon-based companies EVOO partners with for its meals. “We make conscious decisions about our food, getting to know the farmer, their story and what they are trying to do,” Bob says. The couple is adamant that their success is dependent on the relationships they build with farmers and suppliers of local food. EVOO Cooking School has also partnered with Moon River Farm as a drop-off site for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. In addition to being a place for residents to pick up their produce each week, Bob and Lenore are tour guides into the unique items in each CSA box. “Everyone has a first time with a vegetable,” Bob explains, so they open it up and talk about. What can you make? What cooking techniques are best? Bob even does videos for Facebook showing the box being received and explaining what’s included.
The school’s Cannon Beach locale is what makes the business great. However, the small coastal town does present obstacles as well. “Seasonality,” says Lenore, is their biggest hurdle. “In a lot of ways I love it, we are constantly dreaming up new things to do to keep busy in the off season.” Then, when the weather starts to warm and tourists arrive, a new challenge is unveiled, staffing. Like many area businesses, EVOO has difficulty finding seasonal staff. The couple searches for employees with a desire to learn, a love for food or experience, but Bob is quick to note that all three are not required. “We are happy to train, in many cases we would rather train,” he adds. Regardless of these challenges, Lenore says their business would not thrive in Portland. “We have tripped upon a concept that works in Cannon Beach,” she adds. So, when tourism starts to trickle out, when the rains start to fall in deluge, Bob and Lenore turn to other projects.
One such project is salt. The couple has begun harvesting salt by evaporating water from the Pacific. Their original process was completed in conjunction with the Oregon State University engineering department. With this partnership in place, they are now searching for a way to share their venture with communities abroad. Bob and Lenore see potential for others to benefit from their experience and possibly use the desalinated water as a byproduct.
Another project they are interested in is extending their connections with local farmers to agro-tourism, “We have these relationships, why not bring others with us?” Bob says. Lenore is excited about the possibility as well. “People are interested in experiences,” she says. “We could show a farm working in any season.”
If you want to travel with Bob and Lenore in the meantime, they make yearly trips with guests to experience food and culture domestically and internationally. These wine and food tours take their regulars or newbies on a tour with the experts.
The couple has a lot to be thankful for from their incredible journey together, Bob explains. That is why their business and relationship is so strong. “We can talk frankly and have incredible respect for each other, we could never do this with anyone else,” he adds.