LAFAYETTE -- It may have been Plato who introduced the idea that necessity is the mother of invention, but Lisa Evaristo and Leslie Pease know firsthand that when your mother will not bake homemade cookies on demand, you roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
The two sisters are turning their childhood drive for moist, chocolate-laden goodies and adult appreciation for fresh, locally produced meals into Back to the Table, a combined cooking school and production kitchen in downtown Lafayette that is unique in Contra Costa County.
The avowed foodies bring an affection for family dinners and an affinity for attracting top teachers to the tidy two-story building that previously housed a salon.
"The building has been in the Bedford family since 1947," Evaristo says, "We don't know why, but Peter (Bedford) said he had had many offers and just decided to sell it to us."
The purchase was a miracle, especially because the sisters were not originally planning to buy the coveted building at all.
"We were just doing the cooking school and renting," Pease explains. "My children are older and I was thinking about what to do with the rest of my life. The family table was integral to keeping our families together."
Evaristo agrees, adding, "People don't do as much cooking anymore. It's a disconnect from when we used to be taught by our mothers how to cook. Leslie and I are the go-to ones for a favorite dessert or meal; we know people want
A cooking school, where an eclectic mix of three-hour classes culminate in participants gathering at a common table to eat the fruits of the labor, met the two women's utopian ideal of food, craft and community.
When the Burton Valley School in Lafayette (where Evaristo has been running a hot lunch program) suggested it would be interested in Back to the Table adding a production kitchen so fresh, hot food could be brought in to all the local schools daily, the sisters were headed for a mortgage.
Although the school district is no longer in the picture, the decision to include a production kitchen pushed back their projected April opening to Thursday.
Underneath the cooking school's warm, homey interior, high-quality, non-permeable materials meet the sisters' high standards.
"The flooring is tile, but looks like wood you'd have in your home," Pease says, leading a tour.
The upstairs production kitchen is more industrial, with special care to lighting and construction aimed at achieving white-glove cleanliness.
"We have eight signed clients," Pease says. "When I interviewed them, it was very important to have people who will get along with each other -- and they have to leave their space as immaculate as they found it."
The most marvelous aspect -- and what could lead to considerable success for their business -- is the happy expressions they wear while describing the arduous renovations.
"We had to go through seven different agencies and each one had to do its work separately," Pease says. "Then the Contra Costa Health Department had to do its part."
"The Sanitation Department had a terrible time figuring out a comparable: there are no other cooking schools and production kitchens in one location," Evaristo pointed out.
The two women also are excited about their faculty.
"I was looking for people who loved food and the whole concept about eating at the table. I was looking for nice people who work well together and I found them," Pease declares.
Celebrity chefs were not pursued, but expertise was crucial, and they are proud of the range of classes. Beyond meals from ethnic cuisines, courses promote the use of local ingredients (some classes will make the short trek to the new Lafayette Farmers Market for supplies) and include choices like "Cooking for the Whole Family," "Cooking it up in College," "Do You Fondue?" (a singles class) and the curious "Forget Cooking!"
Answering in tandem after months of unknowns, the sisters say one thing is certain: on Thursday, it's time to head back to the table.