"I thought maybe 15 or 20, for both classes," Barone said.
Natalie Ventrone, an accomplished chef who owns a catering business in Hoboken with her husband and was asked to teach the classes at Weehawken High School, was told to "expect 10 to 15 students."
"When I went there for the first class, I had 17 names on the list," said Ventrone, who is also an ESL teacher at Roosevelt School in Weehawken. "I figured that was all we were going to get."
But when the classes began last Wednesday night, the people came flocking into the high school home economics lab.
"They just kept coming in," Ventrone said. "I couldn't believe it. I got on the phone and called Chuck and told him that he better get down here, because the place was packed."
Sure enough, there were 50 budding chefs who attended the "Kooking Kids" class. For the adult class that followed, 40 people showed up - in a home economics classroom that fits 25.
"I was astounded," Barone said. "I was so delighted that there was interest, but I never figured this. I couldn't believe it. It really did surprise me. It's hard to explain the reason for such a turnout."
The registration for the two classes were so huge that Barone had to include another day, with high school culinary arts instructor Matt Krimsky teaching the classes on Tuesday night.
The sessions will be broken up by semesters now, with the first group going from Nov. 17 through Feb. 2 and the second group going from Feb. 9 through April 6.
"I had to explain to everyone that we just didn't have the room to handle everyone at once," Barone said. "So whoever didn't get in the first class will get to go to the second class."
Because of the turnout, Barone had to hire another cooking instructor, Weehawken native Chris Devaney, who is the master chef at the Houlihan's in Lincoln Harbor.
Kids and adults
Ventrone, who handled the first day of the cooking classes, both for kids and adults, said that she wanted to start with the basics of cooking with the youngsters. So she went over the different utensils that are used in the kitchen and gave them hints how to get around the kitchen on their own.
William Keating, a 10-year-old fifth grader at Roosevelt School, enrolled in the class because "it sounded like a fun thing to do," he said.
"I figured that there would be other kids there my age," Keating said. "I was a little worried that there wouldn't be anyone else there or that I wouldn't be as good as anyone else. I have cooked before. It wasn't totally new to me. We learned to maneuver around the kitchen the first night. I'm very psyched about it. There were an even amount of boys and girls in the class. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."
While the young students were disappointed that they didn't get a chance to cook right away, just learning how to measure ingredients and the importance of using a whisk and spoons the first night, they will be overjoyed to know that the next class will feature the making of French toast.
The adult students went head-first - or hands-first, in this case - into making meatballs in marinara sauce. They got their hands into the ground chuck, eggs and breadcrumbs and went to work - although most in the class said that they never cooked a single thing before.
"That amazed me," Ventrone said. "Some said that they didn't know how to put on an apron. I think half the group never cooked anything before. They came prepared, ready to take notes and asking questions. I was impressed."
Ventrone was asked why there was such a huge turnout.
"I guess because of all the popular cooking shows that are on television these days," Ventrone said. "There are so many of those shows on now and a lot of them are geared towards kids. I guess that's a good sign."
Archery, drama, pilates also popular
Barone said that the cooking classes were not the only new programs that drew large crowds. The new archery classes had 42 students for the first session.
"I had to order more archery equipment," Barone said.
There were more than 30 kids who showed up for actor Patrick Boll's acting/theater workshop.
"The theater workshop also caught me by surprise," Barone said. "I think we're proving that recreation is not just about athletics anymore. There really has been such a great response to our new programs."
There was also a large registration for the new Pilates classes that will take place at the Weehawken Elks. Because of the signups, Barone said that there will be two Pilates sessions and that interested participants should check the township website, www.weehawken-nj.us, for updates and schedule changes.
Also, interested participants can now register for recreation programs online via the township website, making it easier to participate in all the fun, especially the joy of cooking. Funny, that sounds familiar.
"I do enjoy cooking and I love teaching," Ventrone said. "So this is the best of all worlds for me. I just hope the kids enjoy it."
Seems like they already are.