Arriving at Abby Cherner’s home on a cold winter morning, I counted on a hot cup of coffee or tea waiting for me. What I didn’t expect was a gorgeous, freshly baked coffee cake nearly 10 inches tall (!) keeping company on the counter with lovely purple tulips, china cups and plates and a French press of strong coffee.
“If people feel like you have fussed over them and that they are welcome, they will have a good time,” Cherner says. This philosophy shapes not only how she entertains guests, but also the classes she offers out of her home through her company, At Home with Abby.
Cherner is yet another Washington lawyer (campaign finance, government ethics and lobbying) who left the profession mid-career and re-invented herself in the world of food. Cooking since she was a child, she started her business in 2012 by offering classes for Jewish and secular holidays, working her way through the calendar. After that first year, she added classes designed around concepts like “Beat the Winter Blues,” “Summer Italian Supper,” “Stews and Brews” and “Coffee with a Friend,” which seemed to be the theme of our meeting.
One of her newer classes is Cooking 101: Learning to Cook in Five Classes, aimed at young adults. From scrambled eggs and grilled cheese to roast chicken and seared ahi tuna, Cherner wants to make sure everyone knows how to roast, sauté, season and chop.
Coming to one of Cherner’s classes is itself an event. There is a full menu for each class, starting with drinks or wine pairings. When guests arrive, they socialize over the themed drinks and hors d’oeuvres arranged beautifully in a vignette on a table near the open kitchen, because “the aesthetics are really important to me.”
On the kitchen island, all the ingredients for the dishes to be cooked are prepped, measured and ready to go. Most classes are two hours long and offered in a series of three. She also offers custom cooking parties for birthdays and other occasions as well as individualized cooking classes.
One thing that differentiates Cherner from other people doing similar things is the At Home with Abby binder. Everyone who attends a class gets a binder and dividers to keep menus, recipes and notes. “People build their own custom cookbooks,” she says. “They keep them handy on a shelf in their kitchens and use them instead of lots of different cookbooks.” Cherner is also proud to say that she has no secrets or proprietary feelings about her work. “It’s really about sharing. I tell everyone my resources so they can work with them as well.”
Part of what motivated Cherner to start her business was “knowing all these people with beautiful kitchens who nearly always went out to eat. I started to think the dinner party was a dying art when it is really an intimate form of relationships.”
Cherner sees her own family relationships strengthened by her food and her aesthetic, which means everything has to look as good as it tastes. She and husband Andy have four children ages 21, 20, 17 and 10. With two of them in college, she’s learned that good food will bring them home, she says laughing. “I never miss a chance to cook Shabbat dinner, have a meal in a sukkah or make donuts for Chanukah with my kids,” she adds.
And it’s not just her own family that Cherner believes is brought together by the power of food. Once she started getting interested in being active in The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, she realized that she and JFE® have the same goals. “Food is a great way to bring people together,” she says, “and also to bring them into organizations like Federation.” Cherner participated in the JFGW Israel Your Way trip this past October and hosted the group’s reunion dinner.
On February 18, she will be teaching her first public class for JFE®, focusing on Purim. Click here for more information and registration. Cherner also writes for the JFE® website, posting entertaining and food tips.
Before we finish talking, Cherner offers what she calls a “major piece” entertaining advice: “When your company arrives, be dressed and have a nice tablescape set with drinks and an appetizer or two. If that’s all done, you will look super organized and you can finish cooking the rest of the food while your guests talk and nibble.”
As I leave, Cherner gives me a slice of the cake to take home for my son. It’s wrapped beautifully in natural parchment paper with a trademark green At Home with Abby sticker and green twine. She’s right. I felt special and well cared for, indeed!
For more information about At Home with Abby classes or customized activities, contact Cherner at [email protected].
Top photo: For Chanukah, 10-to-12-year-olds had fun in Cherner’s kitchen making sufganiyot, latkes, homemade applesauce and sugar cookies with royal icing. Photo by Josh Cherner.