Katie Coleman watches as a student purees heirloom tomatoes to make a chilled soup before turning around to pop fresh bread in the oven. Over in the corner, another guest diligently dices fresh parsley and basil to combine into a bruschetta for the toasted bread. Katie seems right at home – patient, knowledgeable and in command of the cooking class now brimming with activity. In fact, she is right at home; this is the Durham Spirits Co. kitchen, and this is where Katie lives.
Katie came to Durham several years ago to teach cooking classes at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, The District at 410. Then she met a friend who wanted to open a bar – turns out, that’s an expensive dream. Serendipitously, the two had that realization at about the same time she toured a house found on Craigslist, an airy renovated place built in 1915 on East Trinity Avenue.
“I saw the house and thought, ‘You know what? We should teach,’” Katie says. “We thought we could build capital and build our name.” The end goal was still an upscale mixology bar with gourmet appetizers to complement craft cocktails. “And then … I just fell in love with doing this,” she says.
The original bar name stuck, which is why Durham Spirits Co. is often mistaken for a trading company or a wine shop. Katie offers both public and private cooking and mixology classes, as well as small-scale catering. It all happens in the kitchen of the house, which she shares with her rescue pit bull, Paulie.
Her own haven is an appropriate setting for guests to learn in. “I create recipes that are easy to recreate – that are easy to begin with – so that people can really say, ‘I can do this at home,’” she says. Public classes are capped at 10 people so that it “is very much as if you are having a dinner party.” Each class culminates in a meal served family-style.
Familial is indicative of how Katie feels about her adopted hometown. The South Carolina native spent time in New York City and Seattle before returning to the East Coast to teach at the Art Institute. She didn’t know a soul here or a thing about this city, but says she “fell in love with it on contact.” It’s been a perfect combination of the sense of community she craves from a small-town upbringing and progressive perks she’s come to love after time spent in major cities. “Durham is the first place – and I’ve lived a lot of places – where I felt a real connection with the people and made instant, fast friends,” Katie says. “Everybody is so down to earth here.”
Take for example her landlords, a couple who have become dear friends and only moved out to relocate for a job. They entirely updated and renovated the home, installing an impressively equipped kitchen and a luxuriously massive bathtub in the middle of a master bathroom as big as its bedroom counterpart. Fireplaces are in almost every room, with tiled hearths in jewel tones. Katie likes to refinish antiques, and they fill each room’s abundant space.
And then there’s the porch. It’s often the setting for those family-style dinners and is large enough to be considered another room. Lined with sheer white curtains, it is Katie’s favorite spot. “It’s such a wonderful part of the house,” she says. “You don’t realize it until you have it and then you’re like, ‘How did I live my whole life without this?’”
Luckily, the porch is right off of the kitchen in a set-up begging to be used for entertaining. Convenient, since Katie hosts dinner parties for a living. “It’s amazing to bring people who normally wouldn’t have met together over food,” Katie says. “To cook together and to eat together and to create conversations at the table are really what it’s about.”
Editor’s Note: Katie is participating in the Grand Taste Experience on Thursday, April 23, at 6:30pm at the Durham Armory, part of Taste 2015, a four-day food festival in Durham. Tickets are on sale now at tastetheevent.com. Spend the evening savoring dishes created by 20 of the best chefs in the region, and meet local beverage makers producing your favorite beer, soda, coffees and spirits. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.