By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Jun 13, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Zak Groh has been a chef in the pastry kitchen of a Scottish resort visited by Queen Elizabeth. He has cooked at a Hilton resort on the big island of Hawaii and, in Milwaukee, at Bacchus and Carnivor, and he has been the sous chef at Lake Park Bistro.

But now you will find Groh in the shiny new kitchen at Sur La Table, the upscale gourmet cooking gadget and equipment store that opened at the Bayshore Town Center May 20. A chain whose first store opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1972, Sur La Table operates 94 stores across the country, and 24 of them offer an ambitious program of cooking classes.

The Bayshore shop is the first for Sur La Table in Wisconsin.

Groh presides over a spacious and gleaming kitchen considerably larger than some that serve serious Milwaukee restaurants. The facility is designed for up to 16 students to work with Groh and other chefs he will bring in to instruct.

Most classes are one-time events in the evening, with a few weekend day sessions also scheduled. Prices range from $49 to $79, and students sample the fruits of their labor.

Classes offered in June and July include Sushi 101 (Friday), Pies and Ice Cream (June 26), Canning and Preserving Workshop (July 2) and Summertime Asian Noodles (July 20). Weeklong cooking and baking camps for kids ages 8 to 12 and teens ages 13 to 17 are planned for July. They cost $350.

Groh's path to Sur La Table began at his family's Hartford custard stand, Mickey's. He worked there all through high school, and when it came time to choose a career, Groh enrolled in the culinary program at Waukesha County Technical College.

"Go with what you know. That is what I figured," the chef said while chatting in the Sur La Table kitchen. He cooked for Chef Jack's catering in Waukesha while in school, and headed to Scotland after he graduated.

The move to Hawaii was a big shock. "The food culture there is so different," he explained. "The natural larder is spectacular – all of that produce and fish."

Groh went diving for abalone and watched others spear fishing for squid, exciting experiences for a chef. But he found living in a 24/7 tourist environment was ultimately unsatisfying. He craved a sense of community and returned home to Milwaukee.

While Groh was the executive chef at Legend of Brandybrook country club in Wales he offered the members the opportunity to spend time with him in the kitchen. "I had a blast," he said. "It was great to see how I could build kitchen confidence in people.

"A lot of people think cooking is a mysterious thing – hard to grasp. Cooking is an essential life skill. It's great to share something that can so enrich our lives."

Groh said French cuisine is his favorite to eat, and he and his wife especially enjoy Le Reve in Wauwatosa. La Merenda and South Side Mexican restaurants also rank high on his list of faves.

Candy bars are Groh's guilty pleasure. Molecular gastronomy is the food topic he would most like to further explore.

Spreading his wealth of knowledge and skills is his mission.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.