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Learn to cook Caribbean at beHealthy class

Krista Van Wagner
HAMBURG — Krista Van Van Wagner is a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Cuisine diversity for Van Wagner stems from her 12-year worldwide travels, from Florida to Jamaica, to Switzerland to the Grand Cayman.

BeHealthy Institute will host Van Wagner for a Caribbean cooking night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on June 30.

“I’ve been out on my own, having fun and doing cooking classes around town,” Van Wagner said, who was the chef at Curly’s Grill & Banquet Center in Lackawanna for 25 years.

“I love teaching,” she said, adding that she also teaches cooking courses at Erie Community College. “I don’t know what it is. It’s what I've always done.

"I bring back to you my travels," she said, adding that, due to her classical training, she gives very informative lessons.

"I don’t just do a recipe, I teach technique. That's what I bring to the table," she noted.

On July 28, Van Wagner will appear at beHealthy Institute again for a knife skills class. "It is what I find lacking with most people, is that they just don’t know how to hold a knife, or they don’t have a good knife to work with ... If you have the power with the knife, everything else comes.”

The beHealthy Institute was founded three years ago by Health Coach Jill Chiacchia, who was working without a storefront until she received a grant to help establish the location, which is located at 40 Main St. in the village of Hamburg.

“I like to call this space or this business an ‘experience space wellness center’ so that when you walk in I’m not just handing papers over to you saying, ‘Oh, go eat well’ or ‘you should exercise.’ But come here for an experience, whether it’s an experience of cooking and tasting the foods or experience yoga ... It’s more of a homey studio environment,” Chiacchia said, to which beHealthy’s Marketing and Events Coordinator Kelly Heferle agreed.

Classes and opportunities at the institute include anything from Chinese medicine, pet wellness, cancer prevention, feng shui or Tai Chi, and more.

“The beHealthy Institute is perfect,” Van Wagner added. “I like it [also] because I like working with Jill. I totally believe in what she does. She helps so many people with all the things she does. I’m happy to be a part of that.”

The two met while Van Wagner was a chef at Curly’s and then became involved with the Seeds of Living Education program. Van Wagner will have her culinary lesson prepared, where Chiacchia comes in and tweaks the recipes to make them even healthier.

“She’s getting me to do what’s needed,” Van Wagner said.

“We work really well together because she’ll kind of give you the lowdown on how to make this at home, and that’s the big thing. Not to just see how she makes it and taste it, but be able to take those recipes and do it at home,” Chiacchia said, of Wagner. “But on top of that I’ll try to interject on what are the healthy benefits. If there’s a health benefit side of it, we’ll talk about it, as well. So that’s what makes it a little bit different than some of the cooking classes that are around here.”

Just as Van Wagner works with the community to keep her product fresh and local, Chiacchia also emphasizes community by offering referrals to other businesses for patrons of the institute.

Both the establishment and its offerings are educational. “The tricks of the trade are what I share. Cook with your ears, your eyes, everything,” Van Wagner said. “I find that people want to learn. I love watching people learn. It's also pulling in people in our community and getting them to start local.”

Although Caribbean cooking may seem beyond the comfort zone for average at-home dinners, Van Wagner said to fear not, “Anyone can cook. Going off the cuff and not following a recipe is easy, as long as you know the basic technique.”

The class will be interactive and open for Q&A with Wagner. Catch Van Wagner again on Aug. 18 for a summertime fun cooking class from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the institute. The beHealthy Institute is also planning a Saturday class, where attendees will go to the Hamburg Farmer’s Market, see what is in season and Van Wagner will then use those ingredients to cook.

For more information and to reserve a spot, call 648-3400. Learn more about beHealthy Institute at For more about Wagner, visit

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