Alumna whips up her own business

A couple of Asians, an American and a European walked into an Argentinian kitchen. They all walked out with something sweet or savory.

Romi Naparstek with a cake

Strangers from all over the world came together in Romi Naparstek’s small kitchen to whip up treats. It’s where people from a melting pot of cultures learned to cook while introducing their palates to unique flavors.

Croissants. Puff pastries. Sourdough bread. Macaroons. You name it, at the College of Arts, Sciences & Education alumna’s La Romi Bakery, she helped you make it during one of her baking “bootcamp” classes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home orders put a quick halt to in-person classes.

For a while, Naparstek couldn’t even stock up for an eventual reopening. The supermarket baking aisles were just as bare as the toilet paper aisles. That’s when she realized people had started to bake more at home.

Romi teaching a class through Zoom

It led to Naparstek posting various recipes on social media where people inquired about Zoom classes. Now her favorite part of her “bootcamp” – seeing students fawn over their creations – happens on screen.

In the beginning though, Naparstek’s six-week program was offered as a group session or a private lesson. Her goal was for her students to leave with their baked goods and a desire to learn more.  

This course stemmed from a cooking activity Naparstek used to teach science, math and communications to pre-K students. Naparstek, who earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 2007, ensured her students understood the mantra “You learn from your mistakes.” It’s the same mantra she uses with her adult cooking students today.

Growing up Jewish in Argentina, Naparstek’s family celebrated the holidays by cooking and gathering around the kitchen table. Making and eating anything with “dulce de leche” is her favorite, especially “alfajores” – a “dulce de leche” cookie sandwich and a traditional Argentinian dessert.

Although Naparstek loved the classroom, she felt a desire to expand her baking skills and knowledge, so she went back to her roots. In 2015, she moved back to Argentina and earned a degree in baking and pastry. She taught some classes and then decided to open her own teaching kitchen back to Miami.

For a child who eyed the Betty Crooker brownie mix in grocery store aisles, a baking school was the perfect combination of her two passions. Today, Naparstek’s brownies have drastically improved – it’s one of her specialties.

It was also in 2015 when she opened La Romi Bakery. She started from scratch. She bought all the supplies needed to run an at-home teaching bakery in her apartment. She provides the ingredients and recipes and the students bring an apron, take-home containers and their anticipation to learn.

Like the holiday celebrations around her family’s table, Naparstek sees how cooking in her bakery brings her students together.

For a time, Naparstek also ran an Airbnb experience she called Baking Latin Pastries. As an Airbnb host, Naparstek created an activity in her home kitchen to attract travelers to Miami interested in a cooking class. Booked through Airbnb, her experience allowed up to four people at a time from all around the world who are eager to cook, learn and taste delicious Latin foods.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t know each other, you’re going to finish after those three hours talking about your life,” Naparstek said. “Those conversations happen in my class.”

For now, online classes continue. And while the transition to virtual teaching hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t deterred Naparstek from her long-term goals. Eventually, she wants to open a cooking school – at a shop, not her apartment – where people can learn about food and create a community of curious foodies where guest chefs also share cooking tips.

Aside from sharing a piece of her famous brownies with others, she shares a piece of advice.

“I want to remind others that it’s okay to have a hobby and learn something just for the sake of learning.”

It worked in her favor, and came out pretty sweet.