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Tastes and Tables

Kitchen Arts

A glimpse at Greater Boston’s classes for aspiring and amateur cooks

January-February 2016

<p class="caption">Chef Jason Martin extols the art of pasta-making at Dave's Fresh Pasta.</p><p class="credit">Photograph by Nell Porter Brown</p>


Chef Jason Martin extols the art of pasta-making at Dave's Fresh Pasta.

Photograph by Nell Porter Brown

Students at Dave's Fresh Pasta mix up batches of dough on their own.

Photograph by Nell Porter Brown


Students at Dave's Fresh Pasta mix up batches of dough on their own.

Photograph by Nell Porter Brown

Aspiring cooks gather around the table in ArtEpicure’s lofty kitchen space

Photograph Courtesy of art Epicure


Aspiring cooks gather around the table in ArtEpicure’s lofty kitchen space

Photograph Courtesy of art Epicure

Kids Cooking Green combines information on nutrition and local farming with hands-on classes.

Photograph Courtesy of Kids Cooking Green


Kids Cooking Green combines information on nutrition and local farming with hands-on classes.

Photograph Courtesy of Kids Cooking Green

Create a Cook caters to children and teenagers, but also offers adults the chance to have some fun in the kitchen.

Photograph Courtesy of Create a Cook


Create a Cook caters to children and teenagers, but also offers adults the chance to have some fun in the kitchen.

Photograph Courtesy of Create a Cook

“We’ve got cheese and crackers and some wine,” says chef Jason Martin, as he strides into the kitchen at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, a gourmet deli and wine store in Somerville, Massachusetts. “Why not make it a little party?”

“I’m not bashful,” says one woman. She pours the first glass of a crisp Austrian Grüner Veltliner and soon all 12 of the students who signed on to learn how to cook “Ravioli, Stuffed Pastas, and Fillings” are sipping away. Martin was a cook at Dave’s, where all the pasta, sauces, and other prepared foods are made on site. He began teaching classes there almost six years ago—probably because everyone realized he was as much a gifted host as an expert on Italian fare.

“When it comes to pasta, it’s not really about the recipe,” he says. “The story is that it’s variable; it depends on the humidity level, the size of the eggs. And the kneading of the dough—what does it feel like? Is it stretchy? Or sticky? Too dry?” He lays out the simplest of ingredients—durum and semolina flours, eggs, salt—along with bowls, measuring cups, and a few Imperia Pasta Machines. Into a well of flour he pours a few beaten eggs, then gently merges the two, first with a fork, then with his hands. “I used to ask my nana, ‘How do I make pasta?’ and she’d say, ‘It’s easy,’” he tells the group as he kneads the supple dough. “That’s the Italian, passive-aggressive answer,” he adds: “‘Easy for me, but hard for you.’”

By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, however, everyone has successfully rolled out sheets of dough, filled their squares with ricotta or sweet potato puree, crimped the edges, and cooked up the lot just right—no longer than three minutes—in giant pots of boiling, well-salted water. The results are sprinkled with pecorino Romano cheese and consumed with a last glass of rustic Nebbiolo before the students head out into the wintry night.

Dave’s has many repeat customers; it also runs classes on Asian-style pastas (ramen, dumplings, rice noodles) and regional Italian cuisines, and offers wine tastings, and a session called “Vodka!” (Licensing forbids drinking it during class, but Martin shows people how “we use vodka in our everyday cooking at Dave’s” to heighten sauces, crusts, and doughs.) All the food is terrific. Yet a chef-instructor’s personality, along with the conviviality of a communal-learning experience, matter just as much for many who take cooking classes in Greater Boston. “It’s a fun class and great for newer cooks,” says Heidi Millar Shea, Ed.M. ’14, an administrator at the Kennedy School, who came with a friend, Vanessa Hernandez, who’d taken pasta-making with Martin before. They each leave with a carton of fresh ravioli, and vow to repeat the recipes at home.

Across the city, in a homey loft filled with art, antiques, and a collection of nearly 1,000 cookbooks at the Brickbottom Artists Building, Mark DesLauriers owns and runs the ArtEpicure Cooking School. His eight classes a month rotate recipes throughout the seasons, but typically include Indian, Lebanese, Italian, and French food, plus his favorite: dishes from the American South. DesLauriers is a restaurant veteran who began working in his parents’ place, the former Corner House in Townsend, Massachusetts, when he was eight. He left the region as a teenager and traveled abroad, working in kitchens and bars from Tunisia to Sweden, and then returned to Boston with his German wife and opened ArtEpicure in 2006. He also runs private, customized classes for families, bachelorette parties, corporate clients, and the occasional “Moms’ Night Out.” “They get tired of grilled cheese and chicken fingers,” he says. “Here, they get to cook what they want. And they get to bring their own wine.”

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education offers about 60 classes a year, in each of its four terms, says program manager and Thai food instructor Ploy Khunisorn (who is slated to receive her master’s degree in sustainability from the Harvard Extension School in May). Students range from young people on their own for the first time, and couples eager to cook together, to retirees taking up a new hobby. There are also, she claims, “the guys who want to come and learn how to help their wives cook.”

The winter 2016 term (January 11-March 20) includes a few series courses—“The Art of Pastry” and “Cooking Without Recipes”—but most offerings are one-time, specialized workshops such as “Parisian Macarons,” “Oyster Tasting and Tutorial,” and “Goat Stew and Mofongo” (a Caribbean fried-plantain dish). Students can buy one class or a series (at a discount), choose day or evening sessions, or even take an extra-long lunch hour to attend the “Tuesday Test Kitchens,” in which “rising stars on the culinary scene” whip up dishes while explaining the process, then share the results.



Ploy Khunisorn teaches Thai cuisine at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.
Photograph by Paul Sayed/Cambridge Center for Adult Education

 

The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts offers loads of recreational classes along with its professional track. For the former, there are six-week-long series on technique alone—from fundamentals for newer cooks to advanced forays into baking and pastry-making (week one: pâte à chou)—along with shorter sessions on regional, holiday, and season-specific cookery, evenings geared to couples (defined as any two people who want to cook together), and special units on knife skills, gluten-free meals, using the “whole hog,” and gourmet vegetarian meals.

The school is also one of the few places that caters to teenagers, who can choose among a rigorous series on cooking techniques, or focus on the art of sweet treats. All are offered during school and summer vacations.

Teenagers might also like classes at Create A Cook, in Newton, but the company offers more for the younger set—down to preschoolers who can learn how to make sandwiches and simple soups with their caregivers. Again, classes are geared for vacation periods and summer cooking camps.

Several nonprofits throughout the region promote cooking and nutrition for kids through hands-on kitchen time, like the sessions at Cooking Matters, in Boston, a facet of the national nonprofit organization and campaign No Kid Hungry. Cooking Matters has a six-week series aimed at young children (from babies to five-year-olds) and their caregivers. The once-a-week classes focus on making nutritional meals on a budget and include educational trips to grocery stores.

Kids Cooking Green, the Lexington, Massachusetts, company co-founded by Liza Connollyand Lori Deliso (wife of Dave Jick, owner of Dave’s Fresh Pasta), offers programs and classes through local schools and libraries, along with field trips. The winter slate includes a visit to A Tavola restaurant in Winchester, learning how ice cream is made at Rancatore’s in Lexington, and, of course, an extensive backstage tour of Dave’s.

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