I couldn’t have fathomed the Pandora’s box I opened the rainy Friday evening I spent learning to bake souffles in a West Village loft. Since then, I’ve signed up for nearly a half dozen more around the city and even two in Paris. Luckily, I have a family who has noticed my love of learning how to cook, and they bought me three cooking classes for Christmas. How great are they!?
Now, I’m no cooking class conoisseur, but I’ve taken enough to know what I like and what to look for when booking a class. I gravitate towards classes that emphasize technique, small sizes, unfamiliar/challenging ingredients (ie, lobster, fish, etc) and never use the word demonstration in the class description. I like a sense of intimacy, being able to see my instructor’s hands, having a bit of one-on-one time and chatting with fellow students.
The first in the series of classes I had been gifted, and to be shared with my Auntie Paula, was a Pasta Workshop with Chef Nikki Cascone. When we walked into 82 Mercer St on that Saturday afternoon, this is what we saw.
And that’s how I knew this would be unlike any cooking class I’d taken before.
To be honest, I knew beforehand this would be a larger crowd than I’m used to. I had seen some pictures on Red Hook Hospitality’s Facebook page and noted the large space covered with tables, mounds of flour everywhere. Thank goodness for that Facebook page because we wouldn’t have known to bring our own aprons without it. Otherwise, we would have been subjected to buying the world’s tackiest Kitchen Bitch aprons. No, thanks.
Paula (yeah, calling her Auntie Paula is getting really old for me) and I arrived, aprons in tow, and evaluated the room. I had to have a table near the front. We both had to have a glass of prosecco… or two.
Nikki Cascone came into the limelight during season 4 of Top Chef, something she happily reminds her students of several times during our workshop. I had never heard of her. When she asked the class, Who’s here because you saw me on Top Chef?, everyone else was in the same boat. Yes, Nikki, we were all there to learn how to make pasta.
After Nikki explained the process of preparing the dough, we set to work.
Making pasta dough, we learned, is most definitely a labor of love. But cooking is meant to be done with love, otherwise you don’t do it at all.
After the dough had been prepped, Nikki explained how to use the pasta machines and sent us off to cut our previously refrigerated balls of dough. Then it was up to us whether we’d make and cut more dough or take advantage of the limited open bar and eat some freshly prepared pasta.
Paula and I were serious about the pasta making… serious enough, at least. With at least 60 people vying for pasta machines, we had to develop a strategy to keep at least one in our hands at all times.
Did you doubt us for a second?
Towards the end of class, Nikki demonstrated how to roll out the dough by hand and how to prepare ravioli.
Meanwhile, a line had started for those who’d abandoned their dough and moved on to the eating phase. Paula and I carried on cutting our dough, wondering why no one was walking around with prosecco and offering top ups or to prepare us a small dish of tagliatelle. We may be serious about cooking, but we are also very serious about eating.
I managed to score us the last servings of tagliatelle, which we gobbled up while covering our own noodles with semolina, readying them for the journey home. I suppose it’s not surprising we ended up covered in flour, or that it was the direct result of a casual comment that went something like – You know, we don’t look like we’ve been cooking. We’re not covered in nearly enough flour.
Despite the heaps of semolina we, ahem, dusted our tagliatelle with, we arrived home to find our noodles clumped together. The engineer I am, I came up with a quick fix to separate them.
I’d love to be able to show you the gorgeous dinner we had that night, but it didn’t last long enough to sustain a photoshoot.
I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class, to my family who gifted it to me, and to have learned a bit about the art of pasta making. It’s a simple process that requires time, and, in my case, will most likely be relegated to family birthdays and meals with my future boyfriend/husband.
Hey, Man, if you’re out there, you’ve got some great dinners coming your way.
I do not, however, recommend this style of cooking class, especially not to first-timers. Nikki was equipped with a small army of assistants who were very helpful and, while she did promise to spend time with each of us, my personal interaction with the head chef was her squeezing my noodles and saying, Yeah, that’s perfect!, before moving on. In a class, the head chef shouldn’t have to promise one-on-one time, it’s what’s expected.
Want to learn about pasta making? Although I’ve never taken this specific course, I would steer you towards the Astor Center, where Chef Emily Peterson teaches a class called A Tour of Italy’s Handmade Pasta: Hands-On Cooking & Wine Pairing. I’ve taken classes with her before, and she’s a wonderful instructor who exudes a passion for teaching and cooking, and not for business. Plus, she never wears a headset in the kitchen… I don’t think.