A couple of weeks ago I participated in something called “Blu Scuola di Cucina.” I’d heard about participating in a cooking class before. You know the place where you cough up your cash, and someone leads you through something approaching a meal, which after you are finished making it, you eat it. Kind of like saving the place money on staffing, while still paying for your meal, all the while in a place with as much atmosphere as a hot air balloon.
Blu isn’t like that. Not in the least. While we were offered the opportunity to get our hands messy, as all eight of us were sitting behind the bar, no one really felt like getting up from their seats. And while we were served six courses, it did not feel like a meal. it truly was a classroom where not only were we taught how to make about a dozen different types of pasta, but also the history, geography, philosophy and manual gymnastics behind them.
Adam Piperni and Maurizio Terrazzano were the instructors. By day, they both teach at St. Pius X Adult Education & Culinary Institute, and it shows. Chef Piperni did the pastas and Chef Terrazzano did the sauces. Both were thorough to a fault (or as thorough as one can be in a three hour introductory setting). They not only demonstrated the various techniques of making pasta, but went into detail when necessary and graciously answered all questions.
Teaching cooking is not an easy thing to do. As most dishes and techniques are more craft than art, and as a consequence require lots of practice and repetition to master. Chef Piperni and Chef Terrazzano, while not quite at the same level of experience as your stereotypical Italian grandmother working from her home or in a pasta laboratorio, have been making pasta and sauces for far longer than I will ever be able to do, even if I were to get reincarnated and come back as an Italian grandmother.
Add to that their cultural background and the fact that they actually are related to real Italian grandmothers, and you can understand that they not only know what they are talking about, but also how to pass that knowledge along.
Blu restaurant italien is an upscale, modern restaurant right next door to Hôtel Le Cantlie Suites at 1112 Sherbrooke O. Sleekly designed with an emphasis on teak (or at least what I think looked like teak) and mirrors.
It’s a little bit angular, and in general evokes a stylish turn-of-the-century business casual feel.
Along with a touch of whimsy (or psychedelia).
I arrived at about 10 o’clock (although I have been told that future Blu Scuola di Cucinas will be happening in the afternoons, around 3 o’clock) and was promptly offered my choice of caffè. I was introduced to the seven other participants (whose names I promptly forgot, apologies) and after a little bit, Chef Piperni started into explaining how easy and simple it is to make pasta. In short, flour and water is all you need to make fresh pasta. However, if you want to make it fancier, you can make fresh pasta with flour, water and eggs.
If you do a search on Google there are almost 2 million videos that promise to show you how to make fresh pasta. Videos are fine and dandy, but being able to learn from a live and in your face Italian chef. it’s kind of tough to ask questions of a video. It’s even tougher to taste and/or touch the fresh pasta while watching a video.
Chef Piperni and Chef Terrazzano not only took advantage of the differences between video training and in person training but also went above and beyond when they responded to everybody’s questions individually. There’s a reason why schools still exist in this day and age. Learning live from another person is, to me, by far and away the most best (bestest, if you will) method of passing on skills. I’m a little bit disappointed in myself that I did not take advantage of the situation to do any actual “hands on” training (the peer pressure and bar were just a little bit too much that early in the morning). But I also realize that it is next to impossible to learn everything about making fresh pasta in one class, so if I view it as my “Introduction to Making Fresh Pasta” I come out ok, and don’t look, or sound like such a doofus for missing such an opportunity.
If you didn’t know already, Italian cuisine is some weird concept that depending on how much you are paying and the time of day can vary from “authentic” to “greasy and filling.” For the most part the more you pay, the closer you approach the concept of authenticity. However it is completely and utterly impossible to cook (or eat) authentic Italian cuisine, unless you are in Italy and have an ItaLian grandmother cooking for you.
The idea of someone spending a large chunk of their life making cavatelli (or any other type of pasta) is in line with just about any other craft. Do something for a long time, and you end up doing something very good. it can be Japanese knives, Swiss watches or any other craft you can think of. You do it for 40 odd years, everyone is going to acclaim you as a master. The tough part is doing the same darn thing for 40 odd years. In the same way that you become proficient at lacemaking or shooting free throws in basketball, making pasta involves an awful lot of muscle memory. If you need to think about where to fold, twist or cut the pasta while making it, you are likely going to turn your Torchio into Macaroni.
Wikipedia lists 186 different types of pastas, and I am certain if I put my thinking cap on I could easily come up with at least another 14 to make it an even 200. And in reality I’m positive that there are thousands of different types, once you start including the variations. Most of the pasta policing revolves around matching the sauce to the pasta.
Contrary to your local “Italian” restaurant that delivers, not every sauce is appropriate for every different type of pasta. The longer and skinnier your pasta is, the more fluid and saucier your sauce should be. Pasta with texture (like farfalle or rigatoni) should go with sauces with texture (like meatballs or Bolognese) stuffed pasta should go with light and delicate sauces (butter cheese and/or oil) and those tiny shapes (like orzo or tripolini) are most appropriate in soups. Chef Terrazzano made a ravioli with butter sauce, a farfalle with smoked salmon and peas, cavatelli with rapini and sausage and a pappardelle with a meat sauce. All of which were appropriate as to sauce and pasta combinations.
The next “Introduction to pasta at the Blu Scuola di Cucina” is this Sunday, the 21st of December at 3 o’clock. Reservations can be made by calling (514) 282-1975.