Seniors Mark Har­rison and Tara Ung form piatta dough at the Italian street food cooking class. Jo Kroeker | Col­legian

A dis­tinct cheesy odor hung in the air of the state-of-the-art Searle Center kitchens. The range hoods roared. Stainless steel coun­tertops reflected Italian staples: infused olive oils, roasted garlic, Parmesan Reg­giano cheese, the fixings for dough.  

Nine stu­dents learned how to cook simple Italian street food from scratch using just a few, fresh ingre­dients from Bon Appétit Exec­utive Chef Patrick Kander on Feb. 6. They flat­tened dough spheres into 8” circles to cook in olive oil, watched demon­stra­tions for making marinara sauce, pesto, salad dressing, and dough, and lis­tened to Kander’s general tricks of the trade.

“Get good ingre­dients if you’re making every­thing from scratch,” he said. “It’s good, and good for you.” Kander empha­sized that cooking from scratch isn’t over­whelming if one keeps it simple.

The spread cov­ering the gleaming coun­tertops was light fare: chopped salad, fried risotto balls called arencine, and piatta sand­wiches — a trendy Italian pop-up street food. The class is the first of the semester, and had been rescheduled because of the influenza out­break.  

Kander opened the class with an inspi­ra­tional story to show the power of food and con­vince stu­dents to buy real Parmesan Reg­giano, not the white dust that comes in a green plastic shaker. After a dev­as­tating earth­quake cracked cheese wheels, one chef pro­moted a parmesan risotto dish anyone could make around the world. Acclaimed chefs joined the trend and ulti­mately, inter­na­tional sales from the cheese sold saved the cheese­makers’ liveli­hoods.

Then he gave a tour of the high-tech kitchen: smart ovens with flash drives that read down­loaded recipes and tell cooks what set­tings to use, and machines that blast -10°F tem­per­a­tures to cool down food.

“The tech stuff is wild,” the 46-year-old chef admitted. “It’s nice to have those fea­tures. Even you guys can do it.”  

Dave Apthorpe, General Manager of Bon Appétit, said that hosting the class in the Searle Center is a way for stu­dents to get involved, check out the kitchens and work there.

“One of our goals is not to have that viewed as, ‘that’s for CCAs, that’s only for outside events,’ We want it to be viewed as part of the college, it’s a good oppor­tunity to show it off, have a stu­dents feel part of it,” Apthorpe said.

Mark Har­rison ’18 and Tara Ung ’18 came to the class with open minds. While Ung only knows how to make Chinese food, she knows its essence involves exper­i­menting. Har­rison said he doesn’t know how to cook at all. In the kitchen, Ung does the bossing, which Har­rison said some­times works… and some­times it doesn’t.

The couple enjoys cooking together: Last year, Har­rison gave Ung a cookbook with tra­di­tional English dishes, “basi­cally, what might’ve been Hobbit food,” Ung said.

Ung is a part-time student, off the meal plan and fending for herself with her 20-ounce Crock Pot. Her mom, dad, and grandma in Malaysia have taught her what she knows. In her esti­mation, Penang, Malaysia, has the best food in the world: a blend of Indian, Dutch, and English, and island flavors.

As for Italian? At the start of the class, her knowledge was limited to Olive Garden.

Kander waved his hands over the ingre­dients laid out and ready-to-use. He empha­sized the tech­nique, mise en place, which is French for having every­thing in place before cooking. He dumped the dough ingre­dients together and used the dough hook on a Kitchenaid to knead.

Then, he heated and stirred garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Kander whirled to face his audience with a giant plastic vat of puréed tomatoes: “You’re obvi­ously not going to make as much as I am,” he joked.

It’s true. Most of the time, Kander is dealing with how to feed a thousand stu­dents every single day, or preparing catering menus. That Tuesday night, he scaled it down to teaching stu­dents how to cook for two or three people at home, which allows him to be more intricate.

Kander’s motto is simple food, made from scratch: a lifestyle with mon­etary and spir­itual ben­efits.

“I love to take my craft and show people it’s doable, no matter who you are,” Kander said. He said this is a two-way street: he teaches and his stu­dents rec­i­p­rocate, like when people come back and tell him they made his recipes for their fam­ilies.  

Typ­i­cally, he said, stu­dents are shy at first, but then they get involved and ask ques­tions.

His back to the audience again, Kander added the purée to the other ingre­dients to let it simmer for 30 minutes. “People who say, ‘I make my sauce all day long,’ Don’t listen to ’em.”   

He blended together another speedy sauce: a pesto that sub­sti­tutes the expensive basil for the inex­pensive yet fla­vorful arugula (blanched), com­bined with olive oil, almonds, salt, and garlic.   

“Recipes are just words on paper,” Kander said. “As long as you’re doing the tech­nique, you can use whatever ingre­dients you want to add a per­sonal touch.”

Then, he pulled out a tray with small round dough balls, ready to roll while the sauce sim­mered.

While stu­dents smooshed and pressed, Kander demon­strated the ver­sa­tility of a wine bottle as a rolling pin.

Ali and Bruno Cortes are stu­dents of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship who just got married in July. Ali said her mom and grandma are great cooks, and from their fam­ilies the couple received nice kitchen equipment that needs using.

Ali said she liked the idea of making oils since she usually tries to avoid eating processed foods, a phi­losophy that is reflected in her love of making breads and using her dreamy Vitamix blender.

Off to the side of the action, Kander credited the presence of Mar­keting Manager William Persson ’17 with better mar­keting efforts to get out the word about the classes.

In the past, Persson said the cooking classes were a little less planned and not as mar­keted. Another factor that makes these kinds of events easier, Persson said, is that a better-trained staff means Kander can spend the day prepping for a class.

Kander and Persson have more events like this in store. From the stu­dents who attended Tuesday’s class and par­tic­i­pated in a feedback survey, one student will ran­domly be selected to learn how to prep (and enjoy) a 3-course meal shared among three other friends. In the spring, Kander wants to host a wine pairing night for roughly 40 of-age attendees.

“Wine is food,” Kander said. “Jesus was right. Jesus did it right.”

Just before it was time to eat, Kander pulled out the foods that he had pre­pared ahead of time, the arencine and the chopped salad. He threw red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dijon mustard, basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil together and whisked.   

“If you con­sider buying salad dressing, don’t,” he advised. “It’s just preser­v­a­tives and sugar.”

Ung said she appre­ciated that Kander introduce the idea of mise-en-place because she, like many stu­dents, often starts cooking without laying out all the ingre­dients and often looks for things as she goes along.

But Kander does not believe that cooking is any­thing to do half-con­cen­trated or half-pre­pared.

“Do one thing at a time, and do it well, and then move on.”

After the burners were shut off and the range cooled, Kander and the members of the cooking class split up and sat around two tables in the Searle Center and shared a meal together.

“Think about what a home-cooked meal means,” Kander said. “Food is love, and it’s 1,000 times better than going out.”