TRAVERSE CITY — Feeling, stretching, holding and rolling the dough makes it a bit less scary.
At least, that’s what Laura Cavender tells her students.
The private chef, Oryana staffer and former seafarer leads classes a few times a week at Fustini’s Oil and Vinegar.
Next on the shopping list comes a hands-on pasta-making workshop.
“Some people will book the entire class for family visiting — they want to do something a little different,” Cavender said. “But they’re also really nice for someone that’s just sort of bored of eating alone and wants to learn something more, engage.”
The June 4 class touts a menu of Kalamata olive twists, a lemon thyme salad, fresh pasta with a garlic wine sauce and a maple balsamic flank steak. Chocolate orange pots de creme end the evening on a sweet note.
Keeping the sauce simple, Cavender says, lets fresh-made pasta shine. Each dish incorporates Fustini’s wares and other Traverse City offerings.
“You’re matching really high-quality, high-integrity oils and vinegars with super local fruits and vegetables,” she said. “They work hand-in-hand.”
Pasta-making is a recurring instructional offering at Fustini’s, and proves one of the shop’s most popular.
Cavender suspects that’s at least in part due to the seemingly intimidating process of making a dough from scratch and every other step involved.
“It’s amazing how many people were given a pasta maker as a wedding gift and it’s judging them from the kitchen cupboard,” she said. “It’s really hands-on, but not as intimidating as people think.”
The hands-on class runs about two hours. Attendees get to mix, roll, stretch and then eat their own pasta, along with learning the menu’s several other dishes.
“It’s one of those things you can only really learn by doing,” said Fustini’s Manager Liz Lancashire. “You get to get your hands dirty.”
The event runs 5-7 p.m. at Fustini’s back room serving bar. The Front Street shop has hosted a varied menu of monthly cooking classes for the past several years.
“In a restaurant, your focus is on the end product,” Cavender said. “With this, you’re part of the story.”
The program typically rotates several local chef-instructors, though Cavender’s the only one on Fustini’s current lineup. Each class caps at around 10 attendees and, says Lancashire, is a pretty good mix of tourists and locals.
“With every class, I try to incorporate technique, some information and then an appetizer, main course and a salad,” Cavender said. “Classes are different depending on guests — the questions they ask, what’s brought up.”
“She makes it very easy to follow,” said Anne Reitz, a regular class attendee. “Things like how to properly hold a knife — just little hints on preparing food.”
Reitz took her most recent class a few weeks ago during a trip to Traverse City from her northern Indiana home. She makes the trek up several times a year, and Fustini’s classes always make her list.
“It’s just a vacation thing to do,” Reitz said.
Classes offer either demonstrations — at $55 a head — or hands-on instruction, which runs $65.
Demonstrations focus more on technique — detailed discussion of how to prepare, store and use different fresh herbs and going through recipes like different spins on quinoa.
Cavender’s been cooking since her early years, and spent much of her life cooking aboard traditional sailing vessels. Now, she splits her time between classes, Oryana and work as a private chef.
“I just love teaching these classes,” she said. “It’s giving people opportunity to come out and eat, learn, taste.”
Cavender kicks off another series — lunchtime cooking classes at Oryana — each summertime Thursday after the National Cherry Festival. Other local venues, like Northwestern Michigan College, also offer instruction.
Learn more at www.fustinis.com.