Since I started my blog, I have been searching for all things food-related to do in DC. I am no stranger to eating out in DC, but I wanted a more personal experience with food. I was scrolling through the “food” tab on Facebook events looking for inspiration for my blog. I marked “interested” on about 30 events for the next two months, well knowing I’d make it to only a handful. This is how I came across a pasta-making class. I marked interested on this event and went back to my search.
Then, I thought about it. I have wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta for so long, and this class was only $50 (alcohol included). So, I went back to sign up, and I am glad I did at that moment. The class (which caps at 16) sold out very quickly.
I was pretty excited to learn the basics of pasta making. Making fresh pasta is just not something in my wheelhouse. I have no technical culinary training. I am completely home taught. Everything I know about cooking I learned from my family growing up, taught myself from blogs, or saw on the Food Network. (I was not joking when I said I was a Food Network super fan).
Coming from an Italian American family, I can rock a wide range of Italian dishes, so pasta has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can knock your socks of with fresh made gnocchi, but I had never made any other type of pasta. A few months ago, my aunt sent me a couple of my great grandmother’s ravioli cutters. When I saw we would be making ravioli in this class, I knew I had to do it so I could put that family heirloom to use.
With most plans I tend to make, I am thrilled about them in theory, but then the day comes and life impacts me enthusiasm levels. I was still feeling dead tired this week at work. I have not been sleeping well, which makes the stress of work even worse. Wednesday night I slept terribly, which put me in quite a mood on Thursday. By the time the afternoon rolled around, I felt like I was running on fumes. I’ll tell you though, nothing was going to stop me from going to this class.
I had never been to the Hill Center before, but I am very familiar with the area. It is right near the Eastern Market Metro station, which is a huge brunch district. My friends and I have become quite skilled at stumbling out of Cava after bottomless boozy brunch and drunkenly wandering through Eastern Market.
I am sure I must have walked past the Hill Center before and just didn’t notice it. Though I don’t know how, because the building is beautiful. I got dropped off at the back entrance. (I tried to take the Metro all the way there, but the silver/blue line was not cooperating when I got to Metro Center, so I grabbed an Uber from there). I got to see a nice view of the back and walk through the scenic garden. It was a picture perfect moment.
Before I go into the class, I want to go through the history of this building and the current the current organization sitting here. The Hill Center is at the Old Naval Hospital. The hospital (which opened in 1866) was DC’s first Naval Hospital. It was in operation until 1906, when it transitioned to a training school for the Hospital Corps. Beginning in 1911, the building was used in a variety of capacities to care for Veterans. The federal government relinquished control of the building to the District in 1963. It then housed several service organizations, but the now 100+ year old building was not well-maintained. By 1998, it was essentially vacant.
In a beautiful example of community organizing, a group of local community members formed the Friends of the Old Naval Hospital in 2000, concerned that this historic building was not being properly cared for or utilized. That is how we got the Hill Center. DC accepted the proposal for the Hill Center in 2007. The plan was to restore the building and use it for an education center for children and adults in the community with a promise to honor the building’s history. Renovations (which took 18 months) began in 2010. I couldn’t find information on when the Hill Center officially opened, but it is safe to say it has been operating for a handful of years at most. For more information on the history of this building, check of the Hill Center’s website.
I wish I knew about this place earlier. They offer a variety of classes, including: cooking, studio arts, languages, and a bunch of neat classes for kids, too. The prices for classes are very reasonable for DC. This pasta class was $50. You can’t find something like this for less in DC. I did have to make quite a hike from Bethesda to get here. That is unusual for me on a weekday, but it was so worth it.
Now, about our instructor, Chef Wendi James. Chef Wendi trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After years of working as a chef in restaurants in Paris, New York, Chicago, and Virginia, she now works as a private instructor, teaching cooking classes at the Hill Center and more often at CulinAerie. You can also hire her to teach cooking classes in your home! Check our her website for more info and also information on her line of jellies.
Chef Wendy was a delight as an instructor, bringing not only her culinary skills but also some great personality. She even shared some insight on certain Food Network chefs. A few of us who were there early got to chat with her for a bit. Before class even officially began, we broke into the wine (and it was much appreciated). Chef Wendi gave a demo for making the pasta dough and using the rollers. Then, we split into four teams to make the pasta that we’d eat for dinner.
Going to something like this on my own, I am always a little nervous having to interact with people I don’t know. As a classic introvert, it can take awhile for me to get into the social mood, but I had amazing teammates that made me feel welcome. I really enjoyed making pasta and talking with them. One of our teammates is a teacher at a nearby DC school. It was the first week of school, so imaginably she was excited to let out some steam with pasta making and wine.
I didn’t take pictures of the dough-making process since I was the one making it, but don’t worry, there will be plenty of other visuals. Making the dough was a lot of fun. It was a little strange at first to put my hands straight into raw eggs and flour, but Chef Wendi gave us some tips on how to limit the messiness of making the dough. After I had the dough ball made and kneaded, we got to work with the pasta roller.
The machine is a bit intimidating at first, but once you get into the rhythm, it is much easier. Our team definitely had a teamwork system down to get our dough rolled out. We made fettuccini with the attachment to the pasta roller. Once you have your pasta rolled out, making fettuccini is very easy. You just need to pass it through the attachment to cut the noodles, but you do have to be careful to catch the noodles as they are cut so they don’t rip or fall to the floor.
Then, we made our ravioli (channeling my Italian side). The ravioli was filled with a mixture of ricotta and Italian cheeses. We filled our ravioli and carefully folded over the dough. Since we are newbies, a couple spots were a little rough, but overall, I think we did a pretty good job. Our ravioli looked beautiful.
I think we had an awesome team. They made the experience fun and relaxing. I showed up to class feeling like I was on my last leg, but once we got into it, I really felt alive. It is amazing how much energy you can garner by doing something you love. This is what true joy feels like.
Of course, the best part was getting to eat our creations. The fettuccini was served with a garlic cream sauce and the ravioli was served with a tomato basil sauce (both made by Chef Wendi before the class). The sauces were cooking on the stove when we came in, and it was a fantastic smell to walk into (especially since Chef Wendi was just chopping some fresh basil to add to the tomato sauce).
The pasta was pretty and delicious. I think there is an added taste value when you toom part in making the pasta by hand. This class was so worth the time and money. If you live in the area, please check out the Hill Center schedule and find a class you’d like to attend.
Oh, and you better bet that I decided to buy a pasta roller after taking this class. It wasn’t even 24 hours after the class when I bought a pasta roller on Amazon. I also bought an ice cream maker because I had $90 of Discover points. My best friend, Chris, has been begging me to get an ice cream maker. It probably would have been nice to have earlier in the summer, but it is never too late to eat ice cream.
So, stay tuned! I have gathered so much inspiration for my blog. There will be plenty of pasta and ice cream creations on the way!