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. This is how I came across a pasta-making class at The Hill Center. The class was $50 with alcohol included, so you can guess I signed up right away.
I was pretty excited to learn the basics of pasta making. I have eaten more than my fair share of pasta in my life, but I have never made it before from scratch. 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 off with fresh made gnocchi, but I had never made any other type of pasta. However, a few months ago my aunt sent me a couple of my great grandmother’s ravioli cutters that came from Italy. 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.
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 to see a nice view of the back yard as I walked through the scenic garden.
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 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. 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.
The Hill Center offers a variety of classes, including: cooking, studio arts, languages, and a bunch of classes for kids, too. The prices for classes are very reasonable in DC terms. I would be interested in further exploring the class schedule.
Our instructor was Chef Wendi James. James 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 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.
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 used half for fettuccini and half for ravioli. 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. The ravioli was filled with a mixture of ricotta and Italian hard 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.
I was happy to be working with my teammates. They made the experience fun and relaxing. The only way I can explain what I was experiencing during this class is pure joy. I cannot remember the last time I felt this happy.
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 pasta was pretty and delicious. I think there is an added taste value when you take part in making the pasta by hand. This class was so worth the time and money.
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 of my own. So, stay tuned! I have gathered so much inspiration for my blog at this class. There will be plenty of pasta creations on the way!
Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital
921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC, 20003