De Luca's: Cooking the Italian way
Address: 950 Portage Avenue
Phone Number: 204-774-7617
Neighbourhood: West End
Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the school year, De Luca's hosts a party. There's engaging conversation with new friends, laughs and plenty of fantastic wines and great food.
However, this twice-weekly party is actually in disguise. It's a cooking class.
De Luca's is a Winnipeg institution.This family-owned operation consumes a nearly one-block stretch of Portage Avenue in the West End. This Italian market, olive oil bar, deli, restaurant, bakery, butcher shop and wine boutique is a hub for specialty foods. It's also a great community hub where folks meet over a common passion: Italian food.
Back to the party. A quarter century ago, Anna Paganelli was hired as De Luca's first cooking school teacher. The southern Italy native was a perfect fit for the new venture. She's charming, warm, and most importantly, a talented chef with a vast pool of culinary knowledge and a knack for teaching.
So on a recent Tuesday night, Paganelli took the helm inside the downstairs cooking classroom to teach 40 eager and hungry students some of the tricks of Italian cuisine.
The classes cost $50 per person (which includes a wine sampling bar). Six different dishes are prepared and served. Video cameras focus on the action on the counter top and images are projected onto several wide-screen TVs hang from the ceiling. A big mirror also hangs overhead her prep counter and Paganelli wears a microphone. There's no bad seat in this intimate dining room. (Classes top out at 60 people.)
The dining room is dimly lit. Tables are set with white linens and candlelight. Students sit at tables of eight and watch the action from their seats. You sit wherever you want and make friends as the night goes on.
Strangers are united here in their love of food. The evening clips along nicely and time doesn't drag. Paganelli and her boss Tony De Luca, who also hosts the evening, are a well-oiled team. Paganelli cooks, and in between instruction, De Luca talks about Italian food, ingredients and the market upstairs. (After class, students can browse the market and buy their own ingredients to take home.)
Paganelli demonstrates how to make each dish and then servers deliver the dishes to the eager students. There is no waiting. During our class, we started with pizza with ricotta cheese and cacciatore sausage and a mixed green salad with white balsamic vinaigrette; followed by pasta with chickpeas and zucchini, lemon-baked veal and potato salad and strawberry and mascarpone sponge cake.
Paganelli is a fantastic cook and great ambassador for Italian cuisine. Each course stood out from the other. No one course topped them all. Portions were very generous and guests were encouraged to come up for seconds.
No one went hungry and leftovers were packed away. Cooking class is a misnomer. De Luca's cooking classes are a night out for a great meal for a great price. It's also a great way to introduce visitors to a Winnipeg institution to enjoy great food and maybe, just maybe, learn how to cook the Italian way.
De Luca's cooking classes run from September through May every year. For more information click here.
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