James Monaci has a certificate in craft brewing from UCLA, was an owner of a Picazzo’s Italian eatery for eight years and began working as the sales manager at a wine and spirit distributor two years ago. He’s the kind of guy you wish was always there to fill your kitchen with the finest foods and wines.
Now you can have the next best thing — an interactive cooking class taught by Monaci every other month at Luci’s Healthy Marketplace. Scottsdale Living recently attended Monaci’s pasta class, where we learned to make culingiones (a semi-circle shaped ravioli traditionally sealed with a braiding technique).
The classes are about two hours long, though you can stay later to chat with Monaci and other classmates (and maybe snag some second or third helpings).
For the class, Luci’s pulls up a long tall, bar table to turn its U-shaped bar into a Y-bar with seating for about 11 to 12 seats. The meal is prepared and served family-style, and the seats are, too. You’re bound to bump elbows or chat with the person next and across from you!
Dinner begins with a glass of prosecco off Luci’s shelves as the appetizer, two bowls of dips, is passed around the patrons. The bowls contain Monaci’s sweet twist on pesto, which includes kale in addition to basil and honey-glazed pistachios in place of pine nuts, and “alla ’nduja,” a spicy pate of ground pork shoulder and Calabrian peppers. These are served on light, thin “sheet music crackers.”
It’s not just a palate of new flavor profiles and wine pairings — Monaci, whose cooking expertise began in his grandmothers’ kitchens, calls on individuals in the class to help with different steps of the meal. You may be invited into the open kitchen to sauté spinach or fill and pinch closed the culingiones. It’s fair game — and in the meantime, you can talk amongst the other patrons over wine. Monaci also fields questions while he prepares the tougher portions of the meal.
You can also purchase a handful of the hard-to-find ingredients, such as special noodle flour (and most certainly the wine), from Luci’s after/during the meal.
As an instructor, Monaci was knowledgable — he informed the class of the recipes’ history, showed them the proper way to hold a knife while dicing vegetables (it’s a time-saver and a life-changer) and even demonstrated a neat trick for making noodles by cracking eggs in a mountain of flour right on the countertop.
The actual amount of food you are served is kind of skimpy for the $40 entry. However, the skills, kitchen hacks, Italian insights and recipes you receive are the really important takeaways! There were a few little tips and tricks you’ll find yourself using long after the class for unrelated recipes.
That said, this is not a particularly hands-on approach to learning how to cook, but it is comprehensive. Monaci handles most of the difficult tasks, including measurements, which is second-nature to him (no measuring cups in sight!). You also have to be okay with other people handling your food. While your dining company is asked to wash their hands, there’s a good chance they may be some direct hand-to-ingredient contact!
Attendees’ most important role is to sit back, enjoy the wine and food pairings and maybe even try out a few Italian phrases on Monaci. It’s a great twist on a date night or just a fun thing to do with your mom or friends. (All the above scenarios were represented at the class!)
Register for Luci’s Cooking Classes
August 3: Soups to calm your palate (comfort soups, including butternut squash and carrot soups) – $39.99
October 5: Serving up the ultimate pie (gourmet pizza) – $39.99
December 7: The art of cheese making (how to make mozzarella, bur rata and ricotta) – $49.99