Chef shares culinary secrets at restaurant cooking classes

Buon Appetito Ristorante chef and owner, Mino Giliberti, talks with class attendees in the kitchen of his restaurant at Hampton Ponds.
Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak
Feb. 15, 2012

By Lori Szepelak

lori@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — Jackie Pippin describes the cooking classes by Buon Appetito Ristorante chef and owner, Mino Giliberti, as "a night in Little Italy."

"I love Italy and the ambiance that Mino creates during each of these sessions," Pippin said during an interview with Reminder Publications. She has attended more than 10 of his cooking classes over the years.

Pippin also noted that her husband Steve always looks forward to new recipes she learns.

"I changed the way I cook," she said, noting the helpful techniques she has learned from Giliberti's classes.

Giliberti has been sharing his expertise in the kitchen for years now — as well as his favorite recipes — that have been handed down for generations from his native Italy. His classes start promptly at 6:30 p.m. to ensure there is ample time to observe him in the kitchen creating that night's meals, as well as time to enjoy each course — complemented by a specifically paired glass of wine.

"Our menu is authentic Italian food and we cook everything to order," he said proudly as the evening got underway.

Mike and Beth Knodler of Belchertown were among the participants for the evening who have also been friends with Giliberti for years.

"They are family to me," Giliberti said, noting he has known their parents for many years.

The couple, who have two children, Ben, 9, and Morgan, 7, agree that creating healthy meals that are also delicious is a top priority in their household.

"Mino teaches you how to build on a recipe to make it your own," said Beth Knodler.

The five-course cooking demonstration offering on Jan. 30 that Giliberti hosted featured lentil soup, house salad with balsamic vinegar dressing and homemade bread, pasta fantasy, chicken Portabella, and a decadent chocolate cake imported from Italy.

Assisting Giliberti in the kitchen were Matt Tarka, head chef, and Ross MacAdam, prep cook/chef. Miranda Allen, manager of the dining room, kept everyone on schedule and served each course with grace and a big smile. As each course was served, Giliberti and his staff sat with class participants and shared stories of their favorite memories at the restaurant. Giliberti also shared his wealth of wine knowledge — and how pairing the perfect wine with each course is an art.

At each segment, Giliberti noted that every ingredient he uses should be "staples" in one's own kitchen. Ingredients he recommends to always have on hand include onions, olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, dry white wine without a flavor, Chablis, sauvignon blanc, fresh garlic or garlic bulbs, parsley, chicken broth and tomatoes. When using canned tomatoes, he "highly recommends" tomatoes from Italy since he is familiar with the country's climate and agriculture.

"Think healthy fresh food for your meals," he said.

Giliberti was animated throughout the evening and encouraged everyone to experiment with recipes, noting that he has many years of experience to prove his point.

"I don't measure anything," he says proudly, which was evident as he tossed handfuls of herbs from his own garden, salt, pepper and chicken broth into the searing pans that quickly became a meal to eagerly devour.

Perhaps his most poignant story was when he was making the first course, the lentil soup.

"When I grew up we were poor and we could only afford lentil soup with a small piece of bread," he said.

As the night came to a close, the 63-year-old chef said even though he works 14 to 18 hour days when the restaurant is open, it's not a job to him.

"It doesn't feel like work every day, it's joyful," he said. "What I make is my passion."

Giliberti noted the sky is the limit in the kitchen and that sometimes it takes two to three tries before one can master a recipe perfectly.

"Give yourself time and a chance in the kitchen," he said.

The next cooking classes are scheduled Feb. 20 and Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $80 per person per class. Registration with payment is required before the class.

For more information or to register, call (413) 568-0002, or visit www.WestfieldBuonAppetito.com. The restaurant is located at 856 North Road (Route 202), in the Hampton Ponds area.

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