Culinary experimentation is both an art and a science at Port Washington’s own Cooking Lab on Main Street, founded by Port locals Mathieu Lanfant and Michelle Capobianco.
French-born Lanfant originally worked in restaurants for most of his life, but decided to settle down upon the birth of his eldest daughter. He took over his father’s business, but when it closed down last year, he conceived the idea of opening a cooking school in Port, where his family had lived for six years.
“I like cooking, I’m very involved with the schools, and I thought, ‘How about a cooking school?” Lanfant said.
Seeking a partner for the school, Lanfant turned to Capobianco, having met her through parent organizations in the Port Washington School District.
The daughter of Italian-born parents, Capobianco learned recipes and skills while spending summers in Italy.
“Basically, I just would barge my way into anyone’s restaurant, bed and breakfast or home, that would allow me so I could learn from the best Italian home cooks,” Capobianco said.
In 2008, Capobianco left her initial job as a corporate lawyer to stay home with her children and in 2012, she began a catering business, Majella Home Cooking, which evolved into giving classes on and culinary tours in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
“Once Mat and I got talking, here we were,” Capobianco said.
The Cooking Lab then opened its doors on April 11, earning a plum location at 162 Main St. in a former flower shop.
Classes and special events are available for children and adults, with some lasting for a week or simply two and a half hours. Some events also invite parents and children to work together or will see local guest chefs come in and give workshops on certain cuisines. Capobianco tends to stick with Italian cooking and healthy recipes, and Lanfant works with children.
“We definitely have our own specialties, Italian cooking and healthy cooking are some areas I’m interested in,” Capobianco said. “We’re not going to pretend that we’re experts.”
“We try to collaborate with local chefs and people who love to cook, who know their thing,” Lanfant added.
The next two months alone will see the Cooking Lab host workshops on seafood dishes, knife skills, soups, and vegan comfort food. A chef from local Japanese market Nara will be speaking on sushi, and resident Alan Mak will be teaching Hong Kong recipes in honor of the Chinese New Year. February will see a mozzarella and burrata class, and former Windows of the World pastry chef Nick Malgieri will stop by to teach recipes using chocolate in truffles, cake, cookies and tarts.
In addition to Capobianco’s and Lanfant’s goal of teaching skills to Port residents, as per its name the Cooking Lab encourages experimentation, to the point of not including recipes on the tables during classes.
“So many people are so fixated on a recipe as opposed to looking in the fridge and saying, what do I have?” Capobianco said. “Or taking a recipe and saying, I don’t have this, this or that. It’s a matter of saying, how can I turn this recipe into something that my family and I will like?”
“Whenever anyone asks a question of ‘what would happen if we did this,’ we just say, let’s try it,” Lanfant said. “That’s why it’s called the Cooking Lab.”