Arts & Culture

BuDS cooking workshop aids students off meal plan

Assistant Chef Aaron Fitzsenry teaches students art of homemade pesto, science behind cooking

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A peppery, full-bodied aroma of fresh basil filled the air as Assistant Chef for Brown Dining Services Aaron Fitzsenry welcomed students to the pesto pasta cooking class in the Ivy Room Sunday.

In front of the students lay 12 promising piles of flour on a cooking work table. Friendly to all levels of experience, Fitzsenry’s pesto pasta workshop coached students on basic recipes for three different kinds of pesto (basil, spinach and basil and arugula) and techniques for making pasta from scratch.

Students began by kneading together flour and eggs to make fresh pasta dough. They then experimented with the pesto ingredients, creating their own sauce to garnish their handmade farfalle, pappardelle or ricotta ravioli.

Throughout the workshop, Fitzsenry offered fun facts about cooking. He also detailed the science behind kneading dough and explained the essentials of Italian cooking, emphasizing that “a few simple basics and good ingredients will get you great results.”

Students were receptive to Fitzsenry’s teachings and enjoyed the class as a resource to help with the off-meal-plan program. “Knowing that you could make a meal like that over the course of just an hour is especially helpful because I’m off meal plan,” Pranav Sharma ’17 said, adding that he will attend another workshop because he “can’t turn down a chance to learn and eat at the same time.”

Prior to working for Dining Services, Fitzsenry was head chef at the Vanderbilt Grace in Newport, R.I. where he honed many of the skills and techniques he has brought to Brown. Fitzsenry was initially drawn to the University for its location in Providence but was later impressed with the community itself: “Hanging with people that are smart and motivated keeps you motivated,” he said. “When you work in a kitchen and feed strangers, you never know what they think. Here, they tell you.” 

A fairly recent addition to the Brown University Dining Services program, Fitzsenry’s cooking classes, hosted in the Ivy Room since spring 2014, are a product of staff and student collaboration.

As a freshman, Taylor Viggiano ’17 was interested in bringing new culinary programs to campus, she said. She developed a student body survey regarding meal plan options.

Viggiano said she was disappointed by the limited resources offered to students adjusting to life at Brown without a meal plan. “I thought (the workshops) would be a great resource for kids going off meal plan to help them learn to cook for themselves.”

From this desire to aid students in their transition to procuring meals off campus, Viggiano began to work with Fitzsenry in developing monthly classes that interest the student body and incorporate recipes for easy, homemade dishes.

“I had done other cooking demos in the past, but it all started when Taylor first came to us with ideas about how to improve the dining program,” Fitzsenry said.

Fitzsenry recognizes that, given the academic rigor of Brown, students have limited time to spend cooking a balanced meal. “I can only imagine what it must be like to say, ‘Now I have to cook for myself.’ So I want to show them that there are some nice things to cook that aren’t too hard.”

The classes also are an opportunity for students to let off steam and relax for a minute, Fitzsenry said. “Working with your hands is such a nice break from studying. People are always so happy when they come.”