Students pursue fun off the beaten track

Staff Writer
Monday, April 9, 2012

Malinda Coletta and Phillip Griffin have teamed up to provide cooking lessons in their Providence home.

Making fresh mozzarella with a married couple may seem like an odd pastime for college students. But the undertaking – along with building bikes and joining artistic communities – is only one of many ventures students looking for a break from College Hill have embraced.

Providence provides a multitude of outlets for creativity beyond Brown’s offerings. The downtown area is home to the artist collective space AS220, the Recycle-A-Bike workspace and the cozy kitchen at Professor Chef, which all offer affordable workshops for students.


Artist ‘gateway’

AS220 is “a mix of a dive bar and an art gallery,” said Cecilia Salama ’12.

A nonprofit artist group founded over 20 years ago, AS220 provides resources in­ dance, theater, darkroom, sculpture and visual arts, said group member Matt Zimmerman, a Providence resident. AS220 occupies its own complex in the Arts and Entertainment District in downtown Providence.

The space is bustling with people and crowded with machinery, and the artists are friendly and eager to talk about their media and experiences. People are using invisible lasers to make art, developing their own photos or stamping designs onto T-shirts.

Zimmerman readily offered a demonstration of the laser cutting machine he was using to make tiny models of the Cottage Industries logo – which is, aptly, a cottage.

The Cottage Industries division of AS220, home to the AS220 print shop, media arts and lab space, provides “facility resources” to its artists, Zimmerman said. Within this department, workshops are offered each month that cover a multitude of media.

In the print shop, students can choose from classes in letterpress and silkscreen. Letterpress courses instruct students in the art of stamping designs onto paper – creating items such as wedding invitations and business cards. The most popular class is silkscreen, said Lara Henderson, the printshop’s manager. The technique is similar to letterpress in that designs are stamped onto material – but instead of paper, the material is fabric.

Photographic projects vary from medium format and pinhole film to digital. AS220 also hosts dance and theater classes at their 95 Empire Street location.

Workshops cover both introductory and more advanced applications of the Cottage Industries equipment.

“People hop around,” Henderson said. Students tend to take an introductory class and become invested in their medium, seeking to further their knowledge of lab techniques.

“Workshops are kind of our gateway into the space,” said James Rutter, labs coordinator at AS220. Many students who initially participate in AS220 workshops become members of the organization.

Members are the first to be notified when a new workshop is available. Students are eager to work with a new application of a learned skill or with a familiar instructor, Rutter said.

From Rhode Island School of Design and Brown students to professors, from amateurs to creative professionals, there is a broad range of participants from the Providence community in AS220 workshops, Henderson said.


Culinary extra-credit

For those with a more culinary bent, Professor Chef, a husband-wife cooking instructor duo that offers classes at their home in North Providence, offers personalized instruction in a variety of cooking topics and techniques.

“Our motto is: we teach you how to play with your food,” said Phillip Griffin, one half of Professor Chef.

Griffin has been cooking since age 15. After years of informally teaching small cooking classes for friends and family, he and his wife Malinda Coletta decided to apply their culinary passions to professional teaching. They formed Professor Chef two years ago, and the couple teaches around 20 different classes out of their own kitchen, Griffin said. The classes cost $50 to $75 per person.

“We continually change our offerings based upon what our clients want as well,” Coletta said.

Griffin has a background in education, as a former Johnson and Wales Culinary School instructor, and Coletta has a background in nutrition and the science of food preparation. Their individual specialities allow them to gear several courses toward vegan, vegetarian or lactose-free diets.

The most popular class recently has been mozzarella-making, Coletta said. Cooking pizza and bread are also popular classes, Griffin added.

“We teach from the ground up,” Griffin said. Coletta explained that they make their own cheese, beer, wine and vinegar, and they even smoke their own salmon. In their classes, they aim to give students the skills to prepare these ingredients on their own, she said.

The majority of college students who attend the classes are Brown students, but Coletta also noted that the “cross-section of people is amazing.” Some people come solely for entertainment, with no prior cooking knowledge. Others are “true foodies,” she said.

“The interesting thing about taking a class with Phil and I is we’re a husband-wife team,” Coletta said. “There’s a lot of humor. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.”

“We don’t pull any punches,” Griffin added. He compared their dynamic to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from the classic TV show “I Love Lucy.”

“I’m Lucy, she’s Desi,” he said.

The workshops are designed to be informal but educational. Because of the small size – usually less than six participants – they are also very personal.

Typically a class commences with an offer of homemade wine or beer, Coletta said. Every class has a lesson plan with recipes and a phone number to call for any future cooking problems, a free service from Coletta and Griffin called “Rescue Chef.”

“Julia Child always kept her phone number open in the Cambridge phone book,” Coletta said.

These cooking courses are taught out of the couple’s North Providence home, where the small group of students gather around a central counter in a real kitchen, without the sterility of a commercial kitchen, Griffin said.

Courses are taught from the couple’s own recipes. “If I give you a recipe, it will work,” Griffin said.



Olneyville’s Recycle-A-Bike, a nonprofit organization that has been teaching mechanics and community bike repair since 2001. At the cost of only a suggested donation, students can participate in their six-week Build a Bike program, in which they build two bikes – donating one back to Recyle-A-Bike and keeping the other for themselves.

An on-site volunteer mechanic at the workshop teaches participants to fix the bikes by themselves. In each two-hour session on Wednesday nights, the program focuses on a particular aspect of bike mechanics. Students then put this knowledge to practice on Thursday night during open workshop time, when participants can work on their bikes in the workshop space.

Though it is a significant time commitment – a half-hour bus ride for a two-hour class twice a week – Liza Carroll ’14 said it was a worthwhile experience that she has recommended to others.

“It was definitely a good way to make myself get off of College Hill,” she said.”It allowed me to help out at Bikes at Brown,” a student group that rents bikes and offers free repairs to the Brown community, she added.

After completion of the six-week program, students can also stay involved at Recycle-A-Bike.

“There’s a million things to do around the shop,” said Jenna Johns-Yu, Recycle-A-Bike’s development director. Volunteers are constantly being trained in a variety of tasks.

Brown students tend to be very involved in campus programs, so they do not remain as involved as other community members, Johns-Yu said. But she said she hopes to “create a foundation for the partnership,” through Carroll and her connection to Bikes at Brown.


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