Mat Lanfant is a classically trained French chef who decamped to Port Washington some years back in search of a better quality of life for himself and his three children. Michelle Capobianco, also of Port Washington, is a former corporate securities attorney who left the law in search of a better quality of life when she was pregnant with her own third child. She promptly embraced her love of Italian cooking, eventually becoming a trained chef in the Abruzzo region.
In retrospect, it seems inevitable that the two would one day meet and start a business together, which is exactly what they did. The Cooking Lab, a new culinary school in, yes, Port Washington, opened on April 11. It’s a welcome addition to an island that is not exactly bursting with centers of culinary pedagogy. The Cooking Lab joins a small but distinguished group of schools like A La Carte in Lynbrook, Well Seasoned Chef in Garden City, Sur La Table at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, Chocolate Duck in Farmingdale, and Loaves and Fishes in Bridgehampton.
“Mat approached me and said, ‘Why don’t we do this together?,’” recalls Capobianco by phone from Abruzzo, where she regularly leads culinary and cultural tours of that food-rich region. “We basically took over a really beloved flower shop in town and turned it into a kitchen space, installing all these great stoves, ovens and refrigerators.” In addition to the requisite equipment, The Cooking Lab also features two long communal tables that double as both work spaces and settings for the family-style dinners that are typically held at the end of class.
“We are trying to be versatile. We invite different guest chefs with different specialties,” says Capobianco of her classes, which can accommodate up to 12 students. “I’m excellent in Italian, and so is Mat in French. But if we are going to run a Japanese class, we will invite a Japanese chef to do it. We’re going to have a cheesemonger conducting our cheese-making classes. We really want to get people who are experts.”
Past and future subjects include “Not Your Mother’s Passover Dinner,” “Simple Seafood Dinners,” “Artistic Pie Work” and more. “The fresh pasta and ravioli ones have been hugely popular,” notes Capobianco, "and we just did a great Cinco de Mayo class that sold out in minutes.”
In addition to instruction geared toward both novice and experienced adults, The Cooking Lab also has a slate of children’s offerings, including an after school program and a recent spring break vacation camp.
As to the source of their early success, says Capobianco, “not to sound immodest, but we are both well-liked in our community. We’re here to teach avid cooks, but we really want to reach novices as well.”
The Cooking Lab is at 162 Main St. in Port Washington. 516-570-0050, thecookinglabpw.com.