Muse chef teaches home cooks how to heat up the kitchen this winter

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As a reprieve from the doldrums of winter, the Water Mill restaurant Muse is offering monthly cooking classes to help combat East End cabin fever.

The classes are held in Muse’s subtly lit dining room, which fills with mouth-watering aromas as chef and owner Matthew Guiffrida whips up a variety of entrées. Last month’s theme was “Perfect Pastas,” featuring three pasta dishes that can be made in any kitchen.

Mr. Guiffrida, formerly of the The Patio in Westhampton Beach and Inn at Quogue in Quogue, runs the classes very informally, joking back and forth with the students as they ask questions and express their astonishment at his cooking tips, which often go against conventional wisdom. For instance, he said to never toss pasta in oil: “If you put oil on it, you’re going to repel the sauce.”

And don’t throw pasta against the wall to see if it sticks, because it will not reveal if the pasta is done. “It is fun,” he admitted, “but it doesn’t work.”

He often offers personal anecdotes to answer questions, like why he prefers to use a knife to mince garlic instead of a press: “My brother came to my house and used my garlic press, then put it away in the silverware drawer and all my silverware smelled like garlic,” he said.

When it comes to mint and basil and other fresh herbs, Mr. Guiffrida said not to use a knife. Rather, tear the herbs up by hand, because chopping will leave the flavor on the cutting board and knife.

Some of his tips are more tongue-in-cheek than others: “Make sure you keep hydrated,” he said, knocking back some chardonnay. “You don’t want to let yourself get thirsty.”

Mr. Guiffrida also advocates not being afraid to deviate from the plan. “The problem with cooking is people are so ready to follow a recipe,” he said, holding his hands up to his head like blinders. “You like basil, put it in. You don’t, don’t use it.”

The January class included four recipes: shrimp scampi over linguine, tomato sauce with penne, vegetable orzo Parmesan and “Grandma Guiffrida’s Garlic Bread.”

While the bread was a fast recipe, Mr. Guiffrida recalled that when his mother and grandmother made tomato sauce, it took all day. “I don’t know what took so long, but it did,” he said.

In his case, it takes just 30 minutes. He uses canned tomatoes instead of fresh, but that’s not just to save time. “Believe or not, canned tomatoes make the best tomato sauce,” he said.

And though some believe it is best to always use the expensive varieties of oil to cook with, Mr. Guiffrida advised otherwise. He recommended to never use extra virgin olive oil to cook with, or any oil that “is expensive for a little container.”

According to Mr. Guiffrida, extra virgin olive oil should be reserved for salads and seasoning meals—otherwise stick to cooking oil because extra virgin olive oil is not only expensive, it also has a lower smoke point than cooking oils more suited for high heat. And instead of boiling pasta in oily or salty water, Mr. Guiffrida advises using chicken stock, because the pasta will absorb the flavor of whatever it boils in.

At the classes, the staff at Muse provides a pen and paper for each guest to take down notes on all of Mr. Guiffrida’s tips and tricks. But in case students cannot keep up, or are too engrossed watching him cook, the restaurant also sends all the recipes to its guests via e-mail.

Muse’s next class “Spanish Tapas” will be held on Wednesday, February 18, at 6:30 p.m. Call (631) 726-2606 to reserve a seat for $40, including an open wine bar from Southampton Wines at Water Mill. Muse is located in the Water Mill Shopping Center at 760 Montauk Highway.

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