Chef Shane Gagnon
Chef Shane Gagnon teaches students the art of hand-made pasta. "Because the Anteater Recreation Center is a fitness environment," he says, "we like to keep the cooking light and healthy." Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

This is the first in an occasional series called “UC I Can Afford It,” which highlights learning and recreational opportunities that are easy on the wallet and open to the campus community and beyond.

Chef Shane Gagnon held aloft a handful of tender, homemade pasta, demonstrating how the consistency differs from the stiff, store-bought variety. “Cooking isn’t that hard,” he told the assembly of gathered students as he prepared to plunge the fresh linguine into a pot of boiling water. “A little effort in the kitchen goes a long way.” It was just one of the encouraging tips he shared in his effort to demystify the art pasta-making in a recent cooking class at UC Irvine’s Anteater Recreation Center.

The $20 class was part of an ongoing series on how to marry fresh, low-cost ingredients with culinary creativity to turn out healthy meals. Mike Puritz, associate director of ARC programs, works with chefs and participants to develop the class schedule.

Gagnon, who owns Plaza Café in San Juan Capistrano, is a regular. He says the uncertain economy, popularity of TV food shows and easy availability of online recipes have led to a boom in home cooking. Classes are a natural extension of this trend.

“My philosophy is that fresh is best,” Gagnon says. “If you use fresh ingredients and proper seasoning and don’t kill the flavor with salt, you can cook a meal better than anything you get in a restaurant.”

Benzamin Yi, a senior philosophy major, says he signed up for the class hoping to perfect his tomato sauce – oh, yeah, and because girls like guys who can cook.

“Seeing that pasta is the typical, cheap, college-student food, I’ve been looking for different ways to prepare it,” he says. “I found it hard to create good marinara, but after this class, I know what to add to make it really delicious.”

Jessica Asuelim, a senior in film & media studies, says that since she and her friends often get together for meals, she’ll be able to put what she learned to immediate use.

“The chef gave us an easy-to-follow recipe, so I’m sure I can do it by myself – even for a simple dinner,” she says. “I highly recommend these cooking classes. They’re a real bargain.”

A series of 10 new classes will begin Tuesday, Oct. 6, with “Tacos, Enchiladas & Salsas,” just in time for the football season. Other classes throughout the fall quarter will focus on tofu, pizza, chili, pumpkins, sushi, baking basics, chowders, roasting the perfect turkey, and making a gingerbread house. For details, go to