By Kelley Atherton
After traveling the world and sampling different cuisines, Devon and Michelle Morgante decided that it's time to settle in Crescent City.
Luckily for them, Vita Cucina, a kitchen and wine store where they've taught cooking classes for the past two years, went up for sale. The Morgantes jumped at the opportunity.
"It's time to settle down for a little bit," said Michelle.
"We've seen a lot in the last five years," said her husband, Devon, about traveling to Antarctica, New Zealand and Australia, among other places.
The current owners, Tom and Robin Martinelli, will turn over the store May 1 to their "fellow foodies."
"We wanted to develop something successfulfor people to enjoy the store and bring something new to the community," Tom Martinelli said. "Once it was profitable, then we would turn it over and let someone else enjoy it. We're happy it's continuing with good people."
The Morgantes, who own more than 200 cookbooks, quickly developed a relationship with the Martinellis.
"We love food and cooking," Michelle said. "We told Robin that we'd like to teach some classes and they put us to work."
Devon and Michelle are both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., though they are originally from Sonoma County. While a lot of chefs eventually start their own restaurant, the Morgantes decided they didn't like that atmosphere. Rather, they've been able to travel around the world.
Before settling in Crescent City, Michelle was the lead baker and Devon the evening sous chef for the National Science Foundation, which involved traveling to Antarctica. They sauted, chopped and whipped up food for hundreds of people on a regular basis while traveling the Southern Hemisphere. They'd looked at homes in the area and decided to move to dry land here.
"We didn't want to wait for the housing market to get worse," Michelle said about buying a home.
Outreach to the community
The store will stay the same, but the Morgantes have some new ideas, including more cooking classes such as cake decorating, Michelle's fort.
The classes usually cost $45 per person.
Devon said they might start a home-brew club to teach people how to make their own wine or beer. When football season starts, he has thought about doing a cooking class with regional foods from each team's hometown.
Devon said he would also like to arrange a class with the Farmer's Market on weekends. People could buy fresh produce at the market, then head to Vita Cucina to cook something up.
"It's about educating people on local foods," Devon said. "If people want more classes, we'll do more."
The store's kitchenette can hold about 14 people for classes. The Martinellis have typically been holding a couple a month.
More wine tasting, or opportunities to learn how to pair wines with food, could also be available in the future.
"We think there's a calling for that," Devon said, surveying the kitchen area. "We only need 14 peopleit's an intimate spot and a lot of fun. We love to talk about food."
Michelle has been running a custom cakes business, A Piece of Cake, out of her home and wants to expand to Vita Cucina. It won't become a bakery Michelle can make celebratory baked goods by appointment only.
Cake decorating would be a fun class, she said, but it's also important to be able to see how to do it up close.
"The class would probably be smaller to be more hands on," Michelle said. "Each person could have their own cake and icing for practicing techniques."
Devon hesitated when asked about his favorite food to prepare. Michelle said he loves to barbecue.
"I just love cooking and hanging out," Devon said, then conjured the image of a dinner party scene with everyone pitching in and enjoying a glass of wine. "That's what our lives are like."
Socially responsible cooking
The Morgantes want to share their love of cooking and the expertise they have, but the thrill of preparing food also comes with a responsibility to understand nutrition, they said.
Their classes would be an opportunity to talk about the importance of organic food. Devon explains that this is not just about a lack of pesticides on one's fruits and vegetables, but about sustaining the Earth.
"We really have an eating disorder in this county," Devon said about artificial foods. "Back in the '60s, they were trying to put meals into pills and now they're putting the pill in food. We don't need all that stuff."
Devon also mentioned the possibility of doing classes with the high school on cooking healthy foods or organizing culinary or hospitality training with the Work Force Center
"Anything we can do to help out," Devon said.
The local economy is dependent on tourism, he said. One of the top concerns for employers in the hospitality industry is getting and retaining employees. An important aspect is understanding how the whole operation worksfrom cooking to serving to managing.
For more information about upcoming cooking classes, call 464-1076 or visit www.vitacucina.com.