A Cooking Class Rooted in Family
Accessible via a back entrance under a sunny pergola, 416 Cuisine in downtown De Pere is billed by owner Bridgett Lowery as a “sweet and savory kitchen & cooking school” offering cooking classes, heat & eat meals and scratch-made baked goods. It’s one of the most unique restaurant models in our area. When detailing her journey to the helm of this family-centric kitchen, Bridgett said, “It was in my heart longer than it was in my head!”
A former educator and human resources executive, Bridgett intended to spend $1,800 inherited from her Italian grandparents on a new fridge. Instead, while passing her husband one day in the hallway of their home, she exclaimed, “I want to start a food business!” To her surprise, her husband replied, “You should!”
It’s the same approach that, on Bridgett’s recommendation, I signed up for her ravioli class.
The class slowly filed into the kitchen in mostly pairs. After perfunctory introductions, we set about making ravioli starting with a ground-beef- based filling and an artichoke-and-roasted-red- pepper filling inspired by Bridgett’s family’s recipes. Setting out large canning jars full of fresh herbs and spices, Bridgett encouraged us to season our fillings to taste.
Throughout the class, Bridgett encouraged pinches of this and dashes of that, citing her family’s inability to “follow” a recipe as a cornerstone of her approach to cooking. (Indeed, when asking for concrete measurements, Bridgett recounted a particularly exasperating exchange with her grandmother, who exclaimed, “I don’t know how many cups, you just make it look nice!”)
Using whatever is freshest and on hand, Bridgett encourages improvisation in the kitchen.
“I don’t know how many cups,
you just make it look nice!”
— Owner Bridgett
“Sometimes I can get my red sauce to smell just like my grandparents’ kitchen, and sometimes I can’t,” she said.
Bridgett rolled the scratch-made pasta dough through her Kitchen Aid attachment as we seasoned and stirred our ravioli fillings. She set a ravioli mold in front of each pair, which made the ravioli-crimping process so much less cumbersome. The filling was scooped into the little trays and the second sheet of dough was draped over the top. After a few loving swipes over the dough with a roller to seal the edges, beautiful little round dumplings began to form. Bridgett parboiled each student’s sheet pan of ravioli while we cleared the table for a meal of fresh organic salad greens topped with from-scratch balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing, grissini and our raviolis smothered in Bridgett’s homemade red sauce.
“Her red sauce is amazing,” one frequent class-goer whispered to me as we passed bright orange plates down the table for a family-style meal of ravioli.
Bridgett sent us home with her sea salt chocolate chip cookies and that unique, soul-nourishing buoyancy that comes from lovely conversation with perfect strangers over a delicious meal. It is encouraging to know that in today’s divisive climate, 10 strangers can interact in a respectful, courteous way and connect over a shared love of food.
From her grissini to her collection of vintage aprons and chippy doors, everything Bridgett does at 416 evokes a sense of community, home, and family. Since November of 2012, 416 has donated close to 3,000 pounds of healthy food to Ben's Wish, which is an organization that facilitates the distribution of food to hungry families via Brown County food pantries.‑
It also hosts “Make Dinner, Make a Difference” events that occur throughout the year and benefit the Ben’s Wish Weekend Backpack Program.‑(For more information on Ben's Wish, visit its website: ‑www.benswish.org.)
Only after the ravioli-making class with owner Bridgett did I fully realize the duality of her catchphrase “sweet and savory.” Assuming at first it referred to Bridgett’s taste profile, I realized after spending time in her kitchen that it also embodies her approach to melding food and family.
416 Cuisine (a nod to her son’s birthday) evolved out of the ubiquitous problem facing modern families: getting everyone together for a meal on a weeknight.
Recounting her lifestyle as a full-time working mother, Bridgett said, “We weren't eating dinner together, and I thought, ‘I can't be the only one who is having this problem.’”
416 is centered around making from scratch, nourishing batch meals for other busy families, and facilitating cooking classes for anyone age 8 and up. Bridgett shared how her love of preparing meals and gathering together around the dinner table began as a child underfoot in her family’s kitchen.
With a cup of tea in hand, she shared heartwarming anecdotes about the people whose pictures line 416’s kitchen walls – her parents, her first-generation Italian American grandparents, her great aunts and uncles, and her Irish grandparents.
The foundation of 416 is a staple of any Italian kitchen – the breadstick. Bridgett’s “grissini”- style breadsticks are drool-worthy: she started 416 by selling her hand-rolled, from-scratch breadsticks at local farmers markets.
In addition to offering cooking classes like “Cooking for One,” “Small Bites for the Holidays,” and “KIDchen classes for children” in addition to private workshops, 416 Cuisine stocks an ever-evolving menu of take-home items – family friendly dishes, vegan soups, and a delectable assortment of stuffed raviolis.
Although 416 has been around for about six years, it has been in its current location for about a year thanks to the serendipitous push of her neighbor Jen of Jenstar Barre.
When Jen learned that the kitchen next door was available, she immediately sent Bridgett the landlord’s information. Bridgett’s husband insisted they look at the space. Bridgett said she was prepared to take the weekend to think about the move and cost. She was not prepared for her usually pragmatic husband to urge her to agree to the space on the spot.
“Ninety minutes later, we had a handshake agreement,” she said.
Bridgett loves being part of downtown De Pere’s small business community.
“It is an amazing community,” she said. “When national events happen, we usually end up gathering in my kitchen because everyone knows I have a TV ... and food.”
Although her website says retail hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, Bridgett said, “If the light is on, I’m here, stop in.”