Cooking Class Reveals Soul of Italian Food (First of three parts)
|The Chianti Strada del Vino
(Wine Road) map
|The countryside in the Chianti region of Tuscany. (AP/Gretchen Heefner)|
|Giulietta Giovannoni's kitchen at the agriturismo Villa Fagiolari|
Maybe the dusty bouncing would have been less severe if I had taken the rutted path a little slower. But that would have required containing my excitement about the destination: a Tuscan inn with cooking classes.
Italy is a beautiful, friendly place, with an insane assortment of things to do and see. But when my wife and I spent three weeks there this spring, one of our most exciting activities was eating.
We were blown away by fresh pasta with one-note accompaniments, such as truffle oil or mushrooms. We marveled at the deep flavors of dried meats, pungent cheeses and rich red tomatoes. Things I would not eat at home, such as wild boar and rabbit, became new friends.
One problem, beyond pants that no longer fit, is that if you really like to cook, eating amazing food forces you to reconsider your own kitchen strategies. It's as if the people in the restaurant are throwing down a gauntlet, saying, "Oh yeah? You think you make some good beef stew? Beat this."
So the opportunity to take a cooking class - especially in Tuscany, the hilly northern region whose landscape of medieval villages and farms has changed little in centuries - was too good to pass up. Here we could learn from the masters - get inside the inner sanctum and see how the magic happens.
We discovered the bed and breakfast, Fagiolari, the same way we found most every place we stayed - on the Internet, with the help of guidebooks and message-board postings from other travelers. Information abounds because so many tourists go to Italy. The Tuscan countryside is a trendy vacation spot (think Under the Tuscan Sun), and lots of places offer cooking classes, including multi-day sessions.
Our class came on the final night of a three-day stay at Fagiolari, a converted stone farmhouse where rooms started at $100 US, breakfast included.
Owner Giulietta Giovannoni also charges $100 per person for the class, which she has offered since 1995. That includes an apron, a cookbook with about 30 recipes, the dinner that you learn how to cook, plus generous carafes of the red Chianti wine grown on the premises. Since dinner alone at Fagiolari runs about $28 per person, the cooking class essentially costs $72.
Considering that she charges that much for cooking classes, Giulietta seems surprisingly humble when I asked about the origins of her culinary wisdom.
"In Italy, the women all cook," she shrugged, and smiled.
But there is a little more to it. Raised in Florence, 32 kilometers to the north, she worked in a restaurant and with caterers before buying the Fagiolari farmhouse, olive groves and vineyards and turning it into a five-room B and B. In Italy this kind of inn/working farm is called an "agriturismo."
|Originally Published on Canada.com © The Canadian Press 2004|