I didn’t go running today, but I did have a long wander through some old photos and stumbled across some from one of my trips to Italy.
Years ago, a couple of friends of mine and I decided to go to Italy and do a cooking course – totally out of left field idea after a few cocktails. Off we went to Tuscany. To a medieval, walled village called Tocchi in the middle of nowhere. And there I had one of my best adventures ever.
The school was La Cucina del Castello. It focuses on regional cuisine and is run by a guy named Vittorio Cambria, also an anthropologist, who told us so many fascinating stories about the area (I also believe he told me he went to Berkeley). Our classes were taught by local chef Giancarlo Giannelli whose translator, Leonardo from Siena, also sang to us (Opera. No, I’m not kidding). Giancarlo was also a great story-teller..and poet. We spent many hours at the dinner table content to finish the last of the wine and hear his stories. I loved the lingering.
And so, the food. Everything was beyond delicious – fresh, simple, made with passion for the local produce. Even the rabbit, which one morning when we came down after breakfast, was sitting on the counter. Freshly skinned and waiting for us to turn it into something wonderful. Every day started with the making of the bread…. a very important event. We cooked everything on an ancient word burning brick oven outside the kitchen. There is no taste comparison to a conventional oven.
I turned 35 on the last night of our stay. To my surprise, the chef had made a special dinner, a beautiful cake, and the table was strewn with rose petals. And Prosecco. Plenty of it. The night ended with the awarding of aprons, much music, and lots of dancing with my fellow foodies. Proudly still in our aprons, of course.
Did I come away a brilliant chef, all-knowing in the art of Tuscan cuisine? Maybe not. In fact, I really did more eating than cooking (we secretly called it “eating camp”). However, every now and then I take out my handwritten recipe to make Giancarlo’s prize-winning pesto and his zucchini with mint bruschetta. Open a bottle wine. Turn on the radio. Start cooking. And I am transported. I heart Italy.
If you are interested, they are still in business. And it’s a great place to go for a run.