Sample Day of the Awaiting Table Italian Culinary Vacation

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With numerous Italian and local holidays, food festivals, concerts and seasonal foods available for a limited time, we’d be hard-pressed to describe any particular week as “typical”. Still it’s only fair to give you an idea of how you will spend your day.  Still, during your cooking school vacation, you can anticipate something like this:

NB. We write about ‘communal cooking’, below, for brevity, but it’s really more than simply cooking together. Communal cooking combines the elements of guided instruction, a lesson from a local friend, and The Big Chill, where the wine and music flow easily. We will cook together in the converted stables of an 16th century palace in the historic center of Lecce. The kitchen opens directly onto a city garden, where you’ll collect all the fresh herbs for the grilled seabass, and spend hours around the table, activiely tasting wine made from the local grapes.

But we also do a lot of chaulkboard talks, about the wines of the South, how pasta entered Italy (no, it wasn’t Marco Polo), what are the words that most foreigners get wrong, etc. It’s your chance to learn, wine glass in hand.

10:00 We meet at Antonio’s for morning coffee and pastries or hand-made granitas if the weather is warm (likely he is the sweetest man you’ll ever meet). We’ll dip into some other shops of local artisans for impromptu talks on various subjects, from local pastry, olive oil, pasta and wine, all of it put into all into perspective.

10:00 A morning walk though the historic center of Lecce (which mean insist is the prettiest in all Southern Italy) to the public market to meet our vendors.

10:30 Impromptu language lessons among Simone’s vegetables or Stefano’s meats (making you a savvier Italian traveler, better able to leave behind the guide and guidebooks, not just on this trip, but on future ones as well).

11:15 Back to the school to make fresh pasta, for lunch and dinner. We bring out the long, heavy boards of spruce and make a mound of the flours. We excavate a hole in the middle of the mound, add just the right amount of water, and mix until we achieve the right consistency. We form the pasta into the local shapes, using only our hands and a butter knife (this traditional method has been passed down since before anyone took notice). You’ll experience the soulful life of an artisan, hand-crafting perfect pasta in the Southern Italian tradition. There is only one thing more satisfying than making your own fresh pasta in the south of Italy…

12:00 Communal cooking in the stable. The staff will offer guidance rather than demonstrations.

1:30 Savor a long, leisurely lunch at the school. The long, engrossing conversations flow from one topic to another, but sooner or later the talk returns to food. Our international mix of students keeps it interesting.

4:00 Free time (most guests nap) or a field trip (depending on the day and week). Shops open again at five, and some shop, others walk the city, spend time in Lecce’s sculpture garden or just spend time with someone special.

6:00 Come together again to cook, this time opening a little wine as the meal starts to take shape.

8:00 Dinner, served either in the stable twinkling with the light of a hundred candles, or in the nido, the school’s Lecce wine cellar. We tend to dress a little nicer, use our city flatware, rather than heirloom country we set out for lunch. We linger between courses, take our time.

11:00 We break out the drinks or we can take a quiet stroll through Lecce’s glowing yellow streets. Some nights we’ll stay in and sample from the bar, where we have a hefty assortment of interesting liqueurs made right at the school.

Finally you’ll head back to the main piazza, where the night is yours to stroll, hit a local wine bar or spend some time with that certain someone.

Which is why we’ll start ‘late’ again tomorrow, at 10:00 all over again.