In 2003, Silvestro Silvestori opened The Awaiting Table Cookery School in Lecce, Italy, a small cookery school based on the simple yet seemingly radical idea that a cooking school in Italy could be much more than 12 students standing around watching someone stuff an oven.
And that the face of upscale tourism is changing, where historically travellers used their money to buffer their comfort zones from the things they came to see ( ‘I want to go to India to see how real people live there, of course I’ll need a five star hotel to do so’), to a new model that favours connection, hands-on learning and enjoying a participatory role with the people and places they visit. (‘We helped pick grapes in Alsace while staying with the other pickers in beautiful farmhouse’).
He held his small classes in the middle of the gorgeously baroque city of Lecce, the city considered a national treasure here in Italy. The classes quickly blossomed, earning an international reputation within the first two years. Combining forces with a local baron in 2008, Silvestro created a larger kitchen, held in a private castle, again, just meters off the main piazza, this time in a small provincial town, in the deep Salento. The larger kitchen allowed for special, once-a-year courses featuring larger classes, which are often themed, such as, the making and bottling of the annual tomato sauce, the vincotto, the quince paste, The Awaiting Table’s birthday, and come November, San Martino, the best holiday in all of Italy.
Six years ago, he began to take a month off each spring to bicycle the entire Italian south- la Sicilia, Calabria, Basilicata and la Puglia-visiting the best vineyards and cellars along the way.
After three years of training, he graduated as a nationally-certified sommelier here in Italy, and in 2010 opened, Terronia: the New Wine School of Southern Italy, held at the castle, an hour south of Lecce. Students now read along as he bicycles the Southern Italian wine route, then they visit later in the year to try the same wines at his wine programme, Terronia: The New Wine School of Southern Italy.
His cooking school has been praised in The New York Times, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Wine & Spirits, Travel+Leisure, The Los Angeles Times, The London Times and countless write ups in the domestic press. He’s appeared on Chinese, Belgian, Dutch and American television, and Italy’s most respected newspaper called him, ‘A national treasure’, for his work in preservation and promotion of Salentine cuisine.
In English: Silvestori is a regular contributor for Wine & Spirits, a New York and London-based magazine, for both and food and wine content, and as a photographer. He was recently added to the masthead.
In Italian: He writes for a number of local publications, usually regarding the keeping of culinary traditions (to date unavailable outside of Italy). He remains the only male member of Le Donne Del Sud (‘Women of the South’), an organization that seeks to promote and preserve Salentine food ways.
He is currently at work on a book on the food and wine of Puglia in English for a major Italian publisher.
As a photographer:
- Food and Wine, 2008
- Wine & Spirits, 2009- to present
- The London Times, 2009
- La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012
- Il Corriere della Sera. 2009. 2011. 2012Il
- Il Quotidiano 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 Shape, 2010
With multiple humanity-based degrees from Italian and American universities, Silvestro has worked as a butcher, a wedding cake decorator, a bread baker, a wine maker, an olive picker, cook, waiter, and at his last job before opening the school, as a high school teacher in Northern Italy.
‘If I have anything new to say on the subjects of food and wine, it’s because my background was an odd one. On one hand, I have a lot of very pragmatic, ‘blue collar’ work experience – I baked bread or picked artichokes, not because I loved doing so- and I did- but because it paid the rent. But I also did so while I attended university both here and in the US, so I have a humanities background as well. Only after our having school for several years did I realise that this is indeed uncommon: you either work with food, without an education. Or you have an education but never get your hands dirty. I did both, for more than 10 years. I still am, in fact. It was tough at the time, but it now allows me to inhabit both mind sets, those that do it for a living, and those that have the resources to appreciate the final product, two groups that rarely share a table.
Aside from publishing, teaching food and wine, the daily running the school and the long Southern Italian bicycle trips, in the next few years he plans to marry and ‘begin a race of little people, marking their growth in horizontal pencil strokes on the wall’.
(Below in picture) Man at work: Meals at The Awaiting Table, always begin with a chalkboard talk. Here, for instance, Silvestro discuses the autochthonous Southern Italian varietals. And why they are so important to today’s wine drinker.