People travel for many reasons, whether it be for a cultural experience, an adventurous escape or simply a love of art, architecture and history. And for others the best thing about visiting a new place is the food. I often find myself attempting to recreate gastronomic memories after returning home, like the espinacas con garbanzos we had at a little sidewalk tapas bar in Sevilla or the Austrian Linzer cookies that were devoured on the spot at the Christmas markets in Salzburg.
In Italy where the food can definitely hold its own alongside the country’s other draws, we wanted to take our culinary exposure to the next level with a hands-on cooking class in Florence. We found the perfect match for both our schedule and budget with Walkabout Florence, a small company that manages a handful of tours, daytrips and activities in and around Florence (including the AMAZING Cinque Terre Trek we went on a few years prior).
The first part of the day consisted of a mini city tour to help put the food we would be making later into context. Led by our guide Mara, we also used this as an opportunity to stop at various shops around Florence to purchase essential ingredients like tomatoes and bread before taking an equally as essential mid-morning coffee break. Our last stop was Mercato Centrale for more shopping (and sampling) of cheese and meat. Mara’s enthusiasm and passion for the history of Tuscan cuisine were contagious, and our small and diverse group become fast friends who were ready to take on the kitchen.
After a short drive we arrived at the beautiful farmhouse that would serve as our classroom for the day. Tucked into Cyprus tree-dotted hills high above the city of Florence this is where we met the super sweet Chef Carmella. With Mara serving as translator, Carmella led us through a marathon day of cooking – tomato bruschetta, wood-fired pizza, fresh hand-cut pasta with Bolognese sauce, pork loin with roasted potatoes, tiramisu and crema Fiorentina (aka super easy “Florentine gelato”, which you can find the recipe for here) – with lots of snacking and drinking of wine and beer in between. When our feast was complete, the group sat down together at large tables to enjoy the fruits of our labor before heading back to Florence.
More than just a memorable day of cooking with a repertoire of simple and delicious recipes, tips and tricks to take home with us, we also learned that Italian food is an experience. As Mara noted, what’s most important is that it brings people to the kitchen to enjoy the ingredients and those that you share it with.