Friends of mine, whom I met on a previous Road Scholar venture called and asked if I would join them for another Road Scholar trip—a cooking class in Italy. Checking it out I found the trip was for ten days with five sessions devoted to cooking lessons at the International Academy of Italian Cuisine in Lucca, Italy. All in all there were 12 participants in the program.
Lucca, as I learned, is a charming walled city in Tuscany with a history that dates back to Etruscan times and is worth a trip whether you cook or not. The program also had many side trips that featured wine, cheese and food manufacturing techniques. For example, we visited a cheese manufacturer located in Castelnuovo di Garfangnana who specializing in the organic processing of cheese, and a wine maker in Montecarlo that produced wine without the use of pesticides or additives.
All side trips included a two-hour lunch accompanied with a local wine at a quaint Osteria. On Sunday, when most things were not operating we toured a privately owned marble quarry in Carrara. That afternoon was capped off with a visit to Pietrasanta, a beautiful small town that is a haven for artists and sculptors.
Lo Chef Gianlucca Pardini is the master chef that runs the cooking school. He trains students from all over the world, but mainly from Japan. Except for one day, classes started at 4:00PM when we prepared and cooked a four-course meal where each menu item illustrated an aspect of Tuscan cuisine. It was composed of an Antipasto, Primo Piatto, Secundo Piatto and Dessert. We utilized local ingredients featuring a variety of grains, vegetables, beans and meat cuts, and created our own stocks, doughs, and sauces.
On Saturday we rose early to shop at an open air market where we decided what to buy and cook for our lunch that day. From those choices Gianlucca fashioned a menu and we went to work at the school. And again each meal was accompanied by a proper local wine.
With the leftovers from our Saturday lunch, plus a little extra prosciutto, pecorino cheese, wine and Tuscan bread, a group of us shared a light picnic dinner on the town’s wall taking in the night lights, towers and sounds of Lucca.