Take the beauty of southern Tuscany, the gentle rolling hills, the olive groves and the blue skies. A local market bursting with produce ripened by the sun and grown with loving care by local farmers – stalls laden with fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, olive oils… Add a medieval hilltop village with narrow winding paved streets, profusions of flowers spilling from pots at every door and incredible views over the stunning countryside. In the centre of the village place a magnificent villa with gardens and a pool and a huge kitchen just waiting for activity. Now introduce Giancarlo Caldesi, well-known Tuscan chef, to breathe inventive flair, colour, humour and quintessential Italian-ness into the scene and you have all the ingredients for the perfect week.
For a bit of background…
Caffe Caldesi on Marylebone High Street had been a regular haunt of mine for years because they serve absolutely the best cappuccino in London. Funny how the silliest things can start a chain of events that changes your life, but a visit to the loo there one day in April 2008 did just that. The notice on the back of the loo door was advertising a week’s cookery school in Tuscany with Giancarlo and his wife, Katie and my love of Italian food combined with the absence at that point of any fixed plans for the summer led me to book on the spot.
It was an amazing week – I learned how to cook real Italian dishes, met new people, Giancarlo and Katie and their two boys became friends for life and I fell in love with the area. After that, a series of events – more of these another time – led to my new life here in Montisi, a beautiful medieval hilltop village just 20 minutes’ drive from where my journey started that week and very close to where Giancarlo was born.
Since I first met them, they have published several books together and Katie’s “Italian Cookery Course” is considered by many (including me) to be the bible of Italian food. The family Caldesi came to stay last year and I’m so excited that I managed to tempt Giancarlo back to Montisi this summer to run a week’s cookery school here, the first time in some years since he last ran a course in his native Tuscany. And instead of learning to cook, this time I was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly, looking after the guests and organizing the washer-uppers – or is it washers-up?
All the guests stayed at Villa Maddalena, right in the middle of the village. It has a beautiful garden with a pool, amazing views and of course a large kitchen where Giancarlo will reign supreme and share the secrets of “La Cucina Italia”. Then comes the best bit – savouring all the flavours and textures around the table, al fresco or inside, and sharing good wines and plenty of laughter and story-telling (from Giancarlo, anyway!).
The 5 full days of cookery covered everything from pasta to bread, meat, fish, vegetables and of course desserts. In addition there was be a trip to market, an evening learning to pair wines and cheeses and a tasting day out (wines, cheeses and olive oils) to make the visit complete.
It was such fun that we are doing it for 2 weeks next year w/c June 7th and June 14th 2014.