Although lately my cooking escapades have been proceeding quite well and without (major) incident, I recently decided it was time for the Frazzled Chef to add some formal cooking credentials to her long and distinguished list of culinary accomplishments. Most of those culinary “accomplishments” are eating accomplishments rather than cooking ones, but really, there’s no need to get nit picky about it.
And so it was decided: the Frazzled Chef would go to cooking school!
But where? It wasn’t as if the Cordon Bleu was knocking down my door, wanting me to be one of their pupils…
Taking into consideration the fact that my daytime job and my various other commitments don’t leave much free time for cooking classes, I decided that I would have to wait until my vacation rolled around before I could get a taste of cooking school. And where was my vacation planned for this year? Oh yes, two lovely countries called Spain and Italy. Ever heard of them? Thought so.
After a week of hopping around Spain with my dear friend Jordan, my travels took me back to my Italian home, Siena. Having worked in the campo turistico (the tourism field) right there in Siena, I knew of a couple cooking schools around town. Apparently tourists liked to come to Tuscany not just to eat and drink, but also to cook.
Not having had the chance to take a cooking class while I was living there, I decided to use one of my precious few days in Siena to attend the city’s first (and finest) cooking school, the Scuola di Cucina di Lella. The wonderful Lella Cesari Ciampoli is the school’s owner, founder and teacher. The school, which resides in a centuries-old restructured palazzo near Fontebranda, is cozy and professional. Take a look:
Lella, very welcoming and professional herself, is a member of the AICI (Associazione di insegnanti di cucina italiana) and a member of the International Association of Cooking Professionals in Washington, D.C. She’s done television appearances, teaches a variety of different cooking courses specializing in Tuscan cuisine and has even had a cookbook published in Japan! With my horrific track record in the kitchen, I felt honoured to be one of her pupils – even just for a day.
Trying to be the model student, I psyched myself up for a day at school. My goals? I repeated them to myself as I strolled down the hill towards my destination. Don’t burn the place down, don’t spill anything on the floor, and per l’amore di Dio, don’t leave with goo in your hair! I tried to keep them attainable, but with me you never really know…
I arrived at Via di Fontebranda 69 (the school’s address) shortly before 10am, and was greeted warmly by Lella and her assistant/interpreter Francesca. I soon found out that there would be only two other students in the class that day: a mother-daughter duo from Florida who had also attended a cooking class with Lella the night before. The atmosphere was intimate and after the introductions were made, we got right down to business.
Laid out on each of our cooking stations was a thin stack of papers, on which was written the day’s menu:
Pappa al pomodoro ~ Thick Tuscan tomato soup
Ravioli ripieni di spinaci e ricotta ~ Ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta
Sugo di carne – Meat sauce
Tagliata di manzo con rucola e grana ~ Beef slices topped with arugula and grana cheese
Budino di riso ~ Rice pudding
By the time I got to the bottom of the list I was salivating. It all sounded delicious! And the best part about it was that after we were done cooking, we’d all sit down and enjoy pranzo (lunch) together, feasting on what we’d prepared.
“Ok ragazze, mettetevi un grembiule e prepariamoci a cucinare!”
Ok girls, strap on an apron and let’s get ready to cook!
This girl didn’t need to be told twice! (Although technically I had been – first in Italian by Lella then in English by Francesca). I grabbed a white apron emblazoned with “Scuola di Cucina di Lella” on the front and tied it on. God knows my cute little dress needed all the help it could get staying clean in the kitchen with me!
Want to know just exactly how my class went? Well, check back soon for Part 2 of the Frazzled Chef’s adventures at cooking school!