We are currently enjoying our time in Tuscany with a family group and one of the huge advantages of group travel is the ability to take advantage of activities that would be out of reach for a single traveller. Yesterday we had the opportunity to take part in a customized family cooking class followed by an amazing multi course meal cooked by a private chef. It was probably the best meal I’ve ever had in my life and will definitely be one of the highlights of this trip.
We started off by looking over sample menus a few days before and choosing what we wanted to make. In hindsight, our inability to narrow our options down to one dish per course and our wish to try almost everything is probably what led to us being served way more food than any human being could possibly eat in one meal, but it all just sounded so good that we couldn’t resist saying yes to everything.
On the afternoon of our class, the chef and assistant/translator showed up with a carload of groceries and a stack of aprons, including child sized aprons for the kids. While one adult in the group went around with a notebook, doing her best to jot down ingredients and preparation notes for future reference, the assistant started the kids out mixing ingredients for the tiramisu while the rest of the adults helped the chef chop a dizzying array of vegetables for the various dishes.
Once the dessert was assembled, the pasta making course began. My son had lost interest at this point and had moved outside to watch the grill being set up but my daughter was given a child sized rolling pin and a small ball of pasta dough and she was soon rolling out and slicing up her very own tagliatelle noodles. In the meantime, a fire had been started on a large grill, and an electric spit was soon slowly turning with a variety of meats wrapped up in bacon with sage, rosemary and various other herbs.
Somehow while all this was going on, the pans on the stove were filled with fresh tomato sauce, homemade vegetable stock, deep fried eggplant and local white beans simmered with vegetables. Another assistant went out to the outdoor dining area and transformed it into a Pinterest-worthy tableau with white linens and flowers picked from the surrounding gardens. He was very gracious about letting the curious children “help” place napkins and flowers at each place as well.
As the sun began to set on the hills around us, we were ushered to the table and the feasting began. The appetizer course would probably have made a full meal for me under any other circumstances. We were given a selection of local cured meats and cheeses, along with pecorino and parmesan cheeses, fresh tomato bruschetta, breads with honey and chestnut and fig spreads from the surrounding property and slices of savoury egg and cheese tart.
After that came the tagliatelle that the kids had made, with a simple fresh tomato sauce and large shavings of parmesan cheese. It was at this point that we realized just how much food we were going to be consuming here because we had been unable to decide between the pasta and the risotto for this course. After enjoying the wonderful pasta dish, we were then presented with the most amazing, creamy vegetable risotto that I had ever eaten. I kept reminding myself that I had to pace myself for the courses to come, but I couldn’t resist eating the entire serving.
As we were slowly working our way through the risotto, we noticed the chef setting up a small table on the corner of the patio. He brought out the skewers of mixed meats that had been roasting on the spit as well as a bowl of caramelized onions and some artistically arranged gourds and flowers. He poured a small amount of some sort of clear alcohol onto the meats and with a dramatic flair,he lit them on fire. Once the alcohol had burned off he sliced the meats onto individual plates and served them with the baby onions on the side. This was the highlight of the meal for the guys in the group but I have to admit that I was struggling to do the meal justice at this point and the kids had given up entirely, wandering off to play in the other room while waiting for dessert to show up.
Besides being the best meal I had ever had, it was also probably one of the longest. We took our time over each course and sipped our wine while watching the changing light on the surrounding hills as it grew dark around us. We let the kids go play after the pasta course and it worked well to let them wander in and out, stopping in for a bite every now and then. After the meat course, they started gathering at the kitchen entrance, giving us breathless reports on the progress of the dessert course. Despite their protests of being too full to have another bite after eating their noodles, both of my kids managed to eat a good portion of the delicious tiramisu when it came out. I have to admit, I ate more of the dessert than I should have, despite being too contented and full at that point to remember to take my camera out and get a picture of it.
I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the wonderful food of Tuscany than to have your very own customized cooking course. And with a large group it’s quite a reasonable option as well. If we were to come back with just our family, I would probably try to find a group class that caters to families and allows the group to customize the menu since you really do need a larger group of people to get a wide range of dishes to try. And nothing beats watching the kids eat amazing food that they helped create made with ingredients from the gardens surrounding them. It was a meal I’ll never forget!