• Cooking courses are the ultimate way to experience a country and, in line with our curiosity about the authenticity of food, the Prue Leith Chefs Academy has teamed up with an Italian school to get South Africans to the real heart of Italy


    Imagine an emporium dedicated to food products and eateries, where ‘we’re in love with food’ is part of the owner’s manifesto. In the knowledge that Italians love anything to do with food, at the new Eataly in Rome the target audience is ‘everybody’. I was there at the invitation of the Prue Leith Chefs Academy and the ALMA international school of Italian cuisine, to promote a cooking course that will be tailor-made for foodies in March 2013.

    At Eataly the goal is to promote artisanal products. The owners feel the burgeoning mass supermarket growth is threatening smaller food shops and luring locals away from traditional markets. Eataly is based in an abandoned train station, which almost feels like a huge food market. Its 18 casual eateries were all full and the highlight of my visit was eating at Ristorante Italia, the fine-dining restaurant. The menu offers 20 dishes from 20 regions and we enjoyed a minestrone; a Spanish-inspired tuna dish; carbonara with summer truffles; octopus with tomatoes, dates and parsley; and Italian cheeses. A four-course menu is €100 per person.

    “You need to experience tradition before you can see the innovation,” my ALMA guide Eliana Mennillo told me at the start of my journey. So we headed to a family restaurant that has been in business since 1938, Felice a Testaccio. We tried the antipasti of deep-fried veggies, including baby marrow flowers and oxtail with tomato sauce and cocoa seeds. From Rome we travelled to the countryside. The Umbrian town of Torgiano is home to the Hotel Le Tre Vaselle, a converted 17th-century manor house where the cooking courses take place. I enjoyed a wine tasting at the nearby Lungarotti vineyard, plus an olive oil tasting, and met olive, charcuterie and cheese producers.

    The food adventures on ALMA’s Food & Art Experience will include similar events to mine. Although restaurants offer multiple courses, the food is fresh and light. As you arrive the chef sends you an aperitivo or ‘snack’. It’s an introduction to the menu and, as Eliana says, “He’s saying ‘hello’”… My favourite teaser was Michelin-star chef Marco Bistarelli’s truffle of foie gras rolled in nuts served with smoked salmon and tomato, and a shot of kiwi juice at Il Postale, a restaurant situated in a medieval castle.

    Ever since I saw Tea with Mussolini and Under the Tuscan Sun I’ve wanted to see Italy for myself. I loved the simplicity of the ingredients, and the commitment to quality and a good life. Now I just need to go back for more.

    Essential information
    ALMA Food & Art Italian Experience
    Who it’s aimed at: Anyone who loves food and wine, art, cooking and travelling. (Note: this is not a course
    for professional chefs or cooks.)

    When: 17 – 24 March 2013
    Where: Umbria, central Italy
    Numbers: Minimum 12 and maximum of 20 people
    Accommodation: This will vary according to the programme but the cooking classes will be held at the Le Tre Vaselle Resort & Spa.
    What’s cooking: The course aims to give you an authentic experience, and includes demonstrations and
    tastings, cooking classes, dinner in a top restaurant, and an Italian menu master class. The experience includes wine tastings, a welcome dinner, lunch from Monday to Saturday, a chef’s table, a foodie’s kit (jacket, apron, T-shirt and hat, and recipe book), a one-day guided visit to an art city (Rome, Siena or Florence), visits to meet producers, a guided visit to an Umbrian town, airport transfers and a certificate.
    Price: €2 995 (includes accommodation and most meals but excludes flights, taxes, insurance, some meals and drinks that are outside of the organised itinerary).
    Contact: Email [email protected] (ref: Food & Art Experience) or call 012-654-5203.