In 2014, I embarked on what was one of the best culinary trips of my life. I went to Tuscany, a famous region in Italy. I have always heard about the food in Tuscany and I wanted to check it out for myself. I started to do some research about cooking schools in Italy and came across a company called Active Gourmet Holidays. There were a lot of options to choose from, so the decision was really hard. After speaking to Jo-Ann at Active Gourmet Holidays, and enquiring about her cooking school vacations in Tuscany, I decided to go with Chef Paolo Monti in Lucca. Chef Paolo runs a restaurant and a culinary school. I bought an all-inclusive package where I would be provided accommodations, meals, cooking lessons as well as some food excursions. Now I had to find a travel companion to join me. After asking a number of friends, my long time friend Fabiana agreed to join me. We flew to Italy in July and we spent the first two days of our trip in Pisa doing some sightseeing. Since we flew into Pisa, we thought we might as well visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The following day, we hopped on a train and went to Lucca to meet our host, Chef Paolo Monti. We arrived in the afternoon, unaware that his expectation was for us to arrive late that evening. Luckily for us, Chef Paolo was at the restaurant. He greeted us with a big smile and allowed us to check in early. He accompanied us to our apartment which was located right above the restaurant and culinary school. Having traveled for several hours were had both grown very hungry. We hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast which consisted of a tiny chocolate croissant and a cappuccino. Chef Paolo said that his restaurant was closed until dinner, but if we wanted something simple to eat, he would whip something up. I was expecting a panino (sandwich), but instead I ended up having one of the best meals of my life. In a matter of 15 minutes, Chef Paolo prepared some homemade fettuccine pasta with homemade tomato sauce and delivered to our apartment with Italian bread and a bottle of white wine. Fettuccine al Pomodoro is a simple dish, but when made properly is truly amazing! I learned how to make this amazing sauce during our stay at his culinary school and will share it with you in a future post.
What an amazing first meal. Fettuccine al Pomodoro. The best pasta I ever had!
The apartments are located upstairs from the restaurant and the cooking school at the rear of the building.
Me having dinner at Chef Paolo’s restaurant. I was having a seafood sampler appetizer. The food at the restaurant and the culinary school was outstanding! We signed up for a one week long intensive course. Below are some of the dishes that we learned to prepare:
Raw beef carpaccio with arugula salad, mushrooms and shaved parmesan cheese.
Hunters style chicken alongside pork tenderloin in a lemon cream sauce.
Panna Cotta with orange marmalade and fresh berries.
Semifreddo al croccantino, (iced mousse with almond crackles and melted chocolate sauce).
During our stay, Chef Paolo took us on excursions to Parma and to Modena where we were able to see how Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto de Parma and the traditional Aceto Balsamic (balsamic vinegar) are produced.
Chef Paolo also took us on a wine tasting trip to the Castello Vicchiomaggio located on the top of a hill overlooking the valley of Greve, in Chianti. So beautiful!
The grounds of Castello Vicchiomaggio are immaculate. The castle, located in Chianti, was converted to a beautiful agriturismo (farmhouse). I would highly recommend this as a place to stay for a few nights. If you go off-season, you will likely enjoy lower rates.
Our delicious lunch on that day. So yummy!
During our return to Lucca, Chef Paolo decided to make a pit stop at the famous Antica Macelleria Cecchini located in Chianti. I was lucky enough to meet the one and only superstar butcher Dario Cecchini who happened to be there on that day. It was lunch time all over again!
The beautiful spread at Mr. Cecchini’s butcher shop. We were well fed and this helped make this one of the most memorable moments of my trip!
Introducing the best culinary arts chef in Tuscany, Chef Paolo Monti alongside my friend and travel companion, Fabiana (left), and me (right). If you would like to take this trip, feel free to contact Chef Paolo at firstname.lastname@example.org or for another gourmet travel destination I highly recommend Active Gourmet Holidays. Bon Voyage!