Villa San Michele Cookery Course Holidays

A Cook's Tour

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2010

Isabel Dexter

Attending a course on holiday is nothing new, but a cooking course run by a world-class chef specialising in local ingredients, with frequent excursions to neighbouring restaurants to sample the opposition's best - now that is a real cook's tour.

With fashion moving away from ostentation, the focus is firmly on intelligent, custom-made, discreet services. Hence the latest trend for tailor-made, five-star cookery classes as the chefs in the world’s finest hotels and retreats share the secrets behind the mouth-watering menus on offer.

World-renowned chef Attilio Di Fabrizio was one of the first to start this trend. Based at the picturesque Villa San Michele in Florence, he runs cookery courses designed to cover a variety of themes: from an overview of Tuscan gastronomy to a specialised 4-day Symphony of Pasta course. He aims to share his love for well-prepared, thoughtful food that can be created simply. “It’s not about creating complicated dishes,” he says. “On the courses we have a range of people: from beginners to those who certainly know how to cook but want to learn new techniques, recipes and improve their performance in the kitchen.”

The renewed interest in cooking at home doesn’t mean people want to skimp on luxury. “The quality of the ingredients is key,” adds Attilio. “Cookery has become cool again in the last five years, partly because people are tired of boring eating-out experiences and also because no-one wants to eat fast or frozen food anymore. People are going back to basics in terms of looking at a healthy diet and wanting beautifully presented healthy and tasty meals.” Florentine cookery writer and private chef Serena Guidobaldi agrees. “A great part of our regional traditions stem from the need to use the ingredients to hand, even leftovers like dry bread. It’s correct to respect food by not wasting it”.

Big hotels are also following suit. At the Kempinski Hotel Dukes’ Palace in Bruges, Philippe Soupart teaches guests how to whip up traditional chocolate truffles and the famous col vert duck from within the quiet luxury of this 15th century palace in the centre of this unspoiled medieval city. Tour operator Flavours Holidays run week-long cookery courses all over Europe, including one in Puglia, the heel of Italy, at the grandiose Casino Pisanelli. This is a former 18th century hunting lodge in classic Italian style with a pool surrounded by lemon trees and stunning formal gardens. Amidst the olive groves, guests learn the finer points of Italian cuisine and again the course stresses the importance of using locally-produced ingredients as the basis for the dishes. The inspiring itinerary includes a trip to the Puglia coastline, a visit to the famous Otranto Market and plenty of sampling the local wines and cooking in restaurants nearby.

It’s not only general cookery classes that are available however. At the Castel Monastero in Tuscany, the advanced ‘cordon bleu’ courses overseen by the hotel’s Michelin-starred chef are just the taster. Expect one-on-one wine tastings and advice on how to refine your ‘nose’ from the sommelier in the 13th century vaulted wine cellars.

Back at the Villa San Michele School of Cookery, Attilio has recently seen an increase in demand for their unique ‘Single Cookery School’. “So many people travel alone and a single cookery class is a good opportunity to meet other singles, make friends, perhaps more...” Besides promoting romance, Attilio shares his tricks for concocting bespoke, tasty dishes for one - quickly and inexpensively. “Cooking for one requires a whole different set of skills. It’s about not wasting ingredients and making something that’s a treat, but also healthy and simple.” There are also lessons on how to impress a would-be lover with your culinary skills, create an impressive lunch or dinner for friends and improvise a menu for an unexpected guest!

Definitely tempting...

A Cook's Tour as published in PDF form