If you're going to run a cooking school in Italy, Bologna's the place to do it. Acknowledged as the gastronomic capital of Italy, it's one of the most fascinating cities in the world for food shopping, cooking, and eating. In 1987, the Italian government invited American food writer Mary Beth Clark to launch these English-language culinary workshops based in Bologna; the author of Trattoria and Essentials of the Italian Kitchen, she runs six programs a year in May, September, and October.
Cooking classes take place in an authentic 16th-century Renaissance palazzo. Amid the warm sienna-colored stone arcades of the city's historic heart, it's conveniently close to the food markets that are such a part of cooking in Italythe Pescherie Vecchie, the Mercato delle Erbe, and the food shops of Via Drapperie. (The first thing the class does is head for the market, before they even begin to think about cooking.) A fully outfitted teaching kitchen in the high-ceilinged palazzo serves as classroom, with a charming baroque salon attached where the class and any friends who've paid a fee to join as "tasters" can dine on what they've cooked. Though guests don't stay in the palazzo itself, accommodations in nearby hotels are included in the course package.
The core course, offered twice a year, teaches about a dozen students to cook 40 or so Italian recipes. Participants venture into the countryside to meet artisans who produce Emilia-Romagna's traditional specialties such as Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. They also pay a visit behind the scenes to a Michelin-starred local restaurant. A 4-day version of that basic course is also offered twice a year. Two other courses explore farther afield. One rounds out the Bologna experience with a couple of days in Tuscany, in Siena, Florence, and Greve in Chianti. Another combines the Bologna portion of the class with a trip to the Piedmont, just in time for the annual truffle festival in Alba (a truffle hunt is included); the class stops along the way in Torino to participate in the Slow Food organization's international meeting, Terra Madre.
The Slow Food connection is telling. Clark's approachspending time in local markets, cooking according to what's fresh today, and honoring food artisansis consistent with the Slow Food philosophy, which first took root in Italy. It's a vital aspect of appreciating Italian food and, in turn, discovering what Italian culture is all about.
Thank you Frommer's and Thank you Holly and Charlie.
Excerpted from Frommer's 500 Places for Food & Wine Lovers
by Holly Hughes and Charlie O'Malley.
Copyright © 2009, John Wiley and Sons.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The other class was an altogether more serious affair, a week long culinary tour of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany led by noted Mary Beth Clark, which I joined for a single day. We began at dawn beside Bologna's famous statue of Neptune, where Mary Beth pointed to some mysterious white stones embedded in a wall - signs of the original marketplace that thrived here in medieval times, when illiterate servants had to measure out their orders for bolts of cloth and roofing tiles against these standardized forms. We traipsed across the plaza for some early-morning shopping among the cheese and egg vendors, the makers of fresh pastas and cured meats. Then we crossed a few blocks to enter one of the city's most reserved and secretive institutions, the Club Bologna, in a sixteenth-century palazzo. (Trained among Bologna chefs, Mary Beth is the rare female member of this private entity.)
Forget the nonnas. We were greeted by a butler, served coffee by uniformed staff, and issued aprons and recipe collections for what would be a whirlwind effort to cook our way through a dozen classic dishes of the region. Assembling in the club's kitchen, guided by Mary Beth and the club's own chefs, we started with the same dishes I had done the night before; fresh pasta dough and a ragu alla bolognese. This is the sauce that conquered the world, at least in theory. Genuine ragu alla bolognese is a thick, almost dry sauce made with pork and veal that are coarsely chopped, a little tomato, and no garlic or herbs (salt is also little used, since it is present in so many local ingredients, like Parmesan cheese and prosciutto). True Bolognese sauce is used in baked lasagna, or as dressing on broad pastas that can support the meat, like tagliatelle. A Bolognese would sooner go out for Chinese than eat spaghetti alla bolognese since the thin noodles leave a pile of meat behind in the bowl. In true meat-obsessed Bologna fashion, we also worked up a roast tenderloin and classic polpettini meatballs made with veal.
Mary Beth's theory was impeccable, her process professional enough to please even the doctrine chefs at Alma. She minced her own soffritto rather than using the stuff from the freezer section; she urged us to "harmonize" the ragu alla bolognese by using only the same vintage of wine we would be serving with the meal. A true purist, she even declined to put Parmesan cheese on the dish, which Bolognese regard as an unnecessary improvement. And she confirmed my base instinct about Po Valley soil by noting to the class that "if you understand geography, you understand what forms the people."
Places & Prices
Pearls on a necklace, the main cities of Emilia-Romagna are easily reachable by train. Parma, Modena, Bologna, and Rimini are strung along the rail line from Milan; Ferrara, the bicycle city, is just 25 minutes from Bologna even by local train; Ravenna is easy to reach as well. Most people fly into Milan's Malpensa airport. The country code for Italy is 39. Prices quoted are for September 2009.
The happy medium of exciting travel and serious lessons is Mary Beth Clark's International Cooking School, a four- to seven-day educational roam through Bologna and neighboring Tuscany May and September-the trips in October include truffle hunting (212-779-1921; internationalcookingschool.com; from $2,195 per person, including accommodations).
Thank you Condé Nast Traveler and Thank you Patrick.
Excerpted from Condé Nast Traveler, September 2009.
There was the 70-year-old, newly a widower, with his son. "He was trying to recapture memories of his Italian American childhood," Mary Beth Clark recalled, "and share it with the one son who still talked to him."
Cooking schools aren't the first travel option to pop into the minds of most seniors. Not cooking, on the other hand, has its obvious appeal. That's why we have cruise ships.
But, for travelers who have done the standard London-Paris-Rome-Amsterdam checklist, or bought T-shirts at every known Caribbean port, and want a deeper understanding of a culture, what better way than exploring its cuisine in a hands-on sort of way?
"Honestly, I can't think of one drawback for attending any cooking course anywhere," says Clark, who operates the International Cooking School of Italian Food and Wine, based in Bologna, Italy.
There may be no drawbacks, but there certainly are plenty of options. Cooking Schools Worldwide (www.cookingschoolguide.com) lists dozens from Argentina to the United Kingdom and the United States. Other sources include the Culinary Travel Guide (www.foodvacation.com) and Frommer's 500 Places for Food & Wine Lovers, which came out this year.
Clark, through her school (www.internationalcookingschool.com, 212-779-1921), has been guiding foodies and would-be tortellini-twisters through the culinary wonders of the Emilia and Romagna regions of northern Italy for more than 20 years. Endorsements are many. Freshest, from the September 2009 Conde Nast Traveler: "The happy medium of exciting travel and serious lessons is Mary Beth Clark's International Cooking School."
(Disclosure: I've taken a Clark class. Complete disclosure: I flunked tortellini.)
Clark's programs are designed for grown-ups of all ages, but she says about half of her participants are 50-plus - and that, she welcomes.
"Family is often settled, and it's the stage of calm," she says. "They tend to get along well, don't sweat the small stuff, and have a great attitude of enjoying everything.
"Now they travel for a particular reason - cooking, opera, art classes, learning a language, or a desire to experience something different."
For some, it's as much about sharing an experience with a loved one.
"About four years ago, three sisters came with their three daughters - probably about 55 years old and 25 years old. Just delightful," Clark says.
"A newly retired pilot was given this by his wife so they could learn to do something together."
Understand that you're not going to go directly from four days' instruction at a tourist-centric cooking school outside Paris to upgrading the stuffed squab at Le Bec-Fin. But there's a real good chance you'll be able to create a genuine, almost-from-scratch lasagna bolognese con ragu con salsiccia that will make the neighbors' homemade version taste canned.
Choosing the right school can be tricky, and at these prices - Clark's weeklong sessions this year started at $3,450 (lodging included, double occupancy) - it's best to get it right. Some schools are more hands-on than others - some are primarily demonstrations, others are a mix. If you want to roll and cut your own gnocchi, chose accordingly. Consider class size and language.
Some classes attempt more cultural immersion than others. Again, it's your call. Consider the weather: If heat isn't your cup of sangria, skip Madrid in midsummer. Consider the geography: If you're not up to hills, think "flat."
Always ask for references, and do check them.
Clark, with seniors in mind, adds this advice: "If health is an issue, better to be in a city than stuck in the countryside somewhere in a Third-World country with no medical assistance."
And finally, Clark's most basic recipe for happiness: "Choose the country of one of your favorite cuisines, right? If you like the ingredients and cooking style in those restaurants back home, the percentage increases for a successful journey."
Thank you Philadelphia Inquirer and Bill Reed. Thank you Alan Solomon, our traveling gastronome, a Lowell Thomas Journalist of the Year and James Beard Foundation award-winner for Food Writing.
Excerpted from Philadelphia Inquirer, October 2009.
with celeb chef Mary Beth Clark
In "The Basics of Great Italian Cooking," a six-day course in cuisine-famous Bologna, Italy, you'll learn to prepare some 40 recipes, from handmade pasta to thin-crust pizza to real ragu Bolognese. Dine in splendor on the stunning Adriatic Sea and take a guided expedition to the city's market, where you'll visit with local producers of cheese and balsamic vinegar and learn just which wines are the best accompaniments for your enticing Italian entrees.
The setting: You'll be taught in an ultramodern, fully equipped professional kitchen with individual work areas-in a charming l6th-century palazzo in the historic heart of Bologna, the center of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.
The expert: Mary Beth Clark, an award-winning chef and cooking teacher and founder of the International Cooking School of Italian Food and Wine, has been training cooks since 1977. Widely known for her book Essentials of the Italian Kitchen, she's been a guest chef on TV's Food Network and a contributor to Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, The New York Times and other publications.
The extras: Take a break and stroll Bolognese streets whose grid pattern is a legacy of the Roman Empire, or savor stunning city views as you walk along the 666 arches leading to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, reputedly the longest portico in the world. Inside the sanctuary, see the famous painting Madonna With Child, attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist.
The dates: October 4 to 10, 2009, is the next course. But "The Basics of Great Italian Cooking" is offered twice a year, as are other classes-"Taste of Emilia-Romagna and "Savoring Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany" - while "The October Tiuffle Festival" is held each fall.
The cost: "The Basics" is $3,450 with first-class hotel accommodations (excluding air fare), $3,850 with deluxe accommodations; other courses vary- see www.internationalcookingschool.com for details.
Thank you Bergen Health & Life and Thank you Timothy Kelley and Rita Guarna.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Wainscot.
Mary Beth Clark, author of Essentials of the Italian Kitchen, schools her students in the flavors of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna from a sixteenth-century palazzo in Bologna. Courses run from four days to one week; sessions coinciding with October Truffle Festival take in a dog hunt for the delicacy.
Thank you Condé Nast Traveler and Thank you Mark and Kathryn.
Delicious and healthy: Mediterranean Cuisine
Sie ist nicht nur wegen ihres wunderbaren Geschmacks und des gesunden Olivenols so beliebt! Die mediterrane Kuche ist Gesundheit pur! Viele Zutaten der Mittelmeer-Kuche enthalten beispielsweise Flavonoide, die die Zellen schutzen (kommen in Spinat, Ruccola, Zucchini, roten Zweibeln, Tomaten, Basilikum und Oregano vor.) Die gesunden Pflanzenstoffe sind auch reichlich in Aprikosen, Honigmelonen und Beeren vorhanden. Und noch eine gute Nachricht: Auch im Wein stecken gesunde Flavonoide. Ein Glas pro Tag ist erlaubt. Wer mehr wissen mochte: Die amerikanische Profi-Kochin Mary Beth Clark leitet Kochschulen in New York und Bologna und organisiert kulinarische Erkundungsreisen in unterschiedliche Regionen Italiens.
It is not known only because of its taste and healthy olive oil! The Mediterranean cuisine is purely wholesome! Many ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine contain flavonoids, which protect the cells (such as spinach, arugula, zucchini, red onion, tomatoes, basil and oregano). The wholesome compounds of these plants are richly available as well in apricots, honey melon and berries. And more good news according to reports: Also in wine there are healthy flavonoids. One glass per day is allowed. If you want to know more: American professional chef Mary Beth Clark has cooking schools in New York and Bologna and organizes culinary courses in many different regions of Italy.
Thank you Nivea and Thank you Elke.
Departures Magazine featured Carla Capalbo's "The Vinegar Complex", an article on aceto balsamico tradizionale, traditional balsamic vinegar. A world-renowned specialty of Emilia-Romagna, real balsamic vinegar is aged in wooden barrel for decades to develop its luscious, memorable flavor. This article's Vinegar Country section recommended hotels, restaurants, specialty food shops, and only one cooking school. Ours.
"The International Cooking School of Italian Food and Wine, in Bologna's historic center, offers hands-on cooking courses in English that include visits to vinegar producers."
In our courses, our students visit a multiple gold-medal award-winning producer of balsamic vinegar, and taste on-site. They taste Mary Beth's personal collection of vintage balsamic vinegars and learn how to prepare delicious dishes highlighting this precious nectar of Emilia-Romagna.
Thank you Departures and Thank you Carla.
Our cooking school was featured in the October 2000 issue of Food & Wine. Read what they had to say about us!
"Mary Beth Clark teaches in Bologna, the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, in the modern kitchen of a 16th-century palazzo. She takes her students to the city's market, visits local producers of cheese and vinegar and pairs wines with the 40 dishes her students learn to cook. Recipes range from simple to advanced and include handmade pasta, thin-crust pizza, risotto and real ragu Bolognese. She also organizes a special truffle class in Piedmont every fall."
Mary Beth's Tips
Choose the right rice for your dish.
Carnaroli is best for silky, creamy risotto. It has a long grain, and it holds up well in cooking. Use Vialone Nano, whose short grains cook especially evenly, for drier risottos, molded rice dishes, salads and soups. Keep Arborio on hand as a good all-purpose rice; its medium grains are versatile, and it's less expensive.
To make fresh basil last longer, don't refrigerate it. Treat it as you would a bouquet of flowers, standing it in a vase filled with water.
To freeze basil, pluck individual leaves from the stalks and place them in a plastic bag. Blow a little air into the bag before closing it (to cushion the leaves).
For a flavorful, well-textured meat ragu, have your butcher coarsely grind the meat just once. Don't overbrown the meat when searing it; simmer it for two to three hours in a deep pot.
Use three-to-five-year-old balsamic vinegar for marinades, 8-to-10-year olds to finish a sauce. Well-aged (25-year-old) balsamic is a great accent for grilled meats and vegetables.
Thank you Food & Wine.
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