Best Health contributor and fresh food chef, Paul Finkelstein, is currently on a culinary adventure in Italy with a group of high school students from across Canada. When he’s not cooking and eating his way through various regions of the food-loving country, he’ll be sharing the highlights of his pilgrimage with us here on the blog.
It’s been two weeks since we began a culinary pilgrimage through Italy. I’ve been fortunate over the last two summers to lead groups of high school students through different regions of this great food country, cooking and eating our way towards a greater appreciation of the cuisine and culture.
Our classes take place in the kitchens, markets, fields and farms of these regions as we learn about every aspect of food production. From meeting the farmers, working with chefs and speaking with clients, we learn the hows, wheres, whats, and whys of culinary arts in Italy in the 21st century, while embracing centuries-old traditions.
Our stay in the Southeast region of Puglia is now over. It’s always incredible how slow the first few days go and how quickly the time starts to fly after everyone settles in. Puglia is a magical place. The weather is only bad if you don’t like blue skies and the temperature averaged 30 degrees with a nice cooling breeze coming from the coast. The small towns are peaceful and inviting and the larger cities clean and vibrant. I can never say enough about the people as they are the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere. Untouched by excessive tourism, Puglia is a place that you should visit before the rest of the world finds it. (I guess I should watch what I say if I want to keep it a hidden gem!)
The students have been fantastic. They’re hungry to cook and rise to every challenge that we throw at them. I’m always fearful of using too much fish, but aside from a couple of "landlubbers" the crew is eager to try any item they’re given. This is a good thing, as our villa was just two kilometres from the quaint town of Margherita di Savoia, which sits right on the sea. The large selection of fresh fish and seafood allowed us to try many recipes and broaden their taste experiences.
Have no fear, though’the landlubbers didn’t starve. Italians love their cured meats and cheese, so there was always a broad selection of great food in the refrigerator. And I do mean "broad"’this area of the Puglia region has a long history of consuming horse meat (the photo above shows the ingredients for a grilled horse steak sandwich). While this was a bit of challenge for the students at the beginning, they eventually jumped in the "saddle" and enjoyed it as much as beef.
As we drove away from Puglia, we felt like we were leaving home. It’s rare to find an area that so fully prides itself on its hospitality. In any town that we visited we were treated with kindness and respect. Twice we needed major directions to and from a grocer and both ways we had individuals volunteer to lead us in the auto to where we needed to go, although maybe my Italian is just that pathetic and they felt sorry for the kids sitting in the vans. While I’m sure the latter may have contributed to the aid, a previous visit to this area last summer supports the notion that the people really are that incredible.
From the quaint and inviting to the unfriendly beast, we are now in Rome until Sunday when we depart for Tuscany. And that will be a whole new story. Until then, you can follow my daily updates on Twitter.