A Culinary Tour at Don Alfonso: Part One, Beginnings
When journalist David Sharos contacted us wanting a cooking vacation in Italy that was above and beyond anything he had experienced before, we knew just where to send him: Don Alfonso 1890.
The history of Don Alfonso 1890 goes back – not surprisingly! – to 1890, when Alfonso Costanzo Iaccarino founded the restaurant. Decades later it was reimagined and renamed by his grandson (another Alfonso) until it became one of the top restaurants in Italy. The Iaccarino family has pursued a cuisine rooted in the land they come from ever since.
“Never forget that with the food one feeds [one’s] own children, family, the beloved persons, so it is important the quality because a healthy product is the base of a good health.” – Alfonso Iaccarino
Their nearby farm, Le Peracciole, looks out onto the sea and Capri and provides the produce for the restaurant, produce that tastes of the land with its volcanic minerals and rocky soil. And while their combination of innovative cuisine and tradition has made them a highly respected (and 2 Michelin star) restaurant, their ethos remains unchanged. It is at heart still a family affair more than 100 years later, with sons Ernesto and Mario now running the kitchen and front of house, and wife Livia overseeing, as she puts it, everything that is not cooking (“They won’t let me in the kitchen!” she once told me).
We’re thrilled to share a series of guest posts by David about his recent cooking vacation at Don Alfonso.
A Culinary Tour on the Amalfi Coast
Part 1: Beginnings
My recent experience in the Campania region of Italy was all thanks to The International Kitchen and its co-owner Peg Kern. For those reading this blog, I’ll be sharing observations from my three days of cooking classes at Don Alfonso and his beautiful boutique hotel – but first, a prologue to this adventure.
My mother was born of an Italian woman – my grandmother – whose parents came from a small village near Turin, Italy, in the Piedmont region. I took my first visit to Italy back in 2010 to rediscover my roots and the 17 days we spent traveling throughout the country of my ancestors changed my life.
When I stood in the graveyard of the small “commune” known as Strambino alongside my two grown children, I wept as I left realizing that they and all who would come after them would never have been possible without the family that was buried in that soil.
I cooked alongside my grandmother as a child and while I have quite honestly surpassed her abilities, I wanted something that would challenge my skill sets and not be a Pasta 101 class where someone dumps flour, eggs, salt, and maybe a little oil in a bowl or on a board and makes pasta.
I Googled “Italian Cooking Classes” and found Peg. I still have her email to me from nearly two years ago that read:
It was a pleasure speaking with you yesterday. My top recommendation for you would be
Frankly for a solo cook of your skill level there would not be much else to offer in the spring, but even if we had dozens of options, I’d still recommend this one. The Iaccarinos are one of Italy’s most known food families, and are incredibly warm as well. The hotel is exquisite and the town of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi is lovely (just up the hill from Sorrento).
Over the many months that followed leading up to the trip that finally took place from September 16 to September 27, 2019, I corresponded regularly with Peg as well as her outstanding colleague Adrian Hall, director of business development. We talked on the phone as well as emailing about side trips, tweaking my itinerary at Don Alfonso, local places to eat, and so much more. It was like having a tour guide and the trip hadn’t even started.
I have since forged a relationship with the Iaccarino family as well as with some other locals that operate businesses and live in Sant’ Agata. One of them was the owner of a restaurant up the street who gave my wife and me a book about his restaurant and we insisted he and all his family sign it – including the 75-year-old father named Paolo who still works in the kitchen with his wife.
The owner Mimmo De Gregorio, who operates Lo Stuzzichino, embraced us after our three-hour dinner there and tears welled up in his eyes are we left – he told us we were like family. That stuff happens to me in Italy all the time – no wonder I’ve been back now nine times. The concierge at Don Alfonso told us to go there that night. And without Peg and Adrian, the T’s don’t get crossed. So it all comes back to where things started.
David Sharos is a 26-year free-lance writer for the Chicago Tribune and may be contacted at [email protected]
Stay tuned for more from David and his experience cooking at Don Alfonso next week!
If you’d like to cook with the Iaccarinos and their team of chefs on an Amalfi Coast cooking vacation, contact us for details! Read more about our experience dining at Don Alfonso 1890 and hear from Alfonso Iaccarino in our chef interview.
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