In last week’s blog we wrote about one of our favorite Amalfi Coast cooking vacations, Don Alfonso, and enjoyed a guest blog by Chicago Tribune freelance writer David Sharos. Today we continue David’s recounting of his wonderful stay, including his first cooking class at the marvelous teaching kitchen at Don Alfonso 1890.
The biggest compliment is for people to go home and make this themselves. – Sous-Chef Nicola Pignatelli
A Culinary Tour on the Amalfi Coast
Part 2: Cooking with Chef Nicola
The package I bought from The International Kitchen included three days of cooking with the Don Alfonso staff, headed up by their amazing sous chef Nicola Pignatelli, who said he has worked for the Iaccarino family for 10 years.
Each day involved making a couple of dishes, followed by a meal that included whatever we made as well as wines matched with the food. The wine cellar at Don Alfonso is legendary, and is home to a staggering 25,000 bottles stored in a tunnel 25-meters underground that was built centuries ago.
A cooking class at Don Alfonso happens in a dedicated kitchen located on the premises nearly adjacent to the restaurant kitchen which has earned two Michelin stars. It gleams with stainless steel and hand painted tiles and includes a family style table that is set for “students” with beautiful settings and glassware.
We began the first day crisping strips of eggplant all of us cut together and fried in olive oil made by Don Alfonso. Everything made from a vegetable standpoint comes from their farm and reflects the philosophy long held by the family of locally sourcing products.
The mozzarella cheese was bought from a farm no more than 15 minutes away which we actually toured two days later.
Despite cooking extensively for myself and my family for decades, I never warmed to eggplant parmesan before this. Nicola insisted he prefers it be served at room temperature and while I prefer my food scalding hot – I have to agree this was better.
We also made what was called a potato gateau with mozzarella fonduta, which including peeling boiled potatoes, ricing them, and adding them to diced boiled eggs, julienned basil, melted butter, olive oil and seasoning, which was then molded in cups and baked.
Students are encouraged to participate in the prep work, which doesn’t necessarily increase one’s cooking skills, but does help teach the recipe as well as the effort required to make it. The staff encourages participation, but it’s fine if someone just prefers to watch.
Nicola told us more than once that the biggest compliment is for “people to go home and make this themselves.”
“We want you to contact us and let us know how things turned out,” he said. “I try to scale the recipes down for the home cook.”
One of the things director of business development from The International Kitchen Adrian Hall told me before I left was “If anything there isn’t going well, feel free to reach out to us. We want to know if things aren’t going well as there isn’t really anything we can do when you get back.”
As you’ll see in the forthcoming blogs – nothing did, and as the three days went on, the staff at Don Alfonso bent over backwards to make sure I had to opportunity to make dishes so unique -they are almost never made in the cooking school.
David Sharos is a 26-year free-lance writer for the Chicago Tribune and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll hear more about David and his stay in the charming town of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi cooking with the chefs of Don Alfonso later this week. If you missed the first blog, check out A Culinary Tour at Don Alfonso: Part One, Beginnings. And David wraps up his blogs on his experience with A Culinary Tour at Don Alfonso, Part 3: The Cooking Classes.
Ready to book your trip to Don Alfonso 1890? Contact us and we’ll help you plan the trip of a lifetime.
By Peg Kern
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