“My grandfather was a fisherman. He supplied fish to people during the second World War. He would hide it in the caves along the shore and tell the starving families where to find it.” We pull over suddenly to the side of the road. “Cherries!” he exclaims, then “Pasquale!”
He jumps out of the car and embraces the man selling cherries from a plastic bin perched on the hood of his car. He is wearing a thin, white tank over his belly and a fedora. A cigarette dangles from his mouth. “Peter!” he responds back. They chat warmly before Peter returns to the car, passing me a plastic bag of cherries. “All organic,” he smiles. “This guy has the best stuff, I get my mushrooms from him too.” He rolls down the window. “Pasquale, when will you have porcini for me?” I taste a cherry and Peter’s friend reminds me of the Italian saying ‘una ciliegia tira l’altra’ – one cherry follows another. I pop two more in my mouth.
Peter continues as he pulls back into traffic, “During the war my grandmother would nurse the babies of the other mothers who were too malnourished to produce milk. My family is well known. For these reasons when I returned to Positano after living abroad for many years I was welcomed back warmly.”
I finish the drive listening to him talk of his childhood, his father (a retired fisherman) and uncle. The sun is warm on my right side as I stare at the sea and eat cherries. When we arrive in Positano we park and head to Peter’s place. He asks me to carry the bread – still warm – while he grabs the fish from the cooler in the back.
His place is not hard to find, but the steps almost kill me. They say Positano is unforgiving, and I know why as my thighs burn and my breath comes in gasps. But the climb is worth it when we enter into his secluded garden halfway up the town. This is where he does his cooking lessons and wine tastings, right in the heart of Positano but away from the maddening (and in Positano they can truly be maddening) crowds. I look at the pictures of his family – the famous grandfather, the uncle – while he puts away his supplies and starts making lunch.
We climb down the stairs to his real pride and joy, the wine cellar that houses his local collection, which is both curated and expansive. He has another, very large cellar in Puglia where there is enough space for storage and where he doesn’t have to negotiate so many stairs to get the bottles into storage. I see his prized bottles, and his less prized bottles, and learn about how he serves them to our travelers, how he pairs them with the dishes they prepare. He explains that he is sometimes too generous – and has to help the clients get back to their hotels if they are inebriated. I think of the stairs, and what they would be like to climb when full and drunk to boot.
He makes us a pasta dish with fresh tomato and shrimp sauce. He finishes it in the broth he has made from the shells and serves it with a lovely white wine from the north. We sit on his small terrace overlooking the town and the beach – one of the most famous views in the world, enjoyed from a silent, secluded spot. And I think of how much I love my job, and that we can provide this experience to other travelers looking for something different and more authentic than what they could find on their own.
If you’d like to cook with Peter, his courses usually run every evening in season. We can also offer custom multi-day packages with accommodations and several classes and wine tastings. Just contact us for details!
Read more about my culinary travels on the Amalfi Coast.
By Peg Kern
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