One of the benefits of having a culinary traveler who is also a journalist is getting wonderful feedback when they return from our culinary vacations. Writer David Sharos shared his experiences of our cooking vacation at Don Alfonso 1890 some years ago, and now he is back with his take on a tour of Bellagio and Lake Como.
My last trip to Italy was back in 2019 when my wife and I spent nearly two weeks in Naples and Sardinia which included a trip to Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, Positano, and Sorrento.
While there, The International Kitchen hooked us up with a Michelin star restaurant, Don Alfonso 1890, where we cooked with the staff’s head chef and made various dishes over a three-day period.
The experience was so great – we turned once again to TIK and Director of Business Development Adrian Hall, who helped us set up a four-day customized program in Lake Como’s town of Bellagio.
We cooked one morning with Chef Alessandro Redolfi at the Hotel Il Perlo Panorama, which sits atop a hill and provides a majestic view of the lake and towns below.
It’s hard not to get inspired in the kitchen when you have the kind of view we had as we made a simple risotto dish with fish. Alessandro couldn’t have been more welcoming and was clearly prepared for the food snob/part Italian/journalist and home chef [me] that fried small filets of flour-dusted perch that morning after drinking yet another cappuccino before we started.
“You’re going to do all the cooking today and then you and I are going to eat what you made,” he told us.
The morning began by cutting up carrots, onions, celery, and some fresh herbs from the hotel garden to make a stock for the risotto.
Fish was sautéed in butter and flipped after a quick two-minute sear per side and then put away until later.
We also dove into lake perch – a much larger brother of the smaller filets that Alesssandro explained “live much deeper in the water and are harder to catch.”
This dish was made by first sautéing what would be a bed of zucchini, tomatoes, some green onions and herbs upon which the finished perch would rest.
Something happens to me when I go to Italy when it comes to food: I’ll try and have eaten almost everything including weird stuff like the calf brains I had once in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, as well as neck glands at another meal with our in-laws at another Roman location.
While I make pizza sauce, ragu pasta sauces, salsas, and more from scratch at home and even grow my own tomatoes – I hate and won’t eat them raw.
But despite their being barely cooked, I was munching away on the whole dish later on – something that my wife had to capture on her cell phone to send to the kids back home.
I can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed the half day with Alessandro who has now found a passion project for himself.
The owner of the hotel likewise spent some time with me and said that he has given his chef full reign over the restaurant portion of the business from menu design to the staff that works with him.
Trips to Italy and Europe, for that matter, are not in any way vacations – they are life enrichment, life enhancement experiences. Despite a much shorter time in Italy, TIK and my personal contact with Adrian again provided a seamless experience that began with the booking of a Bellagio hotel to trips on ferries, meeting a driver for a wine and cheese tour, and getting picked up and dropped off promptly and courteously at the airport.
The trip went off flawlessly thanks to TIK and the fact people there have put boots on the ground and know where to go and can tell visitors what to expect.
One of the best ways to burrow in to a country’s culture is through their food, and by eating and talking with the locals who grow, cook, and consume what nature gives them. The International Kitchen offers a wonderful key to that door.
David Sharos is a multi-year free-lance writer for the Chicago Tribune and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read about David’s trip to Don Alfonso.
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations and food and wine tours.