Happy 2014! Here we are, another year has flown by. Weather has been absolutely crazy around the world. The US is suffering from an incredible early cold spell, lots of snow, freezing rains. Europe has had more rain than they have experienced for years, with many floods and unseasonably hot and cold weather.
This is a great time to start planning a wonderful cooking holiday for the Spring, Summer, or Fall. We are experiencing a surge of early bookings, which have resulted in many sold out dates for a number of our cooking vacations. So, don't be disappointed; book your dream vacation now!
As always, we are available to speak with you or correspond by e-mail to give you ideas, suggestions, and information, etc. I have traveled to Europe well over 150 times and have also traveled to South America and Asia. My staff is very knowledgeable as well, so let us find the perfect choice for you, and contact us today.
As you plan your 2014 travel, consider Portugal for your next destination. While it's landscape and culture bears some resemblance to it's next-door neighbor Spain, it has a culture all its own. As such, it's been growing in popularity in recent years, mainly due to its delicious foods and wines, all of which you can discover at a great value during the two cooking vacations we offer.
From the coast, which is home to salted cod and a wide variety of seafood dishes, to the region of Alentejo where Iberian ham and pork are staples, Portuguese cuisine has many hallmarks of traditional Mediterranean cuisine. But it uses much more than olive oil and fresh vegetables to make a dish, as many traditional plates are infused with spices like piri piri, saffron, and black pepper. Pair these flavors with Port wines, and it's a match made in heaven.
During both our Portugal culinary vacations — "Delectable Portugal" and "Seaside Cooking in Portugal" — you'll experience amazing cuisine and food, as well as discover the country's culture through artisan visits and tours of the local cities.
If you need help deciding between these two trips, or any of our vacations, feel free to contact us!
Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and the Loire Valley and Provence in France continue to be among our top-requested destinations, but they're not the only regions where we host travelers. For your next trip, consider a lesser-known, but just as wonderful region. Not only will there be less tourists typically, but your money will often go farther.
Take for example our cooking vacation A Culinary Adventure in Umbria. Your accommodations for the week are at a stunning Relais & Chateaux property that was once an Umbrian palace, but the starting price for the 6-night program is just $2900. Yet, it's not just about the price; it's also about the experience. By visiting the local pig farm and participating in a truffle hunt — with dogs — you'll meet and get to know the locals in and around Norcia, which is one of the best parts of any trip!
Also in Italy, the region of Puglia is a beautiful land with miles of coast line, fertile plains, and 300 days of a sun each year. As one of the oldest parts of Italy, it's worth experiencing. Both our programs here in the "heel of Italy" — A Culinary Adventure in Puglia and Discovering Puglia – feature cooking classes with local chefs, who would love to share their love of the local cuisine.
Over in France, consider the stunning Languedoc region, which is very much like Provence, both in atmosphere and cuisine. It's also an area known for its wine, as it produces a third of the country's wine. During our New Provence: Cooking in the Languedoc culinary vacation, you'll stay in the countryside at a charming stone farmhouse, where there's just three guest rooms. From the stunning views of the countryside to the excursions to local historical points of interest, this is a fabulous program.
In total, we offer more than 90 cooking vacations, meaning we have plenty of options for you to choose from. Feel free to call or write us anytime to start planning your trip.
Spring is here! The colors are returning to European markets in the form of flowers, vibrant produce, and, yes, tourists. Travel season has recommenced in full force this year, as clients realize that spring is a perfect time to visit our European cooking vacations.
Easter and passover are special times in the culture of most European countries. This year western Eastern and Greek Orthodox Easter fall on the same day (April 20), and Passover is from April 14 to the 22nd. While it is true that some places close down for these holidays (restaurants and shops more than cultural and historical sites), it is also true that the wealth of festivals, parades, and gastronomic traditions make it a great time to visit.
While each country has its own traditions, France with its chocolate eggs, Italy with Easter Monday ("Pasquetta") picnics, Greece has some of the most elaborate Easter customs, as it is considered there the most important holiday of the year. During the week before Easter, known as Megali Ebdomada (literally the "Big Week"), Greeks go to church once or even twice a day, fast from meat and dairy, and prepare for the Easter celebration to come. That, of course, is characterized by a full spectrum of local culinary delights, including roast lamb on a spit on Easter Sunday and special Easter desserts. Want to find out more about Easter in Greece? It's not too late to booking our amazing Greek Cooking Odyssey or Greek Gastronomy on Santorini.
Check our blog during the week of April 14th to learn more about Passover and Easter traditions in Italy, France, Spain, and Greece! And of course, you can always find more photos, food facts, and travel stories from us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Chag Sameach, Buona Pasqua, Joyeuses Pâques, Feliz Pascua, Kaló Páscha!
I had been to Norcia before my trip last month. My first visit was about twelve years ago, and I was there for the day. It was memorable as I got locked in a restaurant bathroom and had to wait to be rescued.
And, I do remember it was a great lunch!
My next visit was after we started working with the Bianconi family with our cooking vacation at Palazzo Seneca. As is usually the case when I am traveling for business, I had only a few days I could spend there. Everything was wonderful, from the beautiful Relais & Chateau Hotel Palazzo Seneca, to the cooking class and excursion.
I had no doubt that this was a very high quality program at a great price.
Fast forward to April 2014. I am taking my youngest son on a cooking trip and decided that Norcia would be the perfect choice. We are met at the Rome airport and whisked away to Norica for our five day experience. And what an experience it was!
I really needed this in-depth time to fully appreciate all that this incredible program has to offer.
Here you are in foodie heaven. The holy triumvirate of sausage, cheese, and truffles prevails, topped off with the delicious lentils grown in the mountain area of the region. You walk into town and your head is immediately filled with aromas. Norcia is a small town, with a population of under 5000 people. I swear I saw almost an equal number of food shops; these people were "foodies" way before the term was invented!
This is such a unique area in so many ways. You have the contrast of the verdant green hills, full of vines and olive trees, to the stark splendor of the Sibillini mountains, where you taste a wonderful homemade goat cheese. The day to search for truffles followed by a visit to the local pig farmer was both funny and fun. The hands-on cooking classes rank with the best we offer. In season, you cook with vegetables from the restaurant garden, along with locally produced meats and fish. This is truly a "farm to table" experience.
I have been traveling to Italy for many years, have had countless experiences and wonderful meals. But every now and then a place really steps up at the right time and re-enforces my conviction in what we do at The International Kitchen. A Food Lover's Paradise in Norcia did just that: reminded me of the invaluable joy and cultural enrichment a culinary vacation can provide.
I am excited about my upcoming trip to Africa this fall with Chef Sidney Bond, of our best-selling cooking vacation in France, A Chateau Culinary Adventure at Le Calabash. I have never been to Africa, and have long wanted to go. And we are so excited about the response for this itinerary that we've added additional departures for 2015 (click here for details)!
We've also added another exotic culinary "adventure" to our 2015 lineup—An Israel Odyssey—for spring of next year.
Some clients ask, why choose this way to visit these remarkable and exotic lands? I can answer quite honestly, because of Chefs Sidney and Alison! Their unique personal international experience makes them the perfect shepherds on these culinary journeys: they know the lands, the cuisines, the culture, and the people. Their good friends and colleagues are part of the experience, and of course their warmth, hospitality, and culinary acumen are second-to-none!
Chef Sidney, who was born and raised on the plains of Zululand, has this to say about his experience: "Alison and I have worked in 21 countries on 4 continents in some of the most amazing venues and situations you can imagine. I was asked to cook for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on their second honeymoon, and I spent 6 days with them in the African bush." He also accompanied Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family on a 6-day tour of Namibia, not to mention the major events they have hosted in Africa. If it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for me!
I think what anyone wants on an adventure to an exotic location is an "in" to the culture—a way to feel at home and safe exploring a place so different from one's own homeland. Chefs Sidney and Alison provide just that "in", in addition to ensuring their clients enjoyment, comfort, and safety.
My November trip can't get here soon enough!
Adrian Hall, one of our Travel Coordinators, recently returned from a wonderful trip to the region of Piedmont. I've asked him to share a few of the things he discovered while visiting the north of Italy. So, without further ado, here's what he had to say:
"This May I had the great pleasure to represent The International Kitchen in Piedmont as part of BITEG 2014, a conference that brought together some of the best food and wine focused travel companies in Piedmont with tour operators from around the world. Following a day of workshops and meetings in the city of Novara, the BITEG organizers then whisked us to Turin for three fabulous days on what we in the travel industry call a famtrip. The idea of a famtrip is to familiarize international tour operators with a specific region of a given country, and I must say, the Piedmont region could not have been more welcoming or memorable.
We began in Novara, on the eastern edge of Piedmont, where we were soon introduced to one of the region's famous specialties, rice. Farmers in Novara produce very high quality strains of rice, like carnaroli, which has a higher starch content and longer grain than most other varieties. This helps carnaroli rice maintain its shape and structure during slow cooking, making it ideal for risotto. Not only is Piedmontese carnaroli tasty, but its production is also quite beautiful. Irrigated rice paddies blanket the wide plains that characterize this part of the region, like a giant mirror reflecting the snow-capped Alps that separate Italy from nearby France and Switzerland. The visual effect this produces makes an otherwise flat landscape much more impressive. (See it for yourself on one of our Piedmont cooking vacations!)
Novara was also my introduction to another specialty dish from this part of Italy -- carne cruda, or chopped raw beef. Unlike steak tartare, its French cousin from across the mountains, carne cruda is not made with egg. The Piedmontese simply marinate high-quality chopped beef with lemon juice, olive oil, and serve. The result is deliciously uncomplicated and was for me a real culinary highlight of the region.
Considering that this was my first visit to Piedmont, I didn’t know quite what to expect from its largest city, Turin. Turin is home to the car manufacturer Fiat and as a result has a reputation as a gritty, industrial city. I’ve heard Turin described this way many times, but now that I’ve visited it myself I truly can’t understand why. Turin is an elegant, accessible, fascinating place.
Piedmont is home to the Savoys, the first kings of Italy, and Turin reflects the region’s royal heritage. Today their palaces are now museums, art galleries, and restaurants open to the public, many of which we visited during our fam trip. My personal favorite was the Palazzo Reale. The former butler’s pantry of the Royal Palace houses a cafe where you can try something very unique to Turin, Merenda Reale, or the Royal Snack. Before the invention of powdered milk, chocolate was not available in solid form. It had to be made into an extremely rich and dense hot chocolate that the Savoy family liked to drink with an afternoon snack. Like Piedmont itself, you must try it to believe it!"
Experience Piedmont for yourself -- and enjoy the wonderful gastronomy of the region -- with one of our Piedmont cooking vacations.
So, it is mid December 2013, one of the coldest and snowiest winters we have had in decades. I am keeping warm and busy in my office when I get a very interesting e-mail. It is from the producer of NBC “Extra, Mansions and Millionaires,” Michael Corbett. Someone on their staff had found our Website and thought it would be a great idea to do an episode on cooking in Italy, clearly in keeping with the theme of the show, at a “mansion” type of accommodation.
I immediately thought of “Cook Under the Tuscan Sun,” a wonderful cooking vacation at a lovely and charming Relais & Chateaux just outside of Cortona, with a Michelin-star restaurant and award-winning winery. What could be a better combination? I contacted the property and they were in!
At the beginning of August, we spent four nights at this incredibly scenic place, hosted by the Silvia and Ricardo Baracchi, cooking, eating, drinking, going to the market, visiting the winery, cooking, eating and drinking. I think we tasted every wine that is produced by the Baracchi’s and they were all delicious. A difficult job, but we rose to the challenge.
It was decided later to add a few nights in Rome where we have a collaboration with the Hotel Majestic, a truly regal 5 star hotel on the Via Veneto. The very well known chef of the hotel restaurant, Massimo Riccioli, does a cooking class for our clients, and this was the ideal ending to a fantastic trip. We visited the chef’s favorite fish store and the market at Campo di Fiori, after which we dined on an incredible seafood lunch, complete with local wine.
The crew included Michael Corbett, the producer and very charming, handsome host of the series; another producer; the cameraman; and a vice president of Warner Bros, whose domain is “Extra,” among other programming. They were a totally delightful group and we spent a lot of enjoyable time together.
The program should be airing late September or early October and we will let everyone know the date!
The Summer might be, unfortunately, over, but the travel season isn't! October and November are still wonderful months to travel, and it's not too late to plan a cooking vacation for this year. In fact, the cooler weather months are often some of the best times to head overseas. Not only are there less tourists, but other food-related activities particular to the season are afoot.
White truffle season is at its height come November in Piedmont, while black truffles still abound in Umbria (and you can go on a truffle hunt with our culinary vacation A Food Lover's Paradise in Norcia).
The Fall season is also harvest time throughout Italy. In late September through October, grapes are being harvested and winemaking begins. Come November, it's time to pick olives and make olive oil! While many dates are sold out for the wine and olive harvest at Roman Countryside Discovery, some dates are still available -- but not for long! Other programs of ours also tailor the week to seasonal events, like harvests, including our trip Cook in the Garden of Angels.
If you're looking elsewhere for a Fall trip, consider our Hola Mexico cooking program. The end of October/early November is a great time to go, as that's when they celebrate Day of the Dead!
Need help picking a trip, whether for the end of 2014 or any time in 2015? Contact us today!
September was the time for a “busman’s holiday,” part vacation and part work. A week in Paris was spent on some fun and some work, mainly doing site inspections of a whole bunch of hotels in a mid-price range. And I found some great ones!
Then it was on to join some friends for whom I did a custom itinerary in Sicily. My last trip to Sicily was about five years ago, when I did a short visit to our programs in the Baroque area. This time I headed to the home of our Authentic Sicily for the Food Lover cooking vacation, Taormina and environs, where I have not been for almost a decade. What a fabulous area!
To start with, I was at the El Jebel Hotel, a five-star deluxe hotel right in the center of town. This is a wonderfully characteristic hotel, with accents of Morocco and Turkey, a real gem.
One day was spent touring the sites for the “Godfather” movies. I really thought this might be a very “touristy” excursion, but it wasn’t and it was so much fun! The owner of the villa where many scenes were filmed (including the scene where the car blows up with Michael’s wife) is worth the trip alone. The villa has been in his family for generations and he is totally charming and engaging.
Another day was spent visiting the Aeolian islands, which are spectacular! Not to be missed. We ate great seafood, mostly at seaside restaurants, drank great local wine (often not more than 5 Euros for a carafe) and my only regret is that I didn’t stay longer!
If you have not been to Sicily, seriously think about it as a destination in Italy. It is a complex, fascinating, enticing destination and Paolo, our driver/guide during our cooking vacation is THE best guide on the island.
Our Travel Coordinator Adrian recently returned from a trip to Provence, France, so, without further ado, I turn this newsletter of the month over to him!
"October is a great time to visit Provence. That much was obvious when my plane touched down in Marseille. Back in Chicago it was barely a week into October and already time to break out the Fall jackets, but in Marseille the sun was shining, the weather was warm, and palm trees were swaying in the Mediterranean breeze. Not a bad way to begin my first visit to France. Whatever time of year you choose to take a Provence culinary vacation, I know you’ll find it as welcoming and memorable as I did.
I was in France for the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur travel convention, an opportunity for tour operators from around the world to meet their Provençal counterparts and, for first-timers like me, discover what makes Provence so special. Here at The International Kitchen we are big fans of all things Provençal, so we are always on the hunt for the best of what the region has to offer.
This year’s convention concentrated on the coastal area of Provence roughly between Marseille to the west and Hyères to the east. Our home for the convention was the island of Les Embiez, where I had the pleasure of meeting several of our current partners, as well as potential collaborators for the future. 2015 promises to be an exciting year for our cooking vacations in Provence!
Following the convention on Les Embiez, our group of 64 international tour operators embarked on a Fam trip back on the mainland. We visited the medieval city of Hyères, the up-and-coming port of Toulon, and of course, vibrant Marseille. For me though, the Fam highlights were two places that were new to me, but that some of our travelers will know well: La Cadiere d’Azur and Sanary-sur-Mer.
Cadiere d’Azur is the picturesque hilltop town home to our Cooking Passport to Provence. It is one of those quintessential old French villages you picture in your imagination, with stunning views across the Provençal landscape – a true gem (but more on that in a blog later this month). The other highlight, Sanary-sur-Mer, is a seaside town famous for its fish and produce market. All manner of fresh Mediterranean seafood is on display, some of it still alive and kicking! Along with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables arrayed in vivid color, the Sanary market, like Provence itself, is a real feast for the senses. Experience it for yourself on one of our fabulous culinary tours in Provence!"
As the year winds to a close -- a year that marks our 20th anniversary -- I'm taking the time to reflect on past trips and travels. It's hard to believe that two decades ago we offered only one cooking vacation (and still offer it to this day, with the always-popular Chef Claudio!!!)
Today we offer more than 90 trips and 50 one-day classes, all with a focus on an authentic, personal experiences with locals and the cuisine of the region. In the past two decades, we've also expanded far and wide, well beyond Italy, France, and Spain. Just this year, I traveled to Cape Town and Namibia in Africa with the chefs of Le Calabash Cooking School. It was the perfect way to cross a safari off of my bucket list!
We also currently have trips to four of the continents (Europe, North America, South America, and Africa) -- with plans to expand to Asia soon! Be sure to subscribe to our email newsletter to receive updates about when this trip is available.
Whether you're looking to explore Europe and Mediterranean cuisine or are looking for a more exotic adventure to Turkey, Morocco, or Peru, we have plenty to choose from. Which destinations are you dreaming about? We'd love to make your travel dreams a reality and help you plan your 2015 getaway!
As the holidays draw near too, don't forget to think outside the box and grab a gift certificate. Your friends and family would love the gift of travel. To purchase your gift certificate, simply fill out our booking form. (More details about purchasing The International Kitchen gift certificates). As always, if you have any questions, please contact us.
Happy Holidays from everyone at The International Kitchen!
Here is what clients are saying about their experience with The International Kitchen...
"What an incredible cultural and culinary experience: the hosts were great: fun and friendly, accommodating, and customized the itinerary based on the group. Food was amazing, classes were engaging and informative..." Read more
"It’s taken me quite a while to write about our experience ... Not because it wasn’t everything I dreamed of and more, but because it so exceeded all of my expectations..." Read more
"A lovely remote setting with wonderful hosts and great food! A perfect blend of relaxation, cultural experiences, and hands-on cooking lesson. I would recommend highly..." Read more