Attending a cooking school in Italy is always interesting, but if you are looking to truly get the full experience, there is nothing that compares with the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Regaleali.
Fabrizia Lanza is the chef, author and teacher, carrying on the tradition started by her mother in this small Sicilian town up on a mountain. It wasn’t always that way. She had left the area at 18 to pursue a career as an art historian, but when her mother took ill she felt she must continue the family tradition in the school that has been offering lessons for nearly 30 years.
This is not the type of classroom you may be used to. Everything is done hands on inside the kitchen of the Italian villa, Case Vecchie. The chickens wander through the courtyard among the trees and flowers. The clothesline hangs in the back, sporting aprons from the previous day, and the only sounds here hear on this quiet landscape are birds and bees.
Fabrizia puts her heart and soul into every dish, whether she’s preparing it herself or giving lessons. She gently, but firmly, gives specific instructions that include everything from testing the temperature of the olive oil to how many times you knead the dough for each type of bread.
Fabrizia loves it when visitors stay for days at a time because he gets to teach them so much. In three days she had overseen the making of Pizzelle, pumpkin stuffed ravioli, onion rings, ricotta gnocchi, sardines three ways, chickpea fritters and pasta stuffed eggplant!
You can get that true Sicilian cooking experience by staying right in the villa. Case Vecchie has three quaint rooms that each have a private bathroom and open to the courtyard.
The courtyard serves as the center point of the school, whether it’s for enjoying appetizers with one of Tasca d'Almerita’s sparkling wines, or talking about what you will be cooking the next day. The conversation is always light and you will find you are totally relaxed.
Spending time with Fabrizia will include extensive training about ingredients. She explains how a simple pasta dish becomes special because of the fresh ricotta that she gets from a specific cheese maker. As I taste it, I can’t help but agree.
While the meat and cheese comes from the neighbors, all of the fruits, vegetables and herbs come from the massive garden on the property. Fabrizia took me through it I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it anywhere. There aren’t just peppers, there are a dozen different types. This is true for just about everything in there. The fruits grow from trees and vines and get freshly picked each day to make jam, prepare a cake or just to be eaten whole.
Another thing that impressed me about the school was learning to improvise. When the Moorish Turban Cake did not come out the way the chef wanted (some of the measurements were lost in translation), she whipped up some cream puffs and tried the project again the next day. It was perfect.
When the cooking is done, everyone – cooks, helpers, guests, students and Frabrizia Lanza – sits at the table to enjoy a leisurely meal, discussing how everything came out and what should be adjusted for next time.
Through these gates many different people have passed to visit the school. It was a favorite stop of Robert Mondavi and both Mario Batali and Alice Waters come often. Batali occasionally sends his apprenticing chefs to pick up more Sicilian secrets.
While I was visiting, there was a banker from New York who had been saving up to specifically come to Sicily to learn how to cook, and a Hollywood producer who was taking a break from work to travel around and had heard about the school once he was in the area. He was lucky enough to find an opening last minute as the school is often full.
Whatever the circumstances are that bring you to this villa in Regaleali, a stay at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School is a complete emersion into the world of Sicilian cooking and life. It will include a tour of the adjacent, family owned Tasca d’Almerita winery and without a doubt a sampling of them with every meal.