The last leg of my journey was an adventure of course, but no where near the drama of the first half of my trip. I started work at Locanda del Pilone, a Michelin star restaurant in Alba. The restaurant was an old farmhouse that had been rebuilt as a restaurant. It was situated on a vineyard, hence the over 1200 wine options on the wine list!
Every morning I would wake up and and make 5 different kinds of bread:
7 cereal bread
Each person would then get their own basket of bread with one of each kind. I also perhaps gained some weight from being the “unofficial” gelato sampler. There were 14 varieties of gelato and I tried them all from Barbara di Alba sorbet to mozzarrella di buffalo gelato. I wish we could make gelato like that in America. The have the highest quality machines in Italy. Every kitchen I worked at or saw was using top of the line equipment like stoves, ovens and gelato machines. Another factor why they can make such good gelato is because of the milk they use. The FDA regulations in America are much stricter and we are not allowed to use milk fresh from the farm!
One of my favorite things about Locanda del Amicone was the fact that I was there during peak white truffle season. Everyone that know me knows that I am borderline obsessed with truffles from my previous visit to Italy about 5 years ago. Every time the door to the dining room opened I got a big whiff of truffle 🙂 (In Italy, the shave the truffles tableside)
Anyway I learned a lot about pastries and baking which was awesome because that was one department that I did not have a ton of experience in. At the end of the day though I missed my family and cut my journey short by one week. I am now back home and back to work with a whole new perspective on life!
As we said “arrivederci” in Rome to John and Dana, Tawni and I hit a crossroad. Our original plan was to travel/ explore new places around Florence and Parma, but after half way through we decided that for the last few days we would head back to Bari to relax and hang out with family and friends that we had to cut it short with the first time around. We were already at the airport and went to change Tawni’s ticket when apparently the taxes were never collected on the initial ticket, so in order to change the ticket they would require us to back pay the taxes, plus the change fee, plus the difference in tickets. It came out to be over $800 which was like as much as the original ticket! Forget that, back to plan A which really wasn’t much of a plan. I’m kind of notorious for just renting a car and figuring it out later, which is just what we did…no hotel reservations or concrete plans, just me and my family on the open road! First stop was Parma, back to Al Vedel (the restaurant I first interned at). We all stayed in the apartment that I stayed in while I was there alone. It was weird to have Tawni and Francesca there with me this time. We ate dinner at Al Vedel followed by dessert… and more dessert!
One of the coolest things we did though was a day trip to Venice! It was about a 3 hour drive from where we were but sooo worth it. I have heard that it smells and its dirty, but after seeing and smelling it for myself it was surprisingly clean. When in Venice do as the Venetians right? well close enough, we did indeed rode a gondola! Although quite pricy (80 euro for a kilometer!) it made Tawni happy and we can now check it off the bucket list!
Another memorable moment was in Reggio Emilia where we somehow ended up in a Balsmaic Vinegar barrel race. It sounded cool until we find ourselves signing waivers, putting on team shirts and unclear of the directions! Long story short everyone around us was in sweats and gym shoes and then you’ve got the Americans dressed decently and Tawni wearing flip flops. We had to sprint down a cobblestone road, choose a barrel, and then roll it around the piazza. It was a big piazza… We were dying… not to say but I carried our team. We got about half way when Tawni starting stringing four letter words together. After all the other teams crossed the finish line the annoncer encourage everyone to cheer on “Team Chicago” to finish too. It was not one of our finer moments. We did however get a prize… contestants that came from the furthest away.
We ended the trip with a few outlet malls, all of which were very nice, but even name brand discounted was still too expensive. You know me and Tawni, “I can get that at Nordtrom rack for less” haha. The last night we stayed at the Golden Tulip- a funny name but it was a really nice hotel less than five minutes away from the Pisa airport. All went well on the flight home for Tawni and Francesca (minus the two hour delay and 100 euro baggage charge). I took a 5 hour train ride to Alba, for the last leg of A Chefs Journey.
Working never tasted so great. Our next stop was Badia a Coltibuono a wine factory located in the heart of Chianti Italy. Badia a Coltibuono was a former monastery founded in 1051 and was owned by Benedictine monks. The whole monastery has been transformed to accommodate a wine factory and the monks rooms have been transformed into guest rooms overlooking a beautiful Tuscan style garden.
Enjoy some more pics from our visit at Coltibuono, Siena and Rome
What a long drive from Positano to San Gimignano, the next stop on our whirlwind journey. San Gimignano is a small town with a medieval feel in the Siena region. The town is well known for its medieval architecture, especially its towers. While many towns towers and look out point have been destroyed over time, San Gimignano has managed to maintain 14 of their towers. We spent the day walking around and exploring the town. Not too much to see but a very cute town. One thing I wish I remembered was the name of the pizza place where we had slices of pizza that I think were a euro or two each. The dough had a nice crunch to it and the tomato sauce on the pizza was just perfect. yummm, I wish I had a piece right now 🙂 John and Dana went two years ago while on their honeymoon and they said this time it was way more touristy. San Gimignano is definitely an up and coming city.
I think I left off at day five, our trip over to the Amalfi coast. I’ve driven the Amalfi once before so I knew what I was getting myself into, which was a station wagon with four adults, baby Francesca, stroller and accessories, 7 luggages plus carryons and a whole lot of prayer. Driving the Amalfi coast takes a lot of focus because you are driving hairpin turns and you have to do it a speed that won’t insult the locals. At the same time coming around the corners are often huge tour buses, in which case you kind of pull over to let them easily pass. Anyway, I live to tell about the journey. Our first night on the Amalfi coast we spent in Ravello. A small little town with not much to do but very beautiful. We spent a few hours just walking around, taking pictures and just enjoying the beautiful weather and view. Based on a recommendation we ended up at a fabulous restaurant. Nothing fancy but very good food, atmosphere and price 🙂 Me, Tawni, John and Dana were pretty much all in agreement that the best pizza we had in Italy was in Ravello. It was a simple preparation, just topped with marinara, garlic oregano and other seasonings. No cheese no meat just regular marinara, and man was it good! Another memorable dish was dessert-profiteroles. But these were not just your ordinary profiteroles, they were coated with a rum chocolate, once again outstanding. The next day we had a fairly short drive up to Positano, one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. After carrying the stroller down what felt like thousands of stairs I now know why it is called the vertical city. From Positano we actually took a fairy over to the Island of Capri. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I’m not sure what that was. And, once again there were stairs…but this time up. Dana was sprinting ahead of us up the stairs thinking how cool it was to get exercise while Tawni and I were near death panting and carrying the stroller up what seemed like miles of step. I think my legs took a week to recover from that climb. At the top of the climb was “the strip” – some of the highest end stores I have ever seen, all name brand and all really nice stuff. We basically just windowshopped had a bite to eat and then did the smart move and took a taxi down. Not just any taxi though, this taxi was a four door Fiat convertible. Ridin’ in style! Tomorrow I will take you all from Positano to our journey north to Tuscany!
Tonight was my first night back to business working at Locanda del Pilone in Alba. Many of you are probably wondering what I’ve been up to the past two weeks though….a nice relaxing vacation…well, kind of
My wife, cousin John and his wife Dana arrived in Rome on September 19th, oh and you can’t forget my baby Francesca!. Everyone made it one piece with all luggage, first potential obstacle overcome. We rented a station wagon and hit the pedal to Rocchetta, a very small town in the Molise region. My cousin John has family there so we mingled with them for a day and a half and then headed over to Pescara, home of La Valentina winery. What an amazing time we had sampling over 10 different kinds of wine of all varietals. Lucky Caira is the winner of La Valentina Montepulciano di Abruzzo bottle of wine. We also enjoyed a meal prepared by Maria, their onsite chef with specialties including cheese balls and sheep 🙂
Day 4 off to Bari, or back to Bari for me at least. We only had two days there which was filled with hellos and good byes to all my family and friends. We also went to Alberobello which is filled with trulli- these unique white houses with cone like roofs. The story behind them is that locals came up with a unique type of housing that could quickly be demolished, in order to avoid paying taxes, then easily rebuilt. The trullo has thick walls, made with stacked river stones, without any mortar linking the stones. Its a cool thing to see but now that I’ve done it twice I don’t really feel the need to ever go back.
More about my crazy vaycay coming tomorrow, I promise!
Although I am having a wonderful time in Bari hanging out with family and friends, I’m not used to this whole not working thing. I want to be learning… but I’m not, well at least not about cooking. In Parma I was a chef and in Bari I am assisting a family friend in the clothing distribution business. It is very interesting how different opportunities present themselves. Although there may be a great opportunity to get into retail distribution from America I know that after being apart from a stove and knives for two weeks I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen. One thing I am looking forward to is going up in the mountains with a group of guys ranging in age. Its kind of like the American version of a camping trip…except we are going to catch an animal and cook it up “braceria” style 🙂
The thing I am looking most forward to though is the arrival of my wife and daughter…4 more days…I can do it!