You’re off to Italy on a cooking school tour you’ve been dreaming of for years, perhaps in the magnificent Barolo wine country in Piedmont or on the east coast in Sicily with views of the Mediterranean and snow capped Mount Etna.
You want to enjoy your sensual experiences in Italy to the maximum: the beauty, the countryside, food, cooking lessons, wine tastings, sightseeing excursions and visits with local people.
Here are four detailed tips on getting all the joy possible out of your Italian cooking school tour, gleaned from my 12 years of experience creating and leading cooking tours in Italy.
1. Many cooking school tour members tell me, “I’ve eaten too much! There’s too much food. I’m a food lover so how can I discipline myself when everything is SO delicious.”
Find out what is on your lunch or dinner menu so you can pace yourself. That way you avoid eating a lot of one course only to find three more courses are coming and you don’t have room for all the wonderful food.
Most Italian meals for special occasions (all cooking school tour meals are special occasions) have five courses: one to five appetizers, pasta or rice, meat or fish, vegetable side dish and dessert, so pacing yourself makes a big difference in your enjoyment of your meal.
A good cooking school tour guide will list all the dishes on the menu to the group before a meal. If she doesn’t, ask her to do so.
Sample a little bit of everything so you experience as many flavours and dishes as possible. That’s one reason you go on a cooking school tour, isn’t it?
Trying a bit of everything will also avoid offending your hospitable cooking teachers or chefs. Then you can smile and say, “It was absolutely wonderful, but I just don’t have the space.” I’m on the petite side, so this line makes perfect sense to my Italian hosts.
2. Some cooking school tour participants say, “The cooking classes were hands-on but I didn’t get enough time to cook hands-on during the lesson. The chef did too much of the cooking in the class.”
If you want to participate more hands-on in the class, get beside the chef and jump right in. If you hang back, waiting to get asked to do something, you may wait awhile and go away feeling disappointed you didn’t get a real hands-on class.
Some tour guides and chefs notice who is shy and hanging back in the kitchen and encourage them to “step up to the plate”, but others don’t. You have to be assertive and volunteer.
3. Some cooking school students wonder, “Will I gain weight during my cooking tour with the vast quantities of irresistible food?”
One woman told me she lost 10 pounds during her cooking lesson trip in Italy. No fried chicken or hamburgers, just healthy, natural, less fatty foods. Italians eat less junk food and more fresh, local foods than many North Americans. She drank water and no pop. She did much more walking than she ever does at home.
If you can find time on your cooking school tour to go for walks or hikes, you’ll go home weighing the same or less, and feel much more energetic while on your cooking tour.
Better still, choose cooking school tours that include some good walks perhaps along paths in the Tuscan or Piedmont wine country or along coasts in Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast or Sicily.
4. Communicate in a direct, friendly way with your tour guide about what you want.
Once you’re in Italy in the middle of experiencing your cooking school tour, you may want to change the tour itinerary slightly. For example, you discover many tempting leather shops in a Tuscan hill town and want to spend more time shopping and forego your spa treatments on the itinerary.
Ask your tour guide how you can change activities. Most tour guides try to be as flexible as possible. After all, their job is making sure you enjoy yourself!
If there’s anything you’re not enjoying on your tour, take your tour guide aside, give constructive, friendly feedback and work together to make changes. Don’t be like some people who say nothing about their disappointments until they fill out the tour evaluation form at the end of the tour when it’s too late to help them.
If you’re enjoying an activity tremendously, ask your guide how you can do more of it. “I loved that boat ride! Is there any way we can do more boat rides?” Tour guides love seeing you happy and will do all they can to delight you.
In conclusion, if you pace yourself at the table, try a small amount of everything, assert yourself in the kitchen, enjoy the healthy cuisine, get some exercise and communicate well with your tour guide, your Italian cooking school tour will give you all you dreamed of and more.
They ran their first Italian cooking, wine and walking tour in 1995. Margaret and her local Italian tour partners offer cooking school tours all over Italy.
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