Travel is a gateway to new experiences, exciting people, and tasty food. There’s just something about food that helps you form a bond with people and places. And there’s something about learning to cook local food that really makes you fall in love with a place.
I love traveling mainly for the food, and one thing I’ve always done pre-travel is research the local cuisine. I add the most exciting restaurants’ info to our Google Doc and work it into our plan. We’ll go way out of our way sometimes just for a legendary slice of pizza, and it’s almost always worth it!
When I think of Italy, I can almost taste the cioccolato extra-noir gelato from GROM, and I remember the best pasta I’ve ever had, from Culinaria in Rome. I think of Spain and taste warm, crispy/chewy churros dipped in thick drinking chocolate. And so on…
I’ve pushed things a step further recently and started taking cooking classes during my trips. Game. Changer.
When I first had the idea, I was planning a trip to Italy. I imagined a small, stout Italian grandma teaching me to make homemade pasta and (kindly) yelling at me in Italian. Then I actually found a small Italian grandma online who was offering classes in Florence! But…I couldn’t book her because her kitchen had flooded and she put a hold on her classes. In what cruel world does a small Italian grandma lose her kitchen??
So I kept looking and have had two amazing experiences so far!
The first class I took was in Paris. We took a croissant-making class…what else? We had some AMAZING food during our stay in the City of Lights, but I could talk for days about how much I LOVED our class.
I wrote a review on TripAdvisor that was so positive, it probably seemed fake…
We absolutely loved our croissant making class with Amanda! She is a native English speaker and a wonderful teacher, we were having so much fun that we often would forget her instructions, but she patiently and happily reminded us what to do and demonstrated every aspect of the process.
The class is 3 hours, which isn’t normally enough time to make croissants, so what we did was complete the last steps of a previously-made dough, and while that rose we started a new dough and completed all the first steps of the process. We got to do almost everything involved in making croissants without the waiting around — we were always busy!
It was seriously the perfect way to spend our morning and the croissants were FABULOUS. I finally got to make a chocolate croissant the way I always believed they should be made – with lots of chocolate. I’m calling it the Croissant Américain.
I stand by this review and I claim full rights to the Croissant Américain. I put 6 sticks of chocolate in those croissants, which is 3x more than normal, but should become the new normal. Someone send this to Dominique Ansel and maybe we’ll have another pastry revolution on our hands. That would be amazing and I’d have to go to New York City. (Also how cute are my parents).
Would you be surprised to know that I also wrote a review for this class? And that it was super positive? I stand by this review as well…
This entire experience was one for the memory books, and I’m more than happy to give it a 5-star review. Having been to Rome before, I was looking for something new that would set this trip apart from my past visit, and would deepen my understanding and appreciation for Italian and Roman culture. Cesare did just that!
He met us at the marketplace the morning of and showed us how he shops for his produce daily. We tried some tasty fresh samples of strawberries and tomatoes before following Cesare on a lovely 5-10 minute walk to his cooking studio. Cesare himself is super nice and has a very entertainer-like quality about him, so he was a blast to be around all morning and made everything fun.
For the actual cooking process, we made a lot of amazing food; two different kinds of pasta — one dough which used a pasta press to make fettuccine and with the other dough we hand-rolled cavatelli (which was also cool); tomato sauce for the fettuccine and a romanesco broccoli sauce for the cavatelli; Roman artichokes (one of my faves of the day); a fried zucchini flower, which I’d never heard of but was possibly my favorite dish of the day; and tiramisu. We don’t drink alcohol or coffee, so Cesare happily made us our own custard-like dessert without either and added some strawberries with balsamic as another sweet taster to our dessert course.
When the time came to actually eat lunch, we took off our aprons and went upstairs to sit around a table in front of a floor to ceiling open window, with the fresh air flowing in and the subtle warmth of the Roman sun creating the perfect atmosphere. Cesare and his assistant, Sheebly, brought the food up one plate at a time, giving us time to chat, appreciate our creations, and let the food settle before the next round came up. It was some of the most delicious food I’ve tasted, and the experience in total was worth every penny. Great memories were made! And since he made the process so easy and sent us the recipes, I’m confident that I can recreate the dishes we made.
Thank you Cesare!
Honestly, this review almost doesn’t do it justice. The atmosphere was just incredible. I could see the Vatican walls from our windows while cooking downstairs, as well as the Tiber River. While we ate lunch in the dining room upstairs, I watched out the tall inward-facing window as Italians went about their daily business; smoking on their balconies, hanging their freshly laundered sheets on lines, and coming home with their daily market hauls.
This class was a personal look into Roman life, and we spent the day with a hilarious and super nice Italian man, Cesare. Rome truly holds my heart now.
Cooking classes can really bring a culture and city to life. When I took the class in Paris, it was my third time to the city in 6 months. When I took it in Rome, it was my second time in the last year. I had a love for both cities before the classes, but I left with a deeper bond and memory! And an appreciation for some parts of their culture that have become mainstream.
Also, getting to hang out with a friendly local is unbeatable (even if you are paying them to hang out with you…).
Anyway, try taking a class in your hometown or find one next time you’re adventuring abroad! You will be so glad you did! Whether you’re a mom who loves cooking, a dad who never has the time otherwise, or a 13-year old boy who prefers video games. OR if you’re a traveler like me!
Cooking classes are worth it, even if you’re on a tight budget.