A few years ago, by way of a friend of a friend of a friend, I was asked whether I could organise a full-time, five-day cooking course for a visiting 15 year-old American boy whose mother was going to be busy doing an art course in Rome during the same time and thoughtfully wanted her son to be enjoying his time too.
In terms of cooking classes, these were still early days for me. I hadn’t even conceived of teaching a cooking ‘course’ as such, (a) let alone a five-days-in-a-row one — (b) let alone for a 15 year-old who would probably lose interest after a couple of hours. It was a very daunting proposal and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense for me to ‘farm him out’, as it were, to other culinary teachers for two of the five days.
To be honest, I also felt rather sorry for the poor boy … having to spend so much time, all on his own, with me and thus, a favourite occupation of mine anyway, it was the men I went after. I was quite pally with a chef from the Gambero Rosso in Rome, so that was one day taken care of. For the second, I thought we could make a little day trip out of it, to add a bit of excitement, and to discover a culinary approach that was different from the one in Rome and/or Lazio. I love the food in Umbria and so carried out a thorough search for a one-day cooking class that would not entail more than one and a half hour’s driving for me … and lo and behold I found my man. In Orvieto. I got in touch with him, explained my requirements, and we decided on a date and costs etc and were looking forward to meeting in person.
After about three weeks of email exchanges between me and the mother in this story, and my delving deeply into recipes and culinary notes, and a lot of my time spent planning, designing and pricing my classes with the boy, the mother decided she had to cancel the trip. Just like that. Oh well. Tant pis, as the French say, never mind. Pazienza (patience) as they say in Italian. Ma’alish as they say in Arabic. C’est la vie … Did any of these consolatory phrases help in dealing with this news? Nah. I’m not what you would call a Stoic. The only phrase that did eventually work in quelling my irritation and disappointment was “every cloud has a silver lining” — and that’s when I decided that I would take my daughter and Elena along to do a cooking class with ‘my’ man in Orvieto. My man being Lorenzo, Lorenzo Polegri, my silver lining.
Lorenzo runs a restaurant in Orvieto called the Zeppelin and that’s where he holds his cooking classes too. He is affiliated with the James Beard Foundation and speaks English.
As I wrote yesterday, San Lorenzo is the patron saint of cooks and I remarked upon that to him over the telephone, the very first time I contacted him. I tried to briefly explain my philosophy over food and eating and what my intentions as an Italian cooking coach were and he couldn’t have been nicer. We were very much on the same culinary wavelength. He is generous and life loves him. And as for the cooking class — it was fun, a lot of fun … what can I say! even though it was proper food being expertly prepared in a proper restaurant, in the company of his professional sous-chef students.
Lorenzo is the most likeable of teachers, at ease, bustling about but pausing for a taste of this, a sip of that, laughing and joking. He insisted we try this, that and the other, it was a case of delicious home-made snacks galore … and I finally had to hold up my hands and say, stop, no more otherwise I wouldn’t be able to eat lunch! And that’s when he delivered his punch-line, pointing at his own (again) generous girth:
“Diffidare dei cuochi magri!” … i.e. do not trust a slim cook!
It is no wonder that I have returned to Lorenzo’s as often as I could and recommend him to anyone interested in learning about Italian/Umbrian cooking!
Take a look at the following photos taken a hot summer ago … a cooking class in Umbria (with two young lads I brought along for the class) … does the body language of the participants ‘speak’ out in any way? Does Lorenzo look as if he is on top of everything and yet totally relaxed? Does the food look as if you’d like to eat it?
Fresh egg pasta with carbonara sauce and …. shavings of truffle!!!!
I am one of those people who thinks the ‘News’ is bad for your health and so avoid watching it on the TV and rarely buy a newspaper. And so, knowing this, my husband phoned me last Spring telling I should buy a copy of the daily ‘Il Corriere della Sera’ and its magazine … where a whole spread was dedicated to Lorenzo Polegri cooking for President Obama at a formal dinner party in the States (I think, via the James Beard Foundation)! Well, what wonderful news … what a great guy (Lorenzo that is). I’m sure the cooks’ patron saint and namesake is very proud of him!