Cooking School

Paul and I had the funniest experience one day while waiting for our hotel shuttle bus.  I noticed a man waiting near us that was wearing a (gasp!) Phillies hat.  Considering that Paul and I are both devoted Mets fans, it shouldn’t surprise you that I decided to make a comment.  I said, “What’s a Phillies fan doing here in Sorrento?”  My comment we could say “broke the ice” and we spent the next ten minutes conversing with this man and his wife.  As the Phillies hat suggested, they were natives of Philadelphia who were spending part of their summer venturing around Italy.  This stop in Sorrento was one of many stops along the way and they would be making their way to Rome a few days later.  You are probably wondering where the funny part comes in so I’ll get right to the point.  When this couple asked me how I liked Sorrento, I nearly did a song and dance when I explained how much I loved the food and how it wasn’t like anything I’d ever tasted in my entire life.  It sounded something like this…”I mean the tomatoes and the mozzarella and the pizza and the prosciutto and the pasta…I mean, the food here is to die for!”  I expected these new Philly friends of mine to completely agree with my opinion on the food when the wife replied, “Oh, this is nothing.  We eat like this at home.  We have cheese shops.”  What?  Excuse me??  Come again?  Did you say, “We have cheese steak shops?”  Because I’m pretty sure you DON’T eat like this in Philadelphia.  Then she said, “I cook this way.”  REALLY?  Yeah, ok, I bet you make your own prosciutto too.

Now I love to cook Italian food and I think I do a pretty good job of it, thanks to a little help from Giada.  However, I would never claim to cook like an Italian who grew up in Italy.  I also live in NJ and I believe that NY and NJ serve up some of the best Italian-American cuisine in all of America.  But I would never say that its better than the food in Italy.  Italian-American food is like its own genre or category and its good, real good, in my opinion.  But Italian food in Italy…well, something just tells me that I can’t get the same stuff in Philadelphia…I don’t care how good of a cook she thinks she is.

It’s not that I don’t believe this lady is a good cook, it’s just that, we can’t get the quality of ingredients in America that they can in Italy.  You can go to every cheese shop that Philadelphia has to offer, but it still won’t get you a tomato straight from an Italian vine.  And your Philadelphia cheese is pasteurized, unlike in Italy where it’s not.  I’m just sayin’.

Ok, enough venting, I’m starting to sound like Anthony Bourdain (whom I adore by the way).  All this talking to “Philadelphia” as we later referred to them, got us inspired to go to cooking school.  Yes, we went to a day of cooking school on our honeymoon.  Sorrento Cooking School to be exact, and boy oh boy, Paul just LOVED it.  Did you hear the sarcasm there?  I hope so.

My sweet and loving husband of mine will do anything to put a smile on my face and this was just one of those, “I just want to make my blushing bride happy” kind of things.  So we got up early and headed out to meet our Italian chauffeur to take us on our way to cooking school.  At this time you should know that at some point in my life I plan to make a life altering career change.  This will happen one of two ways, either when the Food Network calls or the Travel Channel.  You see, I have this crazy idea that one day I will be discovered by one of these giant enterprises who will then pay me to eat, cook, and travel.  So I figure, I better start going to cooking school.

Upon arrival we were given two stylish aprons and were ushered into a kitchen with about eight other aspiring cooks.  The teacher, an Italian chef, spoke in only Italian and was accompanied by an interpreter who would fill us in on everything he said.  Our first mission: homemade pasta.

You should know that I do all of the cooking in our house.  I make breakfast, I pack lunches (with notes), and I make elaborate dinners almost on a nightly basis.  Paul’s job is to eat the food, do the dishes, and take out the garbage.  Paul also does the grilling and makes the coffee.  This is just how our love works and we like it that way.  So you can imagine just how excited Paul was to dive into the flour and roll his own pasta dough.  He could hardly contain himself.

While my dough rolled just perfectly, Paul’s dough took on an altogether different form.  I told him he had too much flour.  The lady next to me told him he didn’t have enough flour.  But the deciding factor was when the Italian chef came over, picked up his dough, gave it a funny look, and threw it directly in the garbage.  I’m pretty sure this is when I grabbed my husband to keep him from running right out the door.

Later, due to the success Paul had with the pasta dough, the Italian chef chose him to plate and sauce the pizza.  He kindly handed him ten plates, a bowl of sauce, and basil and told him to have at it so the rest of us could eat.  I couldn’t help but laugh when he looked over at me and said, “Why me?” followed by, “Honey, you are going to have to help me out with this.”  Needless to say, this amused everyone else and by the end of the class everyone knew us as those “newlyweds” from Jersey.

After cooking school we returned to the pool for our daily lounge.  Unfortunately, like always, I got a rash from the sun.  I have now gotten a rash on every sunny vacation we’ve been on.  This is why my Mom packed me a “honeymoon survival kit” jam-packed with sunscreen, Benadryl, and aloe.  In Paris, I got a rash so bad that Paul had to learn the word rash in French before venturing out to the pharmacia.  The “honeymoon survival kit” was to prevent him from having to know the word rash in Italian too.  I used to get really upset about this reappearing heat rash, but now I’ve learned to tolerate and accept that my skin just doesn’t mix with the Caribbean sun, the Mediterranean sun, or any sun that’s not Jersey sun.  I could sit in the Jersey Shore sun for hours and never get a rash, but one day of vacation somewhere else and I’m a blotchy mess.

After the pool, we’d return to the room and get ready for dinner.  This is when I’d have my nightly go round with my European hair dryer.  Let me specify the word my.  Yes, I have my own European hair dryer that I travel to Europe with.  Paul and I invested in one when we were in Paris so that he didn’t have to hear me complain about the vacuum like dryer in the bathroom at the hotel.  My hair dryer is called the “Baby Bliss” and while it works better than the hotel room one attached to the wall, it still doesn’t agree with my temperamental locks.  So each night while getting ready for dinner, it would take me about 45 minutes or so for the Baby Bliss to sort of dry my hair.  My hair “sort of dry” results in me looking somewhat like Animal from the Muppet Babies-frizzy and all over the place.  I’ve got this annoying wave in my hair that Mom says I got from Grandpa.  Thanks a million Gramps.

Dinner on this particular evening was at La Lanterna, the place with the best insalate caprese in all of the land of Sorrento.  For our entrees, Paul had veal saltimbocca and I had fresh pasta with eggplant, basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce.

After dinner we would go for our nightly visit to see Enzo, an Italian waiter at a small restaurant in the center of town.  Enzo loved us and looked forward to our visits each night just as much as we looked forward to hearing him rant about his job: “Merry Christmas, I hate my job, I’d rather be fishing.”  When we made our final visit to see Enzo on our last night in Sorrento, he asked us to take a picture with him and send it to him when we returned home.

I will end this post with my favorite line by an Italian waiter at our hotel.  When we returned from dinner we ran into him out by the pool.  I asked him what his favorite restaurant was in Sorrento and he replied, “My house.  I live with my Mom.”

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