To explore La Vie en Périgord, begin at La Combe

March 26th, 2010

In between intensive culinary programs, a cooking school in the Périgord relaxes with guests for a week of adventures outside the kitchen.  In 1998, when Wendely Harvey left culinary publishing in San Francisco, she embarked upon a new challenge:  organizing classes with top American and Australian cookbook writers and teachers in a French country cooking setting.  But this Australian woman’s energy and enthusiasm for the Périgord overflows into just two or three weeks each season, especially designed for curious travelers.  Beyond a hands-on session or two in the kitchen, most of the la Vie en Périgord week is an adventure in La France profonde.  With the gentle guidance of historian Robert Cave-Rogers, Wendely’s husband and business partner, guests experience a multi-dimensional view of the region.  And if, after caves, castles and markets, you hanker for a glass of wine – Robert can advise on this “natural resource” as well.   For more details, visit their site: Photo at La Combe by Roger Stowell.

Wines, vines and Italian tastings

February 25th, 2010

When a first sip is infatuating, I yearn to learn more. Such was the case with Primitivo, encountered over a plate of savory orecchiette at Pasta e Basta in Paris’ 13th.  First the dense – almost inky – robe, deep fruit aromas, then the wine’s structure persisted through the meal. The impact of this wine, so different from French wines, carried a complexity that intrigued me.  Where can this wine be found in context, I asked Armando, the chef at Pasta e Basta? “From Bari south to Lecce, and all along the Salentino, a rocky strip of southern Italy”, he responded.  So, serious travel is involved, and some time-juggling, but as  Italy continues its magnetic tug, why not plan on exploring this wine at the source: the heel of Italy’s boot.  Apulia, or Puglia, is the home of many ancient vine varieties planted along the the Salento peninsula in the sixth century B.C. – long before Roman legions marched past the trulli, clusters of white dry-stone huts.

The vagabond has found a guide for this wine and culinary adventure:  a bi-lingual ace photographer and host of a well known Lecce cooking and wine school, The Awaiting Table.  Silvestro Silvestori’s New Wine School and Cuisine classes have been covered by the Los Angeles Times and Food & Wine magazine. Their harvest season wine course this year runs from October 10 to 16, and includes visits to vineyards, a cooking class or two, and much discussion with local artisans – in addition to comprehensive wine lectures and tastings. Without further fanfare, I refer all and any wine tasting enthusiasts to

For more on Puglia, its cuisine and traditions, read Anne Bianchi’s superb, thorough Italian Festival Food, Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Regional Country Food Fairs, published in 1999 by Macmillan, USA.

Go Cooking: Lucca, Tuscany

January 13th, 2010

I wasn’t really looking for a cooking school when the phone rang yesterday, but after a conversation with one of the directors of Flavours Holidays, the seed of an idea was planted. Now that Flavours have added painting class holidays and pilates weeks, their range of appealing themes has expanded. In fact, painting with well known artist, Penelope Anstice in Sicily tempts the Vagabond to dream of being there. But the core of their well organized programs lies in Tuscany, enticingly near Lucca to be specific, where cooking classes roll with the spring and summer season’s market-fresh produce. That means learning to make not only ravioli filled with Tuscan greens and Pisan pine nuts, but stuffed zucchini blossoms as well – after a round in the market to find the ingredients; very Tuscan, very local.  So, if you are searching among the confusing lists of on-site cooking classes in Italy,  narrow down your options for a culinary getaway quickly.  For details about Flavours, run by an experienced team, see: and

Your vacation plans might focus on hiking, diving, fishing or…why not cooking?  Next month’s Go Cooking will be in the Périgord and a wine school in Puglia…stay tuned.