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Report 1720: POSTCARD: Awaiting Table Cooking School

By JaneP from Oregon, Fall 2009

Trip Description: Week-long cooking course in Lecce, Puglia. September 13-19, 2009

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Puglia

Categories: Cooking Classes; Independent Travel; Single Traveler

Page 1 of 1: Cooking School Review

Awaiting Table gets good reviews but I didn't have a great experience.

Caveat: take this review with a grain of salt. In the spirit of fairness, not everyone will be affected the same way I was. However, SlowTrav has been such great wealth of information and I wouldn’t want someone to have a similar experience and wish they’d had more information going in.

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Group Size

To start, I was informed only upon arrival that I was the only student. I'd deliberately signed up for a group activity, traveling solo, and expected a group.

To be fair, Silvestro, the owner, doesn't guarantee group size. But it seems like common courtesy to tell a solo traveler it wouldn't be a group course. He also added this course in between two existing September courses, but in the two months after I signed up and paid, he never advertised the course. I signed up because he told me several others had inquired. He told me upon arrival that they had changed their minds. But when, is my question? I would have preferred the opportunity to change my plans.

Lodgings

Also upon arrival I was told the B&B, as advertised, was full and he had to arrange other accommodations for me. Had his manner all week not been been rather glum and pretty unwelcoming, I might have overlooked both of these things. But I assume that when I booked July 15, that he then booked my B&B stay. I scoured the site and can find nothing about accommodations not being guaranteed. (I wrote to the B&B early on saying I was looking forward to coming and never received a reply. This should have been a sign that I had no room.)

My accommodation was a very large, impersonal apartment with no artwork and fairly shabby furniture. There was also a loud music problem I had to sort out myself. I think Silvestro put in a call to the apartment owner but I still had to seek out the source and deal with it. I'm used to slumming it and I laugh off the quirks you find in hotel rooms. But I was paying a lot for this. I was also paying a €250 extra single occupancy, which I would assume related to the B&B that I wasn't staying in.

Classes

There ended up being one other student, who decided to stay an extra week, but because he was a friend of Silvestro, they defaulted to a familiarity that meant not much food and cooking talk. I had to ask to get most of the information I got. It's my opinion that Silvestro seemed to have a glum mood and I would have preferred a bit more boundary between my vacation and his life issues.

He advertises a lot of work but I felt like there was too little time in the kitchen. Often he wasn't in the kitchen. The preparation was pretty simple (not his fault) and two days there were outings, so we didn't make lunch. Thursday each week you're on your own, but I was invited to come to dinner with the small group doing a one-night course.

He did offer to tailor the week to what we wanted since it was just two of us and he offered up options. By Friday, I didn't feel like I'd spent nearly enough time in the kitchen and asked if we could make pasta, which we did. I also asked if we could make gelato, which we did. He offered a trip to a winery and an olive grove but both didn't pan out. But it was nice to have the flexibility if we wanted it.

I didn't have an expectation of really learning cooking skills. I went more for the experience. I was already familiar with the food of the region, felt comfortable shopping at markets and talking to vendors in Italian, and I eat with the seasons. I also cook a lot already. This isn't a criticism but I might have liked more intensive cooking and more learning about flavor combining across dishes for example, in creating a meal.

It was very hard to write anything down. I tried to record what we cooked with photos but Silvestro speaks so fast (he would admit this) that it was impossible to record details. He assured me a few times that he'd send a link to recipes. I've written him twice and have not received the link.

The food and wine was great and Silvestro is doing a great thing by keeping alive the local food traditions. His physical space is visually rich and people will love the kitchen. We had some nice dinner guests a few nights, which added a bit of a buffer and his assistants Anna and Giuseppe were sweet.

Summary

Many people asked why I didn't speak up but I didn't really feel like I had a choice because neither of these things could be changed and I wasn't prepared to double pay for a week elsewhere. I'm leaving out details that don't seem relevant to include here although I found many things to be problematic from an enjoyment/personality standpoint. I'm just not used to spending that kind of money. I wasn't sure what to expect. I would have been fine if I came home simply well fed and not having learned anything new. But I did expect a bit more of a positive, welcoming environment on top of advertised accommodations.

I would recommend it but I would go with someone, though I love solo travel. I would inquire about accommodations, including writing directly to the B&B. Don't expect to be encouraged to use any Italian in the kitchen. Take photos, write down as much as you can on the spot. Instead of looking at his cookbook collection, which there was no time for because you can't be in his space between meals, go to the lovely bookstore/enoteca on the main Corso. You'll find Nancy Harmon's book "Flavors of Puglia" in English and can probably look at recipes or buy the book if you don't mind carrying it with you.

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