I spent my third and final week in Italy taking private cooking classes at Apicius Culinary Institute. I had spent a long time looking for another group class but just couldn’t find something that appealed to me yet didn’t cost a small fortune, and then I discovered that private classes were fairly competitively priced. For €1,060 I received
- 4 private cooking classes (2-2½ hours) followed by lunch
- 1 private and 1 group wine appreciation class (1 hour each)
- Private gastronomic walking tour (2 hours)
- 1 group cooking class (2 hours) followed by meal
- Recipes before each lesson
Apicius offers housing options (for an additional fee, of course), but my husband and I decided to rent an apartment in town for the week for €300.
Kitchen and Equipment
The kitchen my private classes took place in was fine, but the equipment was sometimes laughably bad, particularly considering that Apicius is a professional cooking school. First of all, there aren’t enough of everything to go around, so my teacher kept leaving to find spatulas or bowls or whatever in other kitchens, and other teachers regularly came into our room to scavenge. Second, a number of items were either ancient (the egg beater) or ridiculous (a rubber spatula that was not only partially melted, but also large enough to scrape out an industrial-sized mixer). Third, everything that went into the oven was placed in disposable aluminum trays, which at first I appreciated, thinking that would make it easy to transport the leftovers to my apartment, but that turned out not to be the case (see below).
Classes and Food
My teacher was a professional chef whom I liked very much. Her accent was a bit difficult to decipher at times, and her knowledge of vegetarianism was a little shaky, but she was fun and interesting. I loved doing nearly all of the cooking myself, including kneading, rolling out, and cutting pasta; making three kinds of gnocchi (potato, Roman, and Parisian); and working on other great recipes. I did more cooking at Apicius than the other two programs combined.
The major downside to Apicius is that some years ago, a student apparently gave some leftover food to a homeless person who got sick and the school got in trouble. So now, for “insurance reasons,” not one crumb of food can be taken off the premises, not even when there are piles of leftovers (which, incidentally, the student has not only cooked but paid for). On my last day, I called the director to ask for an exception because we’d made so much that I couldn’t even taste one bite of the chocolate mousse cake for dessert, and she said no.
Gastronomic Walking Tour
This included stops at some famous (to Florentines) but untouristed shops, including a little sandwich place specializing in truffle dips, an osteria, and a gourmet deli and wine bar. I enjoyed it so much that I took my husband on the same tour later that afternoon.
Expectations vs Reality
I chose to do private classes only after making sure that the school would be able to accommodate my vegetarian diet. We exchanged several emails on the subject, so it was something of a shock to get there and find meat recipes mixed in with the vegetarian ones. This was easily fixed, but I found it pretty bizarre after so much discussion about what I wanted to cook.
I pretty much knew that I’d be doing a lot more cooking in private classes, but I had been worried that I might have to spend a lot of time watching. Not so – I did most of it myself, which was great. My teacher was fairly familiar with vegetarianism, though not perfect – she added gelatin to the first dessert we made before I could stop her, and was going to add lard to another recipe. When I asked her not to, she said said ok, but then said, “I guess I can’t use butter either.” I explained the difference, but she didn’t really understand.
What really disappointed me was the “all food must remain on premises” rule. While I can understand the school’s worries about liability, I’m certain that Apicius could purchase insurance or something, just as take-out restaurants do, to allow students to take food home. While I didn’t expect to be treated like royalty, I did expect that paying a premium for private classes would mean that the school would make every reasonable effort to make me happy, but this little altercation on the last day was extremely disappointing. I ended up having to go back several hours later to eat the dessert, and I noticed that the director was avoiding me, as if out of fear that I would complain.
And what really gets me about that is that the food is cooked in take out containers, so either they just throw it all away (which would be amazing, considering that Apicius prides itself on being part of the Slow Food mentality, which I can’t help but equate with environmental responsibility), or else the staff takes it home themselves, which is just wrong. Either way, it kind of ruined the whole experience for me.
Overall score: 7/10