The second Italian cooking program I attended in September was Convivio Rome. While it’s not a vegetarian program, I contacted the school ahead of time and they assured me that I would have something vegetarian to cook while the other students cooked meat. For €999, the program included the following:
- 6 nights accommodation in a local cottage
- Daily breakfast in the local café
- 3 cooking sessions (2 hours each) followed by lunch
- 2 dinners, including one with wine tasting
- Guided tour of Rome
- Visits to nearby villages
- Olive oil tour and tasting session
- Transportation to/from train station
- Recipes before each lesson
- Welcome gift (a lovely kitchen towel from a nearby village)
|Toffia © LKL|
Toffia is a beautiful hilltop village, and my cottage was adorable. Good size, small but usable kitchen, washing machine, everything I needed. The bed was pretty bad – more a big, soft cushion than an actual mattress, but overall I was pretty happy. There was also a lovely private garden looking out over the valley.
Kitchen and equipment
The owners use their home kitchen for the cooking classes, and it was ok. There was plenty of room, but some of the equipment was a bit lacking. For example, we used serrated steak knives as paring knives, and one of them had a bent tip to boot. It’s not and isn’t meant to be a professional kitchen, but a decent paring knife is a pretty essential tool in any home kitchen, in my opinion. And because it’s in the owners’ home, their young daughter wandered in at one point and spent 5 minutes playing with the fresh pasta we’d just finished cutting, which nearly killed my appetite.
Classes and food
The recipes were traditional: mushroom risotto, eggplant parmigiana, pesto. I was disappointed by the latter, as pesto is one of the easiest things in the world to make. Yes it’s delicious, but I don’t need a cooking class to learn how to make something that is basically just thrown in the food processor and ground up. The best thing we did made was fresh pasta the truly traditional way – we kneaded the dough, rolled it out with a rolling pin, and cut it by hand, which was interesting and fun.
|Fresh tagliatelle © LKL|
Before arriving in Toffia, I’d been under the impression that I would be with a group of students. I knew we wouldn’t be staying in the same place, but I thought there would be others in the village. This turned out not to be the case. I was the only student for the week, but there were some day trippers. Two students came one day, and four came another. They all took the train from Rome, spent the day with us cooking and visiting the area, and then left in the late afternoon.
I was happy to be with some other students, but on the day when there were 5 of us, it was too many. The kitchen was plenty big, but the recipes just weren’t complicated enough for 5 students plus the teacher. We basically took turns performing various tasks, which was boring. As at Organic Tuscany, I understand that the schools are trying to maximize their profit margin, but it comes at the expense of a truly rewarding cooking class where the student is actually cooking as opposed to doing prep work, or watching others cook.
Olivone, the largest olive tree
in Europe (Canneto, Italy) © LKL
Local visits and tours
The villages we visited were lovely, but the weather was uncooperative. We got rained out twice, and once that happened, there was no option but to return “home” – there were no indoor activities. The tour of Rome was interesting but quite short – a couple of hours in a less touristed part of Rome.
Expectations vs Reality
Convivio Rome was part two of my three-part Italian cooking experience, and after my week of fantastic food in Organic Tuscany, my expectations were very high. While Convivio Rome’s food was good and the teacher, Guido, was very nice, the recipes weren’t all that amazing. I was also disappointed in the lack of other students, as the village was very small and once classes and any visits were over, there was literally nothing to do but go back to my cottage and read. I know that some people would love having a week free from any obligation, but I had so much free time that I was bored: at least 2 hours in the morning, since breakfast wasn’t until 10, and then after lunch when there was a visit or some other activity, it lasted a couple of hours (if it wasn’t raining), and then it was back to the cottage again – there was just too much time. I read four novels, which I just don’t need to travel to a remote village in Italy to do. In the end, I was bored and lonely, and when my husband came down the last night to see the village, he had to pay €60 to stay in the cottage with me, a fee that I found astonishing, plus €30 for the wine tasting dinner, which also seemed high.
In the end, even though Convivio Rome’s program was considerably cheaper than Organic Tuscany, I think the latter was a better value. There was an additional cooking class, an additional night’s lodging, more lunches/dinners, better food, and more tours/visits, not to mention the comraderie of being with a group of people.
On the other hand, I can see that for daytrippers, Convivio Rome could be really fun, because during the 7 hours or so they are in Toffia, something is happening pretty much the entire time.
Overall score: 6/10