Sudents attending the cooking school at Villa San Michele need only glance upward for inspiration. In the refectory of this former monastery, just across from the participants’ worktables, Nicodemo Ferrucci’s 1642 fresco of the Last Supper depicts in detail the offerings of the famous feast. The students have ventured to this Florentine landmark to learn how to transform the ingredients before them into an equally satisfying meal.
Once home to Franciscan monks, Villa San Michele is now a 45-room inn set in the forested hills above Florence. The inn, which features a facade designed by Michelangelo, last year inaugurated a culinary program in which students spend three to six days tasting and talking their way through the creation of classic Tuscan cuisine.
The cooking school’s participants follow the lead of Villa San Michele’s chef, Attilio de Fabrizio, as he prepares a variety of arousing Tuscan dishes. “One of the ways to reach someone’s heart is through the palate,” says de Fabrizio, “which is why cooking is not a job, but a message of love.” As trite as it may sound, the statement carries a note of sincerity when it comes from someone who has as much fervor for his craft as de Fabrizio.
A typical cooking school menu from the chef may include pumpkin flowers stuffed with pecorino cheese and marjoram, potato dumplings, rabbit stew, and Siena-style zuccotto (sponge cake, cream, chocolate, and nuts). Each day, after all the courses have been prepared, the novice chefs sit down to a lunch or dinner of their own making, which is enhanced, of course, by a flowing supply of regional wines.
Specific sessions at the cooking school include a course on Italian pasta and another that focuses solely on the finishing touches to a Tuscan meal: puff pastry, chocolate, and fruit. Students may also visit Corsini Palace, where Princess Giorgiana Corsini welcomes them with a cocktail reception on the palazzo before a demonstration on how to prepare royal fare.
Students spend much of their time strolling the inn’s herb garden, where sous-chef Luca Orini wanders among them, offering tips. And while participants may not attain the creative heights of past contributors to Villa San Michele, they are sure to enjoy their schooling in the art of Tuscan cuisine.
Villa San Michele