Cooking, Italian Style

By Donna Goodison


An exotic truffle hunt at the foot of the Maritime Alps in Italy, followed by an afternoon standing elbow to elbow in the kitchen with a tall, handsome chef. Throw in a little olive oil, some wine . . . .

A teaser for a culinary Harlequin romance novel?

Nope, Todd English’s latest venture.

English is partnering with Cooking Vacations International to give foodies a taste of Italy during trips that include three, three-hour sessions nella cucina (in the kitchen) with the Boston chef and restaurateur.

“I love exposing people to the things I love,” said English, who calls Italy one of his “haunts.” “It’s one of those places that for some reason, whenever I’m there, I just find another reason to go back.”

The six cooking vacations to Positano, Sicily, Cuneo, Umbria, Ischia and Puglia will begin in November. Prices start at $10,000 a person, which includes stays at four- and five-star properties, but excludes airfare.

The trips, led by an English-speaking guide, will go beyond typical tourist destinations to give an insider’s view of Italy, according to English. They’ll include visits to olive oil and wine producers, and artisans who adhere to the Slow Food movement.

“You meet Giuseppe the cheese-maker, and you go to his farm and break bread with him and try his wine and olive oil,” English said. “It’s much richer.”

English’s hands-on cooking classes will take place in the kitchens of top-flight restaurants with their executive chefs. Participants will eat what’s prepared at the end of each class, with wine pairings by a sommelier.

“The whole idea of these cooking vacations is to really bring someone into the life of an Italian and the way they cook,” said Lauren Birmingham, the owner of Cooking Vacations International, which she runs from Boston and Positano. “Each class is a one-of-a-kind cooking program, because in each area, the style of cooking and the kitchens are so different.”

The first trip will include a white truffle hunt in Cuneo and a cooking class in which the prized fungi are incorporated into the dishes.

Another trip to Positano, on the Amalfi Coast, will include a morning fish market tour, a private charter for a full day on the island of Capri, and a fishing excursion.

English travels to Italy four or five times a year. He was in Sardinia last week, and this week will spend time with his children at a rented villa on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples.

“Honestly, it’s a place where I really relax,” he said. “For some reason, I get there and my whole thing kind of deflates. We’re just going to hang out, cook and go out to a couple of restaurants, swim in the Tyrrhenian, and just have a good time and be together and watch the world go by.”

English will donate a portion of the cooking vacation proceeds to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in honor of his sister, Wendy English, who died from breast cancer in April.