There’s one thing everyone can agree on in Italy: the food is divine! We’ve partnered with Dr. Cacinda Maloney of Points and Travel as she takes us through a delicious journey brought to life by one of her favorite chefs.
People always ask chefs where they like to dine, but rarely do they ever ask where they like to travel. As a traveler, of course, it is always my first question! And I can say without a doubt, I loved Chef Mark McDonald’s answer! I recently discovered Chef Mark McDonald of the Old Vine Café in Costa Mesa, CA and his mentor Master Chef John Nocia of the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy.
Both chefs think travel is essential, and would like to take you on a journey through their mutual love of one country: Italy.
Welcome to the Splendors of South Italy food tour, where these two expert chefs will teach you not only about regional Italian cuisine, but take you on a wild ride through many of Southern Italy’s off-the-beaten-path villages. Many people say “off-the-beaten-path”, but Chef Mark really means it! These two will show you adventures in food, but they will also show you the day-to day lives of Southern Italians.
This tour has become a vital link between the past and the present history of Italian food, and is required for anyone looking to truly understand Italian cuisine and its cooking methods. One of your days will be spent in the classroom at the Italian Culinary Institute run by Master Chef John Nocita. In between devouring his dishes, you’ll learn about olive oils, regional Italian cuisine styles, and various pasta types.
Then, while traveling on the tour, each day will be a different scene as you wind your way through Southern Italy and Sicily. In between lunches with a medley of antipastos such as fried anchovies, caponata, hearty olives and arancini, then dinners filled to the brim with homemade pasta, you will also enjoy the tastes and smells of Italy from a local perspective as you eat at restaurants that are locally owned — 95% of the people there are Italians and not tourists. Needless to say, you may get a few stares!
Experiencing Italy through a chef’s palate and visiting sights that are typically not on every tourist’s must-see list is one of the best ways to travel. By spending time in these small, quaint Italian villages and eating where the locals eat, you will experience a whole new world, one you didn’t even know existed. And many of these towns you explore have existed for more than a thousand years!
Chef Mark’s passion for cooking and traveling are contagious, especially since his unique culinary style is firmly based on Italian cuisine. His cooking philosophy is simple: his feet are well-rooted in tradition, yet he has an eye for innovation. I enjoy the fact that he brings with him the idea that a dish needs not only to be good, but also to look good and he plates them beautifully.
It may sound simple to make a pot of pasta, but not when it comes to Italian regional cuisine. In America, we just buy it and boil it, but here in Italy, there is a whole different level of pasta, they actually make it from scratch (by hand) and you can taste the difference!
Here are some highlights from the tour:
- A short, but windy ferry ride across a natural whirlpool, the Strait of Messina, which is the narrow passageway from the eastern tip of Sicily to the western tip of Calabria. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Ionian Sea and to the Mediterranean Sea.
- Taromina, sure, it is not off-the-beaten-path, but known as the “pearl of the Riviera.” And named that for a reason, it is a city I grew to love quickly. Built into the ocean cliffs, you can shop, dine, and take in various sights like Castel Mola or the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, which was built in the 3rd century BC by the Greeks.
- Syracuse Island, and the city of Isola Ortigia, which in comparison to Taromina is a little gritty and action-packed with a vibrant culinary scene. Because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean, the island has been ruled by Arabs, Greeks, Normans, Romans, and Spaniards. With their collective influence, they have created a distinctive collection of architecture, food, and traditions that give it a unique sense of place.
- Touring an agriturismo, which is essentially a hybrid between a bed and breakfast and a farm. After getting a tour of the farm, you settle in for a lunch that utilizes only ingredients that are produced at the agriturismo.
- Pizzo, home to the gelato “tartufo” dessert, you will enjoy this treat made with hazelnut and chocolate gelatos filled with a ganache dark chocolate, liquid center and rolled in cocoa powder.
- Squillace, an ancient center of ceramic traditions, you will have a chance to visit La Bottega d’Arte, where you will be treated to a pottery-making demonstration that shows how painstaking, yet beautiful this lost art craft is.
They keep their tours small, so if you’re interested in going, don’t wait to sign up!
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