Michelin 3* chef, Alain Ducasse, has, in recent years, created an empire of restaurants and hotels throughout the world. His Tuscan “duchy” is located in the plains outside Grosseto near the fishing village turned beach resort of Castiglione della Pescaia. The hotel is everything you would expect from a 5* country resort with immaculate grounds, spacious rooms, and a well appointed spa. I, however, wasn’t there for the hotel, although I did find it extremely comfortable – the design and furnishings are for the most part new, styled to look old. But I was there for the food and to learn something in the process.
The entrance to L’Andana
In addition to our reservation at the hotel’s restaurant, Trattoria Toscana, they offer a two hour cooking demonstration/class for guests of the hotel. Maria signed me up and I went as both interested observer and foodie (I haven’t cooked professionally in 10 years but still know my way around a kitchen). The class was led by Annalisa Martini, a L’Andana veteran and native of one of the great food cities of Italy – Bologna. She told us that she started cooking at a very young age in her grandmother’s now closed restaurant in Bologna. This was perfect, who better to teach the fine points of roll out pasta dough than a Bolognese with a restaurant pedigree?
The course consisted of making our pasta dish for the dinner and dessert – ravioli stuffed with swiss chard, fresh ricotta, and pecorino in butter and thyme and a simple chocolate soufflé to be served with vanilla ice cream. We started with the pasta dough, working it with our hands to the right consistency and then letting it rest. We then moved onto the filling for the ravioli and finally the mix for the soufflé. All went smoothly and at an amiable pace, aided by the L’Andana’s own white and rosé wines offered as accompaniment to the learning experience. Annalisa proved to be an excellent teacher as well as good source of information about the philosophy of the restaurant. Ducasse is trying to create dishes that can be as faithful to the concept of 0 KM cooking as possible. As a result, the L’Andana property produces most of the vegetables used in the kitchen and everything except the dried pasta from Naples and salted butter from France is sourced from within 20 KM of the resort. This was especially evident the next morning when the “Nutella” appeared to be a homemade variety of the Italian classic.
At the end of the class we were called by the maître d’ and brought downstairs to our table where Maria and I enjoyed dinner, partially prepared by me, in Trattoria Toscana. How was the food I didn’t cook? To be continued . .
N.B. the class is not private and is only open to guests of the hotel. I was joined by a family of 4, parents with two young boys and although everyone was well behaved and the hotel had informed me beforehand, it is still something to consider when booking. Also, the best test of any class such as this is does it improve your skills at home? Well, I got my ingredients together and grabbed the rolling pin and made pasta at home for the first time a few days later. I still need some work but I’ve got the basic concept down and will soon be getting it right with a bit of practice.