Let’s peel the celery first

On our third day in Italy, we left central Venice for Lido, an island just east of central Venice but still technically a part of Venice. The island’s beaches are what typically attract visitors but Peter and I weren’t there for the beaches. Instead, we were there for a cooking class held at Acquolina Cooking School. The term “cooking school” is kind of misleading because the class wasn’t held in a commercial cookery type setting – it was held in the home of a personal chef.

Chef Marika… where do I begin? Marika is a wife, mother to four boys, B&B owner, landlord, personal chef, catering business owner (New York and Venice locations), and cooking school instructor.

Upon arrival, we were guided to the third floor of her magnificent home. Our guide, Stephen, apologized for the number of stairs we were required to climb and explained that they were in the process of installing an elevator. Rich People Problems.

The third floor included the professional kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and what probably is a sitting area when cooking classes are not in session.

Typically, Marika does not host cooking classes on Saturdays but she decided to host one because she had a good-sized group ready to drain their bank accounts for her cookery lessons. Since Peter and I were the first to book the class, we got to set the menu. Holla!

Our “everything literally made from scratch” menu included:

  • Assorted pieces of bread: Onion, black olive, and rosemary
  • Ragu alla bolognese served on tagliatelle
  • Veal roast with vegetable brunoise, lemon, and thyme
  • Baby braised artichokes (which only grow on the island on Lido)
  • Dark chocolate mouse

As it turned out, there were only two other students in the class – a French woman named Carole and her daughter, Kim (or Keem as Carole pronounced it). Carole and Kim were both fluent in French and English. Kim has an American nanny and therefore has an American accent. Listening to Kim speak French one minute and then speak English with an American accent the next was very impressive and strange all at the same time. I pointed this out to Carole and she was surprised to hear that her daughter had an American accent. Hmm.

We started the day by chopping vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables! Marika gave Peter a quick lesson on how to peel celery (yes, celery should be peeled to remove the dry parts) and then tasked him with peeling and chopping ALL of the celery. Carole was tasked with peeling and chopping carrots and something else which escapes my mind at the moment. Kim was tasked with doing small jobs like rolling dough and separating egg whites (which she totally rocked at, by the way). Finally, I was tasked with chopping the onions and leeks. Leeks, as I learned, are a good substitute for onions when you want the taste of onion but don’t want it to be so pungent. Stir fry totally makes sense to me now!

Marika and her assistant prepped all the other food and once our chopping was complete (which took forever), Marika started mixing everything up. We then turned our focus to the homemade pasta. Holy hell. Homemade pasta is a lot of work. First, you make the dough, then it needs to sit, then you knead it, then it sits some more, then you roll it through the dough press thingy, then it has to dry but not dry completely, then you roll it through the dough press thingy again to cut the pasta, then you cook it.

Aside from the amazing taste of fresh pasta, I was surprised to find out that fresh pasta only takes about two minutes to cook (it floats to the top when done). Who knew? Not me.

We also learned that veal is considered white meat even though veal is the meat of young cattle. Again, who knew? Well, the three French adults and the one Italian adult knew.

After about four hours of prepping and cooking, we took our at the table while Marika and her assistant finished cooking. Marika served up the food in huge bowls, family-style. I can’t explain how awesome this was and how badly I wished that Carole’s pretentious French plastic surgeon friend was not there. This man arrived just before the food was served. He contributed nothing to the planning, prepping or cooking of the meal.

And, worse of all, he ate like a rabbit. He took a tiny bite, nibbled it like a rabbit, and then leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach as though he was giving himself time to digest the tiny morsel of food he just swallowed. He repeated this process every 30 seconds. His behavior was so strange that Marika asked him if he didn’t like the food.

After stuffing ourselves, we said our goodbyes and ferried back to central Venice. Peter and I regrouped at our hotel. I laid down on the bed and immediately passed out. Two hours later and three pounds heavier, I was ready for some Prosecco. Prosecco is a lighter version of Champagne but can’t be classified as Champagne because it is not produced in the Champagne region of France) and, of course, chocomint gelato.

Later that night, we went out in the city long enough to find a bum drinking wine on tap out of a plastic water bottle and then retired to our hotel early, just like every other night. It would seem that nothing in Venice aside from the Hard Rock Cafe is open beyond 10pm. Perhaps this is a noise ordinance issues considering everything is made of stone with no “soft” Earthscape to absorb the noise.

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