I’ve been to a few cookery classes and up to now have come away feeling underwhelmed and disappointed with most of the content. An enjoyable time cooking, but did I learn anything new? Probably not. The vast majority of cookery classes seemed aimed at introducing people to new skills and feel dumbed down (sadly on one occasion because it appeared to be the tutor’s own level). It’s a delicate balance between catering for those who are new and those who want to improve existing skills. Of course, there are classes which specifically direct themselves at a particular skill level (such as “improver”), but a course focusing on one cuisine or food type has to work harder in general for more appeal. However, I was excited for this event as it combined Italian food, recipes for al fresco dining and my obsession with olive oils. I was not disappointed.
Links relating to this evening are featured at the bottom of the post 💙
The ‘Fizz and sizzle’ evening at London’s only Italian cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, and organised by Filippo Berio was effortless in being inclusive to beginner and advanced cooks alike. Each recipe was fairly simple (as the event focused on a menu for a barbecue or outdoor food) but because there was such an array of dishes from salads, to meat to desserts, the breadth of skills required to complete them was varied and offered a chance to learn new skills. For every dish we were to make (and enjoy later) there was a perfect oil from Filippo Berio. Much like pairing wine or beer, choose an oil (or vinegar for that matter) for its particular strength, richness, stage of pressing, taste, aroma and cooking properties to your food and you will create something amazing – incredibly useful knowledge for the home cook. As I work with olive oil more and more I’ve come to realise the potential for each oil and have been choosing carefully for each recipe I make, and still there was plenty of new advice to learn on the oils during this evening.
The cookery school is in a gorgeous part of Marylebone, with a mix of Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and 20th century buildings situated on meandering streets filled with small retailers, restaurants (not least Caffé Caldesi itself on Marylebone Lane with La Cucina Caldesi nestled behind) and bars making the area lively, attractive and photo-worthy (there were a number of selfie-takers in every direction when I arrived).
La Cucina Caldesi is an intimate space, perfectly suited to about 20 attendees plus the knowledgeable and helpful staff. On the warm June evening I attended, the huge doors (I imagine the building must have been a manufacturing workshop or perhaps a merchant’s stores in the past) were flung open as I arrived. It was a friendly sight, with both La Cucina Caldesi and Filippo Berio staff clearly already at ease, chatting to early arriving guests (all delightedly sipping an Aperol spritz or Prosecco) and keen to warmly welcome you and help you settle in.
On arrival, we were introduced to everyone and to help us (and the chefs) given aprons with name tags on. I always find this helpful and am amazed such a simple aide doesn’t get used everywhere. We tucked in to focaccia, various Italian cheeses and peered excitedly at the boxes of ingredients and recipes already laid out. During this time I had a peek about. The wall of Caldesi cookery books is beautiful. The kitchen section is incredibly well anointed and there’s a backroom kitchen and washing up area to ease the traffic and business of the teaching space. Two ruby red Kitchen Aids and an espresso machine gleamed and there was a huge variety of covetable antipasto boards and serveware.
With Aperol spritz still in hand, we all avidly took in an introduction by head chef Stefano Borella. These dishes we would learn to create would help us to bring a little bit of Italian al fresco dining to our own outdoor summer evenings.
Much of Italian cuisine is about simplicity: a perfect pairing of flavours to create a dish. This simplicity does mean that obtaining the best quality or freshest produce will make that much difference. The produce chosen for the recipes in itself looked stunning, and of course there was an incredible range of oils and balsamic vinegars to choose from.
Chef Stefano explained the salad, bruschetta and dessert recipes in brief and talked about the properties of the olive oils, remarking on the health benefits of olive oil, it’s cooking properties and explaining the variety of oils from the distinctive, robust and gorgeously tasty Gusto Fruttato, to the delicate Toscano Gran Cru through to the Organic and Mild and Light Oils.
We each chose an area to work in, selecting the type of dish we wanted to work on the most. I headed straight for my comfort zone: ricciarelli biscuits, but others settled down to prepare a chilled mascarpone and strawberry dessert, bruschetta, broad bean puree, salads and more. We were following the written recipes but not left alone, Stefano and his team (Angela and Stefano) were deftly helping where needed or observing and commenting where they clearly saw someone was doing well and helping select the right oil for the recipe, which was really important in particular in the salads.
The amazing and seemingly endless menu for Filippo Berio’s Fizz and Sizzle event at La Cucina Caldesi was:
- Bruschetta con pure di fave e menta (Bruschetta with board bean and mint puree)
- Bruschetta al pomodoro e basilico (Bruschetta with tomato and basil)
- Pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick)
- Tagliata di manzo con rucola, parmigiano e aceto balsamico (Steak tagliata with rocket, parmesan and balsamic vinegar)
- Agnello alla griglia con salsa di alici (Lamb on the grill with anchovy dressing)
- Tonno alla griglia con salmoriglio (Grilled tuna with Salmoriglio sauce)
- Italian sausages
- Asparagi e insalata di patate novelle con vinaigrette di olio di noci (Asparagus and new potato salad with walnut oil viniagrette)
- Insalta di avocado e arance (Advocado and orange salad)
- Insalata di cuscus da Mandranova (Citrus couscous salad from Mandranova)
- Insalata di lattuga con gorgonzola dolce e vinaigrette calda con bacon (Whole lettuce salad with gorgonzola dolce and hot bacon viniagrette)
- Ricotta montata con rum con fragole e balsamico (Whipped ricotta with strawberries and balsamic vinegar)
- Ricciarelli (Sienese almond biscuits)
We picked up a number of tips throughout the evening, including letting tomatoes drain before topping bruschetta with them, so that the bread does not go soggy. Another was to use a piece of cling film around the bowl of your stand mixer to stop the ingredients splashing everywhere (as normally the skirts or covers supplied just aren’t good enough and get in the way) and the use of a house brick (covered in kitchen foil!) to hold down a spatchcocked poussin so that it browns and cooks better.
After we’d prepared most of these dishes, chef Stefano gathered us round to explain the meat courses. Pollo al mattone (or “chicken a la brick”), trimmed lamb chops, Italian sausage and seared tuna steak. Anyone who wanted to swap round and try a different skill or to cook the meat was encouraged to move and join in elsewhere from the dish they’d started on, so we could learn more than one new skill. The biscuits I was preparing proved popular as they needed shaping using a quenelle method with two spoons, so after I’d made a few I happily stepped back and moved on to helping on salads.
The menu quickly came together and we gathered round to enjoy what we’d prepared. A wonderful addition to the evening was that Italian wine expert, Luisa Welch, joined us to explain wine pairings with the four courses and to enable us to try a selection of wines from Zonin 1821.
To pair with the bruschetta, which was topped with tomatoes or the broad bean pate, we tried a Prosecco. Now, I have a terrible palette for wine. Normally I can’t taste any of the notes, tastes or smell that people are telling me are there. With this Prosecco though, I could get the fresh apples that Luisa described. When the next wine, another sparkling white but this time a Falanghina from Puglia, was poured I could distinguish between the two wines very clearly indeed. This was a revelation to me: never before have I been able to get taste profiles or tell the difference between what I thought to be similar wines. Luisa also took time to explain the grape varieties, how the process and bottling methods varied and the regions the wines came from.
One thing that was apparent throughout the night when talking to the other attendees was that most of them were returners, having attended Filippo Berio’s supper clubs at La Cucina Caldesi before. Around 75 per cent of the attendees had been before. What greater endorsement can you have? Clearly my fellow attendees enjoy these events so much they’re coming back time after time.
The team of chefs at La Cucina Caldesi were amazing: keen to help, able to explain without dumbing down and all done with a great sense of humour (I also particularly liked the added authenticity of them only speaking to each other in Italiano, and as a language learner this was extra interesting). The Filippo Berio staff also need a mention: Lisa, Clodagh and Louisa had organised a fabulous event and were themselves helpful with information about the oils and also got stuck in cooking – and, of course, joined in with devouring the food. Finally, a mention for our wine expert Luisa who actually, genuinely helped me to experience a wine tasting without it being wasted on me. That was a first! And, as a last incentive to anyone thinking about booking on a Filippo Berio cooking event, there’s always a bag of goodies to take home including two of my favourites at the moment: the chilli flavoured olive oil and the tomato and ricotta pesto. A mini bottle of Zonin 1821 Prosecco and a set of barbecue tools (relevant for this al fresco food event) were welcome additions too.
Filippo Berio invited me to attend this event in order to write a review and take photos.
For more information and booking please see the Filippo Berio events webpage