When I first mentioned to my friend, Isabella Dusi in Montalcino, that I would come across in October to help plan out our fundraising campaign for Quartiere Pianello (more on this when we launch our Indigogo campaign shortly!), I never imagined that the week would evolve into the amazing and fun week that it did! First, my brother, Joey, who recently left his big corporate job to explore new horizons in the food and tech world, decided to tag along for a week of ‘relaxation’. When I mentioned this to Isabella, a seed was planted. It wasn’t long before she came back with the idea of scheduling a dinner at Pianello to cook for the villagers. I gave it serious and grave consideration for about 3 nanoseconds before I agreed for both my brother and I. (My brother’s week of relaxation was forever shot to hell!) Then my dear friend Deb, a professional caterer, and her amazing pastry-chef daughter, Kaylen, jumped on board and our fate was sealed!
Little did we know that we were about to become ‘celebrity masterchefs’ for a day!
We arrived in the village and began to notice the posters announcing the ‘celebrity masterchef’ dinner plastered all around the village. (No pressure there!) We then met with Isabella to plan out the menu but first a stop at our favorite wine shop, Enoteca Pierangioli, in Montalcino to say hi to Stefania who would be helping out during the week!
Over a few glasses of Brunello, we decided that it would be great fun if we added to the menu some American-inspired dishes using Tuscan ingredients. So along with our Italian dishes, roast pork became pulled pork sliders; American cole slaw became fennel cole slaw; and baked beans transformed into baked cannellini beans. And then our amazing pastry chef, Kaylen was game to try pumkin pie! Our menu was born!
The next day, we shopped! So how do you get the ingredients necessary for a dinner to feed over 50 people from the very top of the hills in a medieval village to the kitchen at the bottom in Pianello? Via grocery carts of course!! We stopped at the butcher, the bakery, the farmer’s market, the vegetable store and the grocery store and loaded up two huge shopping carts to the brim. Along the way, Isabella was asked if we were the ‘celebrity masterchefs’, which left us giggling to no end. Our smiles and chests grew wider with each passing comment. And then the fun began as we wheeled our produce-laden grocery carts down steep hills and cobblestones, through the main piazza and down the main street to the kitchen of Pianello. How we laughed!
Finally, it was time for the ‘celebrity masterchefs’ to show their stuff. We spent the day cooking together in the kitchen – and what a ballet we were. We mixed and stired, measured and tasted. We giggled and cried (from all the onion chopping!). Isabella and our dear friends, Ofelia and Lisa, joined in on the prep efforts. And Kaylen proved her merit by figuring out how the hell to make dough for our focaccia (how do we convert live yeast to US dry yeast measurements?) and her amazing pumpkin pie (what in the world do I do with that strange looking pumpkin?!?)
And then it was show time! The guests began to arrive downstairs. Wine was poured. The celebrity master chefs served the antipasti – roasted tomato focaccia; caramelized onion and gorgonzola focaccia; stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto; smoked salmon on a bed of cucumber. Smiles all around with a few rounds of singing in our honor – one course down! Next up, the pasta. Just before we were about to bring out the pasta, Francesco, the President of Pianello, came up and with a big smile on his face, thanked us for being brave by serving pasta to Italians. (Uh-oh – this pasta had BETTER be al dente!) And al dente they were – our rigatoni with wilted kale, saffron creme and crispy prosciutto along with Deb’s fusilli with ricotta, lemon and garlic chips both proved to be hits. And then we served the American barbecue-inspired main course – would they hate it? We watched as smiles spread across their faces – giggling at the odd yet fun dishes before them. Our pastry chef Kaylen hit it out of the park with her pumpkin pie!! They LOVED it – many coming back for seconds.
At the end of the eve, Francesco welcomed us up to the front of the room to offer his heartfelt thanks and present us with official Quartiere Pianello membership cards, aprons and Tshirts. Teary-eyed we were as the guests sang us a cheer in our honor. Guests slowly began to depart amidst smiles and sincere gratitude.
The ‘celebrity masterchefs’ had pulled it off, enjoying every single minute of the experience. Memories for us to last a lifetime…..
And to our wonderful guests from Pianello and Montalcino, the honor and privilege to cook for you in your wonderful village and sede was all ours. There are few words to express the amount of gratitude we feel in our hearts for welcoming us into your arms with such love.
Michele, Joey, Deb, Kaylen