Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Cucina! New market cooking school teaches the culture of food

Florence’s San Lorenzo market has a shiny new upper floor, where the best producers have “botteghe” at which you can buy ingredients or have them prepared to eat there. Now a new cooking school run by study-abroad veteran Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici, called Cucina LdM, combines a cooking class with a market tour, focusing on excellent ingredients and perfect technique. I was invited to give the place a test run.

The cooking school

The cooking school

The concept behind Cucina LdM is to bring a bit of higher education in Italian cuisine to the general public, in the unique space of the central market. LdM has been teaching language and culture in Florence for 40 years, and their main campus is in the San Lorenzo area. When the opportunity came up to manage the cooking school in the nearby market, the school seized it as a way to provide an even higher level of instruction to their students. On weekdays, LdM students occupy the fish-bowl like space, observed by passersby and professional-looking in their white aprons. At mealtimes, evenings and weekends, Cucina LdM is available to the general public.

Amy Gulick, my baking partner

Amy Gulick, my baking partner

Enjoying getting my hands into batter

Enjoying getting my hands into batter

Taking a class at Cucina LdM was unlike any other cooking class I’ve done because of the professional set up of this space. 16 individual workspaces by Arc Linea are equipped with induction cooktops, stoves, sinks, and everything the chef needs to prepare her own recipe. While there are opportunities for group work – Amy Gulick of Bittersweet Gourmet and I paired up on our dessert-making experience – this school is 100% hands on. It’s also kind of like you’re in an episode of MasterChef because you’re wearing a professional apron and being watched by a captive audience outside. With the difference that there are no mean judges!

Meeting the owner and the chefs

Meeting the owner and the chefs

Our Cucina experience began with a presentation of the upcoming courses, which are essentially of two types. At lunch or dinner, there’s an easygoing and well-priced option called A Tavola con lo Chef: 30 euro gets you a cooking demonstration in which you learn to make a recipe, and then eat it around the chef’s station with the matching wine. A fun way to spend a meal with a friend or with newly met strangers, this class takes 1.5 hours.

Professional chefs / Photo Marco Badiani

Professional chefs / Photo Marco Badiani

The 4 hour classes, on the other hand, take place on Friday nights or weekends. These focus on a specific technique or ingredient, and are taught by chefs who excel in their fields. On board are, for example, Aldo Ventre of Pane & Olio, an expert in prime materials and Domenico di Clemente, Executive Pastry Chef at Florence’s Four Seasons Hotel. While the cost is higher than the market average, you can see why: you’ve got your own workstation, a professional chef, the best ingredients bought right there in the market, and you also get to take home the awesome apron. We tasted a few dishes made by these chefs and I’ll just let you feast your eyes….

Polpo on mashed potato

Polpo on mashed potato

Zucchini purée with a drop of cheese, cooked sottovuoto

Zucchini purée with a drop of cheese, cooked sottovuoto

Sardine macaroons (weird)

Sardine macaroons (weird)

After sampling these items to make sure they were good… we moved on to a tour of the market led by its director Umberto Montano.

The mozzarella bottega is my favourite / photo Marco Badiani

The mozzarella bottega is my favourite / photo Marco Badiani

Normally, if you participate in a class here, it’s the chef who will accompany you to the vendors at which you’ll buy your ingredients, and you’ll get to talk to the people who produce them and know them best. I’ll be returning to the market soon to photograph and write a longer article about it!

Back in the kitchen, we definitely needed something sweet! Time to learn to make a really useful batter. We made individual cupcakes, but one can make a largish flat cake or even a thin sheet out of this buttery, hand-mixed batter, thus it can be used to make a jelly roll, layer cake, or just eaten on its own.

Cupcakes just out of the oven

Cupcakes just out of the oven

We got to take these home

We got to take these home – photo Marco Badiani

Contact information

Cucina LdM – www.cucinaldm.com

Location and info box: Mercato Centrale, first floor

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Jenna Francisco

    Looks so fun, but I agree that that sardine macaron is weird. The 1.5 hour class sounds like a fun activity for people visiting Florence, but can non-Italian speakers take part?

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Jenna
    I don’t know how they deal with classes when there are both Italians and non-italian speakers, but the chefs all speak english and can handle classes for foreigners, who are indeed one of the main targets of the cooking school, as you can imagine!
    AMK