Who doesn't need a vacation? The problem is finding a good excuse to take one. Just prior to this year's trip to the World Pizza Championships in Italy I learned of an educational program in the culinary world called cooking vacations. The name intrigued me, so after a little research and calls I learned of a fellow in Positano, Italy, named Marco Predieri who offers these tax-deductible, educational, relaxing cooking vacations.

Just from that last sentence you are probably already interested, yes? If it wasn't the "relaxing" or "vacation" part, it was probably the "tax-deductible" part. Let me explain a little about what cooking vacations are. First, it is just what it says…a vacation where you learn to cook, but without all the stress of trying to remember all of the details many cooking schools ram down your throat. Usually, once you're finished with a cooking class you are tired and stressed out hoping you remembered everything they tried to teach you in a short time. It's like when you were in school and cramming for final exams. This new trend of teaching the culinary arts eliminates a lot of the stress while providing an environment to help you retain what you saw and experienced.

I spoke with Marco just prior to leaving for Italy and the World Pizza Championship and told him I was interested in learning more about cooking vacations. He told me to come on down, and he would give me the dime tour and show me…it would be a lot easier to understand if I experienced it in person. Not being one to argue with a trip to Naples, I took him up on the offer.

When I arrived in Naples, Marco picked me up and we made the short scenic drive around the coastline to a little town of about 3,000 people called Positano. As part of his cooking vacations, clients stay in Marco's 300 year-old house that boasts of one of the most beautiful views of the Gulf of Naples in the town. While my trip was the abbreviated version, lasting only three days and two nights, it gave me a taste of what those who come to Marco experience.

The first afternoon, we sat and he told me about the house and the town and showed me my room and said, "While you are staying here, this is your house. Make yourself at home and treat it like you would your own." No problem, except my house doesn't have three balcony/patios overlooking the town, or a built-in stone deck pizza oven, or orange trees right outside the door. I could get used to this.

On the second day we ventured out to Sorrento and visited two pizzerias. While riding, Marco explained to me about the local agriculture. The area is known for its lemon trees, the famous San Marzano tomatoes and other local delicacies. The cooking is distinctive southern Italian.

The third day Marco said I should venture down into the town and down to the beach. He pointed me in the direction of a couple of his favorite pizzerias and off I went. Now this was living. I stopped and talked with Dominique and his daughter, Mary Lou, owners of Saraceno d' Oro, who made me a wonderful Neopolitan pizza. When I tried to pay, they refused to let me. I could definitely get used to this kind of hospitality. That afternoon, one of Marco's chefs, Rosa, showed me how to make traditional fried pizza. Now I have eaten a few pizzas in my life and these fried pizzas rank up in my Top 5.

Marco says that his cooking vacations can be tailored around any specific theme visitors desire. You can come and learn how to create traditional pizzas, seafood entrees, pastas or other local cuisines. Recently a group came to Marco wanting to learn specifically about lemons, so Marco scheduled trips to local lemon orchards and cooking classes around the theme. Most cooking vacations last six days and five nights. Marco said the one thing he tries to do is arrange cooking vacations in a manner that allows clients to spend half their time learning recipes and cooking techniques and half of their time enjoying the scenery and relaxing.

If you would like to learn more about cooking vacations, contact Marco at mailto:marco.predieri@flashnet.it.

Pizza News