As the Mom and primary chef of my family, a true luxury of our Inspirato tour of Tuscany was the night we spent dining-in with chef Beppe Sposito at Villa Collina. During the planning phase of our trip, our Destination Concierge, Barbara, suggested we bring in a local chef and then followed through with the necessary arrangements. We enjoyed a three course meal prepared in the kitchen and served in the dining hall of our villa.
Chef Beppe arrived at the villa about two hours before our prearranged dinner time and began preparations. It was obvious that he was familiar with the kitchen at Villa Collina and did not require our assistance, but what amazed me was that our three-year-old son was completely fascinated by Beppe, and was welcomed into the kitchen and even allowed to help Beppe roll out the homemade gnocchi. Turns out Beppe is not only a renowned chef at local Castello Banfi in nearby Montalcino, but a father of two who competently juggled the kitchen and our enamored little boy. I wish I could say the same of myself when it comes to the nightly meal preparation!
With the older children occupied at the tennis court and our son engaged in the kitchen we took the opportunity to open a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most coveted wines, and watch the sun make its descent over the Tuscan hills. With just the right amount of time to relax and reflect on our destination and surroundings, it was time for the first course, locally grown field-green salad with buffalo mozzarella, lightly fried Pecorino cheese bites and squash blossom fritters. My husband is somewhat of a fried-cheese aficionado. He loves the stuff, but it’s usually of the heavily breaded mozzarella version, pardon the pun, but like you’d find at your local cheesy sports bar. His eyes widened as the plates were brought to us and he realized what he was about to eat. Even I, a bit more health conscious and of a mind to stay away from food like fried cheese, couldn’t resist. I though I was going to have to pop him like a helium balloon gone rogue as he ingested the lightly breaded fried Pecorino cheese and seemed to float to the ceiling in ecstasy.
Now a wine connoisseur would probably cringe at the fact that we started the meal with the same Brunello that we had opened earlier, but we are just regular people from Colorado, and frankly, had never experienced a treat like Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Banfi, so it was what we drank for each course, and luckily Beppe was not such a food or wine snob as to reprimand us for our selection.
On to the second course, aforementioned hand rolled gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella gratin. We thought the fact that our son participated in the making of this gnocchi made it all the more tasty! No telling where his grimy little hands had been prior to the hand-rolling, but we didn’t mind.
Between retreats to the kitchen to plate and serve the various courses, we chatted with Beppe as translated through our traveling partner Daniela, who speaks Romanian, French, English and Italian, with Beppe answering all of our questions about his training, family, life as an Italian, and so on. Then we had our third course, chicken “Cacciatora” style, with tomatoes and locally grown olives, fried potatoes, mushroom polenta, and diced seasoned spring vegetables sauteed to perfection.
By the time we finished we were stuffed and satisfied beyond measure. We’d learned that Beppe is from a small hilltop village on the Amalfi coast outside of Naples and had worked as a chef for several restaurants in Italy, Paris and London, including Michelin starred restaurants Perbelini near Venice and Il Ciocco in Tuscany. He moonlights for travelers at local villas after days spent in the kitchen at renowned Castello Banfi to support his family during Italy’s tough austerity measures. His companionship and skills made the night a genuine treat, and I haven’t even mentioned desert!
Typical Americans, we had asked for Tiramisu in advance. Stuffed almost to the point of misery, if that is possible, we were staring down large portions of creamy tiramisu. After a couple of bites, mine went into the refrigerator and I headed upstairs to make sure the kids were getting their teeth brushed and ready for bed while my dining companions polished off their wine and desert. I came back down a little later to find the massive dining room had been cleared and the kitchen cleaned to perfection.
I cannot imagine a more perfect way to end a great night of relaxed eating, drinking and conversation, a true Tuscan dining experience. We thanked Beppe profusely on his way out, then went to bed, satisfied to the fullest and lamenting the fact that we were heading home the next day.