LoveSicily in The Time of Corona Virus
This time of the year, when wildflowers and herbs dot the Sicilian countryside, the smell of orange blossoms pervades every corner of the island and the golden glow of the early morning sun lights up Modica’s baroque churches and palazzi, I am used to standing at the top of the stairs around 10.00 am waving at guests slowly making their way to my cooking school.
Once they reach the front door, that first contact is followed by a vigorous handshake, a cup of coffee or a glass of almond milk served on the terrace with Sicilian pastries. During those initial moments, I leave room for silence and let the stunning beauty of Modica and the jaw-dropping façade of Saint George's Cathedral do all the talking. This is my welcome ritual.
This ice-breaking moment is when I understand how the cooking class will go. From this first encounter, I can start guessing if back at the top of the stairs, after the lesson, we will part with a polite smile, a friendly handshake or a warm hug.
In this ‘no-travel, no-handshake, no-hug, keep-social-distance’ time imposed by the world pandemic, my morning spring ritual before the cooking classes is not going to happen for a while.
I have not missed it so far, I have been too busy figuring out family life in quarantine with two kids, worrying about the situation in Italy, reaching out to families and friends in other parts of the world to warn them about the dangers and to check if they are fine. But this morning, spring hit me straight in the face, my senses awaken by that powerful rebirth of nature which is now so intertwined to my welcome ritual. In my mind, it has come to feel as natural as the warmer temperature, the wildflowers, the orange blossoms, the swallow birds.
I miss welcoming guests in my kitchen. I miss that sort of feeling before I meet them, when I cannot know exactly what they expect, how much experience they have had in the kitchen, if they are adventurous with food or prefer to keep it simple. But above all, I miss the human contact, sharing thoughts, experiences and world views while we cook together and when we sit around the table with a glass of wine under the auspices of Saint George.
I admire many colleagues of mine who have already set-up online classes. I have always embraced all the great things the digital revolution has allowed us to achieve. This month I have been involved in several on-line food-related events. I will probably start with on-line classes as well in the very near future, but I think we all know it is not going to be the same.
A small group cooking class is as much about the recipes as it is about that special human connection that food and wine have the power to spark. The web is exploding with food channels, food videos, written recipes, video recipes, live food sessions, in all possible style of cuisine, for all levels, for all tastes, in all possible languages, from premium masterclasses with your Michelin star favorite chef to free content from grannies to kids cooking their way into the digital world.
It’s the human contact that made a cooking class different, sharing time together doing something we love. It’s holding a guest’s hand to explain how to turn the thumb on a gnocchi-board to make a ‘cavatello’, adapting a recipe as you go when you understand a person’s preferences, savoring fresh ricotta... It’s stopping everything to go on the terrace to find out who is singing Nessun Dorma!
How can we possibly replicate that atmosphere on-line? I don’t think it is possible, we can only hope to get as close as possible. I will approach all this in the only way I know, through research and hard work, with passion and love.
“Love becomes greater and nobler in calamity.” Gabriel García Márquez, Love in The Time of Cholera