We spent a week with my father, his wife, and their family exploring the countryside and eating fabulous large meals – the meticulously crafted peasant fare that has come to define Italy, and rightfully so. Traveling with a large family, including small children, is a challenge – especially when you are single with no children. However, I would never trade that experience for the world!
That said, when the week with the family ended, I was sad to see them go, but I was excited for a little adventure I had planned for myself for my remaining few days. Under the guise of a business trip, I left the Roman countryside for three days and nights at the Tuscan seashore. My plan: to visit a vacation cooking school called Toscana Saporita on the Camporomano estate near Lucca, where owner Sandra Lotti has been holding court for over a decade. Despite the scenery, the fabulous food and wine, and the beautiful men (more on that in a bit!), meeting Sandra was the highlight of my journey.
Toscana Saporita was recommended by a colleague who had visited in the past – our schools have an ongoing relationship; several of our alumni work, or have worked, with Sandra over the years. In preparing me for my visit, I was told, “the woman who runs the school is a real Diva”… given the source of the remark, I considered this high praise and looked forward to the visit even more! However, it certainly did not prepare me for the whirlwind of energy, knowledge, and passion for life in a blonde wig that is Sandra!
To say she is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about her culture and sharing it barely scratches the surface. Diva-hood is a big part of her charm (no wilting flower here) – she has a heart of gold and a tiara to match! Sandra does not simply teach, cook, and write of Tuscan food and culture, she exalts it… she preaches with the zeal of the most devout evangelist… from food selection to the cooking vessel to accompaniments chosen, she has a sermon for each step of the way. Then she feeds you – before the primi is over, you are hooked for life!
Like any good Diva, Sandra does all this surrounded by a crew of talented, passionate, warm-hearted, fun, and incredibly beautiful young men! During my visit, each played a role in a well-orchestrated interactive performance that drew the guests into their inner circle of private jokes, familial play, friendly competition, and absolute passion for good food. I’d never leave my kitchen if I shared it with these guys!
I mentioned a blonde wig. Sandra recently completed chemotherapy for breast cancer and is eagerly awaiting the return of her hair. In the meantime, she dons a sassy blonde wig that has a personality all its own! To me, everything about Sandra was inspiration enough already… the fact that she is a breast cancer survivor who continued to inspire students each day throughout her treatment, and continues to live life at a level of passion and intensity that would exhaust the average person, only make her more fabulous!