Chef David Bull always dreamed of visiting Italy, the birthplace of his great grandfather. He even credits growing up working at his family's Italian-American restaurant in upstate New York with his love for the restaurant business. "There's always been an Italian influence on food out of respect for my family," he says. But graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and building the nationally acclaimed Congress Restaurant didn't leave much time for vacations.
When Bull's friend Monica Paredes approached him to co-host a food and wine tour of Tuscany, his response was a spirited, "Absolutely!" In July, the two will escort a group of 16 travelers from Austin on a five-day trip to the region known for Chianti wine and as the birthplace of the Renaissance. "There was definitely no arm twisting involved," Bull recalls. "It was the perfect opportunity to be immersed in Italian culture and the culinary side and also have the perfect guide coordinating and planning it."
Bull and Paredes first met while she was a culinary student at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and volunteered to help his crew during the Austin City Limits Music Festival. "We became good friends because I really appreciated all of her volunteer work," he says. He had no idea, though, that she actually had 20 years of experience in the corporate world prior to her culinary training. Some of her favorite projects involved planning trips as part of rewards and recognition programs at Fortune 500 companies. Paredes has also traveled extensively throughout Italy and is fluent in Italian.
Of all the regions of Italy, Tuscany is her favorite. "It's really a special place to me, one of those places where it's almost ideal to get lost," Paredes explains. She first laid eyes on the site of the group's accommodations on one of her trips and knew the vineyard perched on top of famous rolling hills would be the perfect place to host a food and wine tour. "I just fell in love with it the first time I went."
In fact, the local family who runs the vineyard will be on-site during the trip. There will be several other opportunities to meet locals, too. "We picked the most real, authentic experiences we could find," Paredes says. One highlight will be meeting the most famous butcher in Tuscany to discuss his philosophy of how every part of the animal integrates into the cycle of life. The group will then enjoy lunch at his restaurant.
The focus of the trip, however, will be Chef Bull’s daily cooking classes. On most days, the group will get up early to look at produce and other ingredients at the market. After various excursions to the region’s famous towns like Florence and Siena, they will return to the vineyard for a cooking class in the late afternoon. Bull plans to teach in a somewhat progressive style, starting with simple tastings and studying flavor profiles, and then advancing to more complex cooking techniques.
The group is already getting acquainted thanks to series of food and culture related events leading up to the trip. While in Tuscany, Chef Bull will be available to ask any type of food or cooking related questions. They'll be especially fortunate to have intimate access to his mind as he experiences Italy for the first time. "This trip to Tuscany was the perfect opportunity for me to be immersed in the culture and culinary side of the region. I’m expecting to be completely inspired," he says.
There are currently two spots available, and there are tentative plans to do another trip in 2016. Find more information at authentictoscana.com.