Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where'd they stay, what'd they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?
In 2013, East Village institution Hearth is celebrating its tenth year as one of the city’s top Italian restaurants. Exuding a laid-back downtown vibe, the cooking is anything but casual thanks to chef-owner Marco Canora’s constant evolution as a chef and creative thinker. Canora’s culinary chops were refined in Florence, Italy, where he worked under chef Fabio Picchi. Every year, Canora returns to the country to teach a week-long cooking class — and to soak up a little Tuscan sun. He told us about his trip.
What was the main purpose of your trip?
This was my annual cooking trip to Italy, where I teach a week-long cooking school at Villa Montecastelli — a 1,000-year-old restored villa and working farm located right outside of Siena in the Tuscan countryside.
What were the students like this time? What was their skill level?
Those who participate definitely have an interest in food and cooking, though no formal training is required. This year, everyone could hold a knife and had at least some cooking experience.
What was the highlight?
For me, it was watching a local Italian butcher prepare a 170-pound pig, porchetta-style, and roast it in a pizza oven. It was…amazing.
There actually was one — a 15-minute hail storm that destroyed the 3,000 olive trees on the property and demolished plants in the garden. The hail was like a machine gun; it came through and pulverized everything.
What airline did you fly and how was it?
I flew Delta. I'm proud to report the trip went off without a hitch, which is so rare. The planes were brand new and there were no delays.
Where'd you stay, and what's your mini-review of the place?
I stayed at the Villa Montecastelli. Like I said, it's a 1,000-year-old restored villa, so it's just kind of perfect. It's on top of a hill with nothing around it so you have 360-degree views of this idyllic, Tuscan landscape. The owner, Jens Schmidt, raises guinea hens and chickens, pigs, has a huge garden and swimming pool, and this cool room for charcuterie filled with hanging meats.
What was your best meal on the trip?
Boy, that's tough. My favorite was probably when we cooked bistecca alla Fiorentina — sausage, Italian-style pork rib and more, all over an open-fire grill. That would definitely have to be the one.
Are you adding anything to the menu at Hearth that was inspired by the trip?
The tomato salad that's on Hearth's menu right now is inspired by my trip. It's made with Sicilian tuna, celery, red onion, cranberry beans and basil. Hearth's steak for two is also a direct reflection of that amazing meal of grilled meats I had in Italy. It's a 20 oz. sirloin, sliced thinly and fanned out on the plate. It's served at room temperature and is a great summertime way to eat steak.
Next trip you are planning…
I'm actually heading out to Martha's Vineyard right now for our annual family vacation. Every year we get together for a traditional New England lobster bake on the beach.