After winding among the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast to the town of Ravello, we pass a café with the older gentlemen of the village playing poker under a carved-out rock made into a crescent moon.
The entrance to Mamma Agata Cooking School doesn’t look like much: just a stone wall with a little door. On the red door there are white, wide brushstrokes – so many of them it looked like they kept testing the paints. Did it a million times, but all the same color.
We ring the bell. A helper-outer answers it. Says ‘hello’ with a warm welcome.
We were the first ones alone on the terrace with a beautifully set table overlooking the sea. Then suddenly, Chiara pretty much the warmest person you will ever meet — never met a person as warm as that — greeted us with a big ‘hello’ in such a way that no one can replicate it. People started arriving and everyone was so nice. Chiara introduced each one as they arrived and gave each a little nickname – “The Newlyweds” or “The Couple from North Carolina.” Hearing my name is Luc and that I’m from New York, she dubbed me “Luca the Lion King” – since she loved seeing the Lion King on Broadway. It felt like you were automatically part of their family.
Chiara gives us the whole run-down of everything we could possibly need to know. The history of Mamma Agata – the cooking school and the chef.
We start with a slice of Mamma Agata’s signature lemon cake. I’m not usually a big fan of birthday cake. I’d rather have chocolate cake – only the ganache kind, not the spongy one. This was the moistest cake, I or, I think, anyone has, would or will ever taste. It was such a joy to have that cake. It was the starting point and everything took off from there.
We go into this old little home kitchen yet it had funny industrial touches. A small, two burner stove in one corner with this gigantic industrial black stove with flames that just flared in the center of the kitchen.
And center stage behind it was Mamma Agata. She was frying eggplant. You could smell how delicious it was going to be. I was lucky to get the best spot in the room. There were fans on the other side of the kitchen and every time she cooked something, the fans would blow the smell toward me!
The first dish we made was Eggplant Parmesan. It wasn’t a typical lesson – it was less hands-on and more of a demonstration with the best tips on cooking that you could ever receive – practical, helpful, useful in making any food more delicious. There is no doubt that these tips are from 200 years of tradition.
For the eggplant parmesan, we learned that you slice the eggplant, but not too thin. Sprinkle with salt all over it to draw out the water. Then you wash all the salt then wring out the eggplant of all the water to keep it from getting mushy. The amount of layers – all the cheese, sauce and eggplant – at least five layers went into a clear baking dish. You had to see it to believe it.
When we took a break, we explored the garden that was really a farm on a cliff-side hill. The best way for me to describe it was like tiers on a cake. One tier down you have zucchini and tomatoes. The next level is the wine cellar. Next level is lemon groves. Then lemon groves again. There were turkeys and chickens and bunnies and cats and dogs. It was a sight to seen. The views were un-, un- unbelievable. It was amazing. It was such an experience. I don’t want to tell you everything, because you should book and experience it for yourself.