Imagine mama, what it would feel like to stimulate the right side of your brain, the creative side. Would it feel fun? Relaxing? Would you feel more alive? Today I am interviewing Chef Guido and Sally of Convivio Rome Italian Cooking Holidays. They will re-invigorate your passion for cooking so you can enjoy the benefits that this wonderful outlet has to offer.
Facebook Page: Convivio Rome Cooking Holidays
Carol: Hello and welcome. I’m your host and the founder of Just Breathe Mama Coach. I’m a coach for moms and I help them navigate the overwhelm to create a more manageable life. And one way to do that is by discovering or rediscovering your passions. I’m going to be interviewing experts who will hopefully inspire you to explore your passions. I have a very special guest I’d like to introduce you today, a couple of guests actually: Chef Guido and Sally of Convivio Rome Italian Cooking Holidays. Welcome, I’m really happy to have you here.
Carol: Chef Guido is an eighth generation Roman who was born and raised in Rome, the capital of Italy. He is a former food editor and also lived in England and Australia for a number of years. Upon his return to Italy, Guido, and his Australian wife, Sally, decided to settle in the Sabine Hills. It’s a beautiful countryside area, famous for its olive oil and located just 30 miles North of Rome. Here Guido and Sally have been running cooking classes, cooking holidays, olive tours and wine tours for 15 years. Since March, 2020, when all international tourism was halted, they quickly reinvented and retrained themselves and went online. Since then, they have been running live cooking classes via zoom. Plus Guido’s cook club, a monthly membership on Italian cuisine and culture. Again, welcome Sally and Guido. I’m really happy to have you here.
Sally: Thank you for inviting us along. We’re excited.
Carol: All right, let’s dive right in. So how did your passion for cooking come about? How did you become a chef?
Chef Guido: As you mentioned before, I’ve been a food editor. I always had a passion for food and seeing the best ingredients and this is something that came from my family being originally from the North side of Rome. I was kind of already on the way to this beautiful area where we live, which is the Sabine Hills, where a lot of great food is actually produced. So a lot of the great cheese and all the different types of food, of course the olive oil that’s sold in Rome actually came from here.
Chef Guido: So as a child I already knew this area and already developed a great, first taste for the wonderful food that was used here. There are very traditional techniques that are in common with other regions of Italy that are not far away including Tuscany and Umbria. They’re actually not too far from here.
Chef Guido: So, then I ended up working in publishing as food editor for a couple of Italian food magazines and that was a great experience meeting with a lot of the great Italian chefs and learning from them as well. When I came back from Australia to Italy, we settled here and we thought there is such a great choice of great food and great ingredients that you can source right here, why not start a cooking school? So that’s what we did. And our approach was always very friendly and relaxed. So it was never meant to be a cooking school where you got your own cooking station and everything is taken very seriously. I mean we are serious but we are all cooking together, it’s a party so we are all having fun and that’s always been our approach.
Carol: That sounds nice. It sounds like a really family and friend type of experience. Oh, that’s so nice. Oh my goodness, I think I would’ve become a chef too if I lived in Italy. *laughs* The food is so good there! It’s so delicious. So with everyone being at home and cooking more (and these days I find that moms are cooking a lot of chicken and they’re not liking chicken so much anymore) I want to inspire moms and their partners to create something that’s tasty and different and fun. I saw that you offered live cooking classes, virtual cooking classes and I wanted to know if you could tell me a little bit more about that.
Chef Guido: Yeah, as we mentioned before, since March 2020, we quickly went online. We kept doing exactly what we were doing in my cooking classes, no different than the ones I used to give in person when we had international guests, but it’s just a different technique because obviously we do it on Zoom, but the spirit is the same. And as long as it’s Italian traditional, we’re all about Italian traditional cuisine, there are a million recipes that we can do. So many that actually only take a few minutes, only maybe 20 minutes and some other ones that might take a little longer, so we call them weekend cooking classes or recipes. But a lot of them actually quite simple. A lot of Italian cuisine is simple, delicious, healthy, very few ingredients.
Sally: That’s what Guido teaches, it’s like a blend of flavors. Italian cuisine is fairly simple, but the result is delicious and the recipes that we teach, most are very quick and easy. So I think that’s probably just the inspiration of adding a few extra herbs in there that you didn’t think of before that would change a dish completely. So it’s a great technique.
Chef Guido: Absolutely and that’s all in the classical Italian cuisine repertoire, so that’s what we use really. And we can do anything, we’ve been giving pizza classes, fresh pasta, gnocchi, carbonara, risotto, etc.
Carol: I’m getting so hungry. I love Italian food. Oh my goodness.
Chef Guido: Plus I have a whole lot of traditional Roman dishes that are typically Roman as well which I learned from my family through the generations. Desserts, baking, anything really.
Sally: Vegetarian dishes as well and we do requests. We have a lot of people, not everybody, but a lot of people are sort of American Italian, as in they’ve got some sort of Italian background so they remember this dish that their grandmother used to make but can’t remember what it is (exactly), so they ask us to replicate it and we’ll find the traditional recipe. So it’s that sort of inspiration of, they’ve got the memory for the food and they just love the way that we sort of revive the food again. So it’s to inspire people to enjoy cooking again.
Chef Guido: Also another aspect is that everything is from home. So we are here Italy, first of all we are in Italy for real and we can show the view later. *laughs* And I’m Italian so everything is very authentic. Also it’s home cooking so everyone can do it. I mean pizza, people think, “Oh, you need a proper pizza oven or professional equipment.” It’s not true, you can make pizza out of your home oven. My oven is like anyone else’s oven, it’s actually very, very average, nothing special about it. And so that’s the point, you can cook wonderful food and you don’t need any special equipment at all.
Carol: That’s really nice to know. I think you pretty much went over your meal options with gnocchi or pizza, so you can pretty much concoct anything, right?
Sally: Absolutely. If they want to do dessert, tiramisu or other classic desserts or pasta dishes. There’s a lot of really quick dishes that we can put together or teach. And of course, when we’re doing the virtual cooking classes we provide the recipes, we send out the shopping list, we give the list of kitchen utensils, and we just get people to get everything. So all the ingredients way beforehand and then you’ve got a really good flow. And for us, the most important thing is people have fun. I mean, that’s really the most important thing and we just keep pace with each other. So sometimes people will have a little bit to drink while they’re cooking with us online. So we just slow down the pace a little bit too. *laughs*
Chef Guido: Yeah, it tends to slow down a little bit. *laughs*
Sally: But it’s fun! You know, we talk about a lot of stories behind the dishes as well. So it’s not just – these are the ingredients and this is how you cook – but there’s a whole lot of stories, history, tales, you know?
Chef Guido: I’ll tell you the story of the recipe, why a recipe is called that. I can tell you all about it and the origin of the recipe. With the carbonara, I always tell the story of the carbonara. So it’s about people making coal, making charcoal actually, out of wood up in the mountains. That’s why it’s called carbonara because they ate pasta and all they had was some eggs that they would take with them, away from home.
Chef Guido: So carbonara is made out of things that you take when you’re going to be away from home for maybe four weeks. You take your eggs, you take your bacon, one challot, your dry pasta, a little black pepper, and you’re done. So that’s why I’m actually able to do this, because I’m from Rome and a lot of the origin of things, the history of things as well, I can tell you the stories of all these recipes as well and how they originated.
Carol: Fantastic. It seems like it’s so much more than just classes – it’s an experience. That’s really nice. Yeah, I love that.
Sally: That’s what we do. Before we used to do this in person, so really, it’s never been just a cooking class or just cooking holiday or whatever, where we’re offering a tour, we’re doing the whole experience. You know, we want people to feel that we’re going into their home when it’s virtual and they’re coming into our home when it’s in person, or both. So it’s that sort of idea that there’s a personal family touch coming directly from Italy.
Carol: I love that. So what other programs or classes do you offer? Is it, primarily just the Zoom classes at the moment?
Chef Guido: At the moment, because obviously we’ve always had international tourists come through and all international tourism at the moment is stopped, of course. Hopefully we’ll reopen later on in the year. We’ve been primarily giving Zoom classes, but also as mentioned before, it could be a Zoom class and we also have this little membership club. That’s also a lot of fun. We already had quite a few members actually already.
Carol: And that’s monthly, right? It’s not yearly. You can pay monthly for that?
Sally: Yeah, you can pay monthly. We got live cooking classes with recipes as well. There’s also a live Q and A and there’s a cultural video. So we try and combine the food, of course the food is a big part of the Italian culture, but also there’s a cultural side or historical side. And Guido is the source of all information so therefore during our question and answer session that’s live on Zoom, it’s all interactive, we want it to be. And even if people can’t make it live, it’s all recorded so people can easily join in at any time. If it’s not convenient at that time of day and they can join later.
Chef Guido: It’s a lot of fun. You know, the cultural video can be a shot in Rome. The other day we were there talking about some of the back streets, where people never go to, and a few stories about those. And last time we went to a country fair to see the countryside and a whole lot of things happened behind the scenes that shouldn’t have been happening, but we just kept filming. *laughs* It’s very candid and very real.
Carol: *Laughs* I like that. I love that actually!
Chef Guido: It’s very, very cultural and it’s a lot of fun. So it’s a lot of fun for us to make the videos and people have a lot fun. Just the other day one of our members said, “Guido, you showed me this backstreet, this is exactly my favorite spot in Rome. I’ve been staying at that BNB and going to that restaurant.”
Carol: Oh, that’s fantastic. I love that, the real authentic Italian experience. Especially for those people that can’t travel right now. They’re getting a piece of Rome or a piece of the Sabine Hills.
Chef Guido: Of course when things re-open we’ll go back to giving cooking classes in person, wine tours and olive tours in the area. And cooking holidays where people come here and stay in our area in and in our accommodation actually for three or four nights.
Sally: Where the accomodation and where the cooking holidays are based, it’s a mini little hilltop village. So you get the whole experience of living in a village, as well as the cooking experience. So we take you on wine tours, olive tours, we take you for tours around the other medieval villages that are around because this space is spectacular. And very few people have heard of the Sabine Hills, but it’s probably very similar to Umbria in many ways, landscape wise.
Chef Guido: And some parts of Tuscany as well. I have some people come up here and say, “Is this Tuscany?”
Carol: I saw some pictures of it. I’ve been to Tuscany and I actually thought it was part of Tuscany as well. I didn’t know. I had to look it up on a map quickly, but it’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful. So what is a top question that you get asked by clients?
Chef Guido: Okay the top question must be related to garlic. The use of garlic in Italian cuisine. People are amazed by the fact, when we give the cooking classes, very often, the garlic is discarded. It’s used, it’s not chopped, it’s actually used whole, often just bruised and put into the olive oil when, say, you’re starting a source of pasta sauce, and then once the garlic is just lightly browned, it’s taken out.
Carol: No way! I didn’t know that.
Chef Guido: Exactly. So the question is always, do you always use garlic like that? And there are exceptions to this, think of pesto, obviously in pesto you put a little bits of whole garlic, but otherwise in a lot of Italian recipes we make a very subtle use of garlic as opposed to what most people think. It’s very subtle because it’s one of the flavors, it’s never the absolute main one. You just need it to flavour the olive oil, which in turn will flavour everything else.
Carol: Right. And you were saying earlier, you add so many different herbs and everything that adds to the dish. So I would have never guessed about the garlic. Ever. I’ve got to try that now. So what are the biggest benefits that you think moms and their families will get from taking your Zoom classes?
Chef Guido: Well, of course you learn a fun activity and some of the classes are a lot of fun. I’ve mentioned before gnocchi for us, I think it’s one of the ones that are more family-oriented and the kids have a lot of fun making gnocchi.
Carol: Actually make it with the dough? Oh, no way!
Chef Guido: Yeah, they make the dough. Absolutely.
Carol: I’ve got to take that class. I love those!
Chef Guido: They ‘ve got sticky hands and it’s something that they can replicate at home. It’s like game. You know, a lot of the recipes that we do end up being games for the little ones as well as for the grownups.
Sally: Inspiration, really, is what we’re hoping to give to people. That they can have a relatively, it seems a simple menu and it is, but then it’s just the blend of flavors that are on it. So they will be inspired to do other dishes that are Italian dishes or other simple dishes. Another one that’s really good for families, I’m not sure how old the kids are within your group, but we’ve had little 4 and 5 year olds and up to 18 year olds helping out with pizza making. So all sorts of ages. In a lot of the dishes there’s a good base and you can even use some of the base for the dish or the sauce or you can use it for something else. It’s versatility as well, the sauce can go in many different dishes.
Chef Guido: Some recipes can be prepared in advance and heated it up later. Some of the recipes, like if I do a classic pasta, three dishes in a cooking lesson, they actually make that pasta dish in only 20 minutes or 15 minutes. So we also are aware that people are busy and part of our cooking lessons and programs are aimed also to people that are busy and say, “I don’t have the time to cook. I prefer to order food in.” The food you cook yourself is much healthier of course, and much better. So, the point is also to show people that sometimes it takes longer to order food in than making your own fresh foods.
Sally: I suppose another benefit is just how to use fresh ingredients that are in season as well. Everyone wants the best for their children and for themselves. Italian cuisine is always using ingredients in season. When you go somewhere here in Italy you don’t get cherries for most of the year. You only get those cherries in the months that the cherries are available. So everything is eaten in season and there’s recipes for food in season. So it’s a nice way to get to know that as well.
Carol: All right, just one more question for you. What advice or tips do you have for busy mamas who are cooking regularly?
Chef Guido: One thing that connects to what I was saying before is that, certainly in the Italian cuisine repertoire, a lot of recipes are easy to make, quick to make and absolutely delicious, even beautiful to present as well if you’re into that. The other thing is that, again, it takes very little time. Your pasta water is on, you make a sauce, put the pasta in, sauce, 10 minutes and a beautiful meal is ready. So it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Chef Guido: Also the other thing I was thinking of, and I’m sure a lot of people already do that but, preparing bigger portions in advance and then freezing of course. And equally dough, I’ve experimented with freezing dough at different levels and that works really well. So if you want to have your pizza, your homemade pizza during the week and you got a little bit more time during the weekends, you might make your pizza dough on Sunday then you can freeze that pizza dough and use it later and make a quick pizza.
Sally: Often the sauces that are made, you can also, as Guido said, you could make more of the sauce and then freeze it into portions and put it in the freezer and then use it for other meals as well. It could be pasta for one day, it could be gnocchi another and you can change it around, but with the same sauce as a base.
Carol: Getting creative there, I like that. This has been amazing. Thank you so much. There’s been a lot of great information here. I’m going to post the link to your website which is conviviorome.com and your blog, which is conviviorome.blogspot.com. And you also have a Facebook page if anybody wants to follow for more information and you can also follow them on Instagram @conviviorome. That’s fantastic! Thank you so much to both of you. It was such a pleasure having you and hopefully I will be seeing you in one of your live classes. I would love to.
Sally: If you have a minute, can we show you the view here?
Carol: Yes, definitely! I’d love to see that. I think everybody would love to.
Sally: *Showing landscape* We’ve actually got olive trees and medieval villages on the hilltops, there’s mountains behind as well. We’ve got more olive trees down the bottom here as well. So this is where we live. And we’re in the middle of winter at the moment, but it doesn’t feel like it at all.
Carol: It does not look like it! Oh, it’s beautiful. While I look at the snow outside here. *laughs* It’s gorgeous. You are very, very, blessed, very lucky.
Sally: Thank you. You get an idea of what it’s like. It’s why people tend to come and visit and then come and visit again just because of the view. Sometimes we sit out there and have either a light lunch with our tours or our cooking classes and our cooking holidays. So we sit on the terrace and that’s the view that they have and some people just don’t want to leave. *laughs*
Carol: No, I can see why. The food, the view and the company. I don’t think I would want to either. Take me to Italy! I had a little piece of Italy today. It was lovely. Thank you both again, so much for doing this interview. And I think all the moms will really love it and be inspired by your talk with me today. Thank you so much.
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