By Mario Bermeo Jr.
In a city with restaurants on every street corner, tourists dwellings and secret alley ways, Rome still has its share of hidden gems—and this one has no name, only a wooden door with the number 5 next to it. Andrea Consoli brings a true Roman experience to those seeking to define the meaning “of when in Rome do as the Roman’s,” in this case, cook.
I meet Chef Andrea a little over two years ago while I was studying at John Cabot University, an American College in the heart of Trastevere. Andrea held weekly classes for those students who wanted to not only live and study in Rome, but really get to know the culture through its food. The kitchen was small and tight, sometimes using the outside table to chop onions or roll involtinies, but no matter the size of the kitchen, Andrea always thought of something new.
Andrea is a very charismatic chef whom I remembered while taking his classes, would not only teach us how to make fresh pastas, but what region the dish was from, why they ate it, and where the specific ingredients came from. Andrea quickly opened my eyes to a new, simpler, yet quite magnificent side of Italian cooking, or more like Lazio-style cuisine (a region of Rome).
Andrea had told us that he had an additional location in Trastevere not far from the college where he taught cooking classes—this is where the students now come to learn. I made sure to write down the address, for I knew I would have to share this experience with my parents one day, as I surely knew I had found a hidden gem in Rome.
In April I found myself packing my bag yet again to visit Rome, this time with both of my parents. Since Rome became my second home for half a year, I was the one in charge of the itinerary. I saved this special visit for our last day, and in my opinion one of the best experiences anyone can have in Rome. My parents had remembered the stories I had shared with them about learning how to cook with Andrea and my father had fallen in-love with the Eternal City, which my mother warned him that he would, but as cliché as it may sound, the cooking class was the cherry on top.
As we began our last day in Rome, I quickly reminded my parents not to eat anything for breakfast, for as I went on to tell them “we are going to eat at a friend’s place.” To their surprise my friend was Andrea, and the place was his cooking studio. We were not alone of course, with the popularity of his class being spoken about on Travel Advisor and quite a buzz by word of mouth; we were three of a total thirteen students.
Andrea’s wife greeted us as we came in, and Andrea quickly remembered me. It was my first time at his cooking studio and it was much larger than the location at my old University. As we waited for the rest of the students to arrive, Andrea’s wife prepared us coffee and brought over some crackers and fruit jams which, of course, they make there.
Finally the whole crew had arrived and our aprons were waiting for us as we entered his kitchen. The first thing we all noticed was the array of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses staring right back at us. As Andrea took a few minutes to describe to us the menu of the day, and what regions these dishes were from, I couldn’t help but notice there were fresh artichokes on the table—I hoped in silence that he would once again make his stuffed artichokes. I quickly glanced to see if I could spot the mint that was used in that dish, but my hopes were completely disbanded when he said that since he has returning students, he would teach us dishes we had not yet prepared. Although I was a bit disappointed, this showed me that not only was Andrea meticulous with his choices of ingredients and cooking, but that he saved all of the information of his past students to constantly teach them new things. He did say that next time I took a class I could request this dish, which I will definitely holding him to.
As I noticed the menu that was written on this small quaint blackboard, the anticipation to start chopping and mixing became pragmatic. As the menu was explained, Andrea began giving us each instructions on our chores and what dish we would begin with—finally it was time to cook! As we slowly completed a few tasks, and prepared our “mise en place” for all of the dishes, Andrea would from time to time get all of our attention to what dish we were about to prepare next. Andrea not only showed us step-by-step how to prepare the dishes, but helpful tips as well. My father was not new to an Italian kitchen, but it had been over fifteen years since taking a cooking class.
The menu for the day was simple yet comforting as great Italian food should be. The appetizer was a Neopolitan Style Zeppole with arugula and fresh tomato sauce. The pasta dishes were a Taglioni Amatriciana, as well as a taster of a Taglioni in an Arabbiata Sauce (Italian for spicy sauce). The taster was made to accommodate an individual who could not have pancetta, and since the Amatriciana sauce had some, Andrea made the Arabbiata for him. He prepared a little extra for all of us to try and all I will say is that this spicy sauce still makes my mouth water every time I think of it. The meat course was a Beef Scalopine with an artichoke sauce. This would mark the first time I have seen an artichoke used as a sauce over meat, and yes, it works. The side dish was a Roman style Zucchini medley. Finally our dessert would be a ricotta and fresh Sour Cherry Pie.
Our journey through the cooking process was filled with flour covered hands, impeccable aromas filling the kitchen, copious amounts of pictures and each one of us taking a turn at the stove. We shared laughs and poses for all of those pictures and took turns in rolling out the pasta and frying the zeppoles. Andrea fell in love with my mother as she seemed like a small ninja bouncing from corner to corner in the kitchen multitasking as no other. He later told her he wanted to put her in his pocket, dubbing her “his little kitchen assistant.” We all had fun and although the majority of us were standing for the full four hours of prepping and cooking, time inadvertently flew by.
Finally it was time to literally taste the fruit of our labor, so we took off our aprons and washed our hands, leaving any trace of what had transpired. We sat down at a long table and waited to see what we had created with our own hands. Andrea’s wife came around to each of us offering either a wine tasting to go with the full meal or a few selections of wine—we chose a young Cesanese from Lazio. The wine was perfect—young and not to bold, medium body with a hint of raspberries and an even subtler hint of roses—a perfect choice as to not over power the rich flavors of any of the dishes. As we began sipping our wine, Andrea put the final touches on the appetizer, inviting any of us to come to the kitchen and either help or simply watch the finishing touches.
It was time to begin our degustation and boy was it something not easily found in Rome. The dishes were not only fresh, but perfect in size, flavor and in complementing each other as we journeyed from dish to dish. The topic of conversation was not where we were from, as after spending hours in the kitchen we all slowly but effectively became friends, but what we all thought of the food. We discussed our experience and what we each had learned from it, exchanging emails and phone numbers as this brought us all closer together. Finally we were face to face with our cherry pie, the last of a most memorable meal and the realization that this experience was coming to an end.
Andrea put a personal touch on each dessert dish, writing each one of our names with a light sweet cream on the rim of the plate. He came out and thanked us once again for choosing to spend the morning at his kitchen studio; we all asked to take pictures with him and to take a group picture, saving not only the memory in our taste buds. As we left with a smile and full stomach, I looked behind at the wooden door which holds one of Rome’s best hidden gems.
Although Rome has become an over populated hub for tourists with restaurants serving sub-par Italian food, Andrea really has something special happening in Trastevere. He takes his students back to simpler time in Rome, a time where it seemed like the Nonna (Italian grandmother) was in the kitchen, a time of unadulterated dishes, where home-made pasta was really “home-made” pasta.
I leave you with this final note: if you’re planning a trip to Rome, be sure to Google Andrea Consoli cooking classes. It will be an experience, a lunch and a story that you will never forget.