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One Gentleman of Verona

Lexus.MSN — September, 2004

In the kitchen, when someone with the last name "Hazan" says you're doing something wrong, you stop. Even if she's only 5 years old.

I was making pasta at Giuliano Hazan's cooking school in Verona, Italy, when his daughter Gabriella, watching me try to artfully incorporate eggs, flour, and water, quietly declared, "I don't think that's right."

Gabriella's father, Giuliano, is the son of Marcella Hazan, the woman widely credited with introducing real Italian cooking to American home cooks. Marcella is often referred to as "the Italian Julia Child." Giuliano has followed in her footsteps, teaching and writing best-selling cookbooks for the past 20 years.

His program in Italy is called "Cooking with Giuliano Hazan," though the one-week course is much more than a cooking class. It's an immersion in and celebration of Italian food, wine, and life. Students stay at Villa Giona, a luxuriously restored 16th-century structure set among vineyards and lush gardens. Days are reserved for field trips and extravagant lunches (including one on the banks of Lake Garda). Classes are held in the villa's kitchen each evening. Throughout the week I visited, Giuliano was assisted by his tireless and amiable wife, Lael, while his adoring daughter looked on (and clearly didn't miss a trick).

Each night began with a meeting (under umbrellas next to the duck pond when the weather was favorable) to discuss the evening's menu and the wines we'd be drinking. Among the dishes we learned to prepare: fresh ravioli with Swiss chard and ricotta; risotto with red and yellow peppers; the easiest (and most delicious) tomato sauce I've ever made; and the Hotel Cipriani's not-so-secret "secret" recipe for chocolate ice cream (which Giuliano knew from one of his mother's cookbooks).

Classes were interrupted by a snack, consisting of varieties of salami and cheese. During the snack, Marilisa Allegrini, co-owner of the Veneto's esteemed Allegrini Winery and Hazan's partner in the school, taught us about different wine regions and held a tasting. The snack was key, since dinner sometimes didn't start until 9:30.

But the real highlights were a series of field trips to various food producers of the region. We visited the market at Padua, a rice mill that's been in operation since 1648, a Veronese olive oil press, a dairy that churns out massive wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a producer of a special ham called Culatello di Zibello.

The rice was hulled by a contraption resembling Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; the olives were pressed by stone wheels that appeared to come straight off Fred Flintstone's car; and the marvelous culatello was carved and sewn into a net for aging by a young man whose grace and skill deserve better than '60s pop-culture references. This is food prepared the way it's been prepared for generations, and it's a thrill to see and taste.

Our graduation dinner was accompanied by an accordion player, candlelight, and the warm camaraderie of new friends and a shared experience. As for Gabriella—when she opens her own cooking school, I'll be happy to do whatever she tells me to do with my pasta.

By Robin Cherry. Reprinted with permission.

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Historic 16th Century Villa Giona in the gastronomic heart of northern Italy