Foodies have proved to have a voracious appetite for Eataly. You probably could have predicted it when the Chicago outpost of the massive gourmet Italian market shut down for a day just a week after it first opened. (Why? Because shoppers had practically picked the shelves clean and famous co-owners Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Bastianich needed a moment to regroup.) The final piece of Eataly, La Scoula di Eataly Chicago, will likely have those same foodies up in arms all over again. The cooking school recently debuted with a class taught by Lidia Bastianich, a TV host who curates the impressive and varied collection of Italian food, wine and culture classes at the establishment.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Eataly, it’s that the folks behind the megastore are serious about teaching people about Italian food. And the best way to learn is by taking a class in the airy, second-floor classroom adjacent to the espresso bar. Here’s everything else you need to know about La Scoula:
1. Classes are watch-and-learn, not hands-on. The best part of attending a class at La Scoula is that someone else does all the dirty work while you do all the tasting. The classroom is set up with two-person tables facing a high-tech demonstration kitchen. That suited us just fine when we attended the inaugural class and learned the intricacies of making a creamy risotto — we got to taste the end product and pick up a slew of cooking tips without having to constantly stir the rice dish for 30 minutes straight.
2. There are wine pairings with each class. In Italy, food and wine go hand-in-hand, and so it is at Eataly. Each of our four courses was paired with wine, and you can expect the same treatment no matter which class you attend. Tasting notes are provided, along with a description and history of each of the paired labels. Once you leave class — we counted 20 courses already on April’s calendar — visit the wine shop for your favorite bottle of vino. And this goes for all the ingredients showcased at La Scoula — it’s insanely easy to hit up the marketplace to get items you need to re-create dishes at home.
3. Italy’s different regions are explained and celebrated. Northern vs. Southern Italian fare is hardly a complete look at the differences between foods and wines in various parts of the country. The Boot is made up of 20 regions, each with its own way of cooking and growing grapes. The “Food & Language” courses immerse you in a certain region of Italy with cuisine and pours from that particular area. A native Italian speaker will be on hand to teach a few key words and phrases along the way.
4. You can choose to imbibe instead of ingest. With a fancy demonstration kitchen and a market full of fresh, high-end ingredients, you might expect the classroom to be used solely for food prep. But La Scoula holds classes specifically revolving around wine, beer and spirits, too. Those who attend “Classic Italian Cocktails,” for instance, will sip five classic tipples (think negronis and bellinis) made with Italian ingredients, and take home recipes and tasting notes. The “Beyond Barolo with Tom Hyland” class explores the lesser-known wines of Italy, which you will sample alongside seasonal antipasti.
5. An entire class can be devoted to one food product. Certain foods have their devotees, so the purpose of La Scoula’s “Spotlight on Artisanal Products” is to satisfy those with singular tastes. These sessions will vary, highlighting foods such as chocolate and formaggio. “Lots of Mozz(arella)” features Eataly’s cheesemonger taking raw ingredients (whey, milk, rennet) and turning them into delicious mozzarella . Watch as it is made and taste several versions of the creamy white cheese, along with a couple food dishes that feature the ingredient. And, since this is Eataly, three different wines will be poured as well. Buon appetito!
Photo Courtesy of Virginia Rollison