It’s amazing the amount of folks that you mean blogging and networking with folks around the world and that is one of the reasons why I love what I do and part of what keeps me going. It’s time to introduce one of those folks I “met”, in a virtual sense, awhile back. Silvestro Silvestori currently lives in Puglia and runs a food and wine school called the Awaiting Table. He is a food aficionado and Italian sommelier that lives to share his passion with the students that visit him and others around the world through his contributions for Wine & Spirits Magazine and others. His passion screams out through this interview and if this doesn’t make you consider southern Italy when it comes to the food and wine I don’t know what will.
Here’s my interview with Silvestro. I hope you enjoy it!
Have you always lived in Puglia? If not, what drove you to settle down in Puglia?
I lived about 16 years in the US, 15 years in other parts of Italy including Sicilia, Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Trentino, etc and now a little over 15 years in Puglia. My mother's side is from Puglia, so moving here was only really a change of address, from Northern Italy to here. I've always felt more pugliese than Italian.
When did The Awaiting Table open and why did you choose to open the school?
We opened The Awaiting Table in 2003, in the historic centre of Lecce, and later in 2008 started our courses at our castle location. I had visited a few friends with food and wine schools in various cities of Italy, and while all wonderful people, I was surprised how rudimentary their courses were. They taught pan-Italian food and they didn't have any formal wine training. Their kitchens were also isolated out in the countryside, so, their students would be 14 Americans, or 17 Australians, etc, standing around trying to have an Italian experience. That's why 100 % of our staff is local, we are always located in the historic centres of cities and we work with students from so many different countries.
What is the focus of The Awaiting Table? It seems you primarily teach culinary classes, but can you tell me about your wines classes you teach?
We teach several subjects. First off, we teach about the food and wine of the Salento or Southern Puglia, which is arguable some of the best food and wine in all of Italy. What isn't arguable, is that it's the healthiest. The diet here is actually protected by UNESCO. It's Italy's soul food. It's also helpful to remember that Puglia is Italy's number one domestic travel destination. If you want to know where the crazy foodies go to eat, the answer is here. It's Italy's best kept secret.
I also close the school for two months each year to bicycle Southern Italian wine country, visiting wineries and cooking with every older woman that doesn't shoo me out of the kitchen. Our wine course teaches about the wine (and some of the food) of all of Southern Italy, Sicilia, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia. This also happens to be the same ground I cover for Wine & Spirits magazine (all wine content, photographs and recipes for the same 4 regions).
We also have an olive oil course and our tomato sauce course, which obviously corresponds with those seasons. (We have videos on our youtube channel for how to make both). Last year we launched our Bici / Cucina / Vino course at the castle, which divides up the week with bicycling, cooking, eating, drinking and learning. And this year, we've started a food photography course as well.
Are all the dishes Puglian based as well as the wines or southern Italy in general?
All of the wine at our Salento- based courses comes from within 50 kilometres of the school and have originated here as grape varietals for at least 300 years. We don't serve wines where the wine producers have sourced the fruit elsewhere. Our Southern Italian wine-based courses feature wines from the 4 southern Italian regions, all autochthonous as well. The sourcing mirrors my annual bicycle trip (for the last 9 years in a row).
What are your favorites when it comes to the wines of Puglia and why?
This is Europe so 95% of wine consumed is local. I do favor the grape negroamaro, which probably won't surprise anyone. But the local investment in metodo classico rosato based on negroamaro has been impressive and I'd challenge any rosè champagne to give you a better return on your Euro spent. The Salento is the cradle of Italian rosè and I drink 3 or 4 times more pink than white. And while primitivo remains strong outside of Italy- as the great, break away hit- it's negroamaro that is really the foundation. I drink it professionally and never tire of it.
Are you a lover of wines outside of Puglia? If so, which ones and why?
I don't hide this: Southern Italy is the most compelling and dynamic wine region of Italy today, and maybe even the world. What's happening in Cirò is 2,500 years in the making and I'm startled each time I visit there. Etna and Vulture remain my absolute favorite wine regions, for both the volcanic effect on the soil and because both have extraordinary transparent, autochthonous varietals (carricante, nerello mascalese and aglianico). I've also recently developed a new crush on the whites that used to make up what the world calls 'Marsala'. Salty, minerally, it's like you skip the glass and start licking the rocks directly. Castel del Monte in Central Puglia also deserves a lot more attention. Those producers have been staying up nights as well. Anyone that doesn't agree with me about the dynamism of Southern Italian wine right now hasn't likely visited. It's my life's study.
Where do most of your students come from around the world?
We have had students from 48 different countries. Many come from Northern Europe. About 60% are native English speakers. We also have students from Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand. Scandinavia has been increasing in record numbers. Recently, also, Uruguay and the Philippines. Northern Italy comes down mostly in the summer. Our students tend to be very well-travelled, highly educated and prefer to relax while doing.What would be your word of advice to folks that are afraid to explore an unknown region including culinary experiences or wines?
We aren't all motivated in the same way. I don't think it's so much that 'fear' is the brakes for many, but that 'adventure' isn't their primary motivator.
It's helpful to remember that those that spend their holiday /vacation on cruise ships love them. There is no shame in that. Nor in California chardonnay, etc. Consume what you love. Our goal as a school has never been trying to talk anyone out of going where all the other tourists go, but rather to offer something stellar to those that seek something else. Same thing with wine. Wine isn't a recipe, like, say, as beer is. It can't be replicated the same way, year and year. It reflects the climate (which is weather multiplied by time), the soil, the local culture, etc. When you start to see wine as a vessel that represents all of these things, maybe, say, the way a sailboat represents man AND nature working together, it seems one of the most immediate and fascinating subjects on earth. If that appeals, we have a school to help you go deeper. If not, we hope you have a great trip and that you really enjoy your next bottle of wine, no matter what it is.
All pictures compliments of Silvestro Silvestori.