Since the beginning of January Sandy, my friend of almost 50 years, has been doing daily posts about people, places and food on his blog, Sandy Leonard Snaps. A naturally great photographer and writer, Sandy also loves good food; we've traveled together to places like Paris, Zurich, and Istanbul, and throughout Italy where he took the photo above.
How well I remember that afternoon in May, 1988. Sandy and I had already been driving around Italy for a couple of weeks. Or rather, he was driving our rented powder-blue Fiat Panda and I was navigating, writing on a gigantically primitive laptop, or mapping out the next few days of travel. I was on a mission to see and taste Italian pastries and desserts and find some interesting recipes for my as yet unwritten book, Great Italian Desserts (Little, Brown, 1990), now out of print.
We rolled into Bari and I phoned Paola Pettini, the owner of a local cooking school. When we had visited Michi Ambrosi's cooking school in Naples at the beginning of the trip she had suggested contacting Paola. After we arrived at Paola's home she apoligized in slightly Roman accented Italian that she would be busy until mid-afternoon when she would have to conduct a meeting of 40 of her students who were contributing recipes to a cookbook project. She smiled a little devlishly and suggested that Sandy and I attend too, and that I should make some American desserts. I thought of the chef jacket I had packed "just in case" and realized I'd found the first reason to use it. "Now, what will you make?" Paola asked. I thought for a second and answered, "apple pie and chocolate chip cookies." My heart sank when she started asking for the recipes which I could easily enough rattle off in volume measure, but of course she wanted metric measurements. We agreed to pick her up and go over to the cooking school a few hours later. At her suggestion, we had lunch at the exquisite Vecchia Bari restaurant where our meal finished with the owner's mother, who loved to bake, arriving with dozens of tiny tartlets and other pastries she had made. When we asked for the check, we were told that we were guests of Signora Pettini.
On the way to the cooking school, Paola confessed that she was terrified of being a passenger in a car and whenever we came to an intersection she shouted, "I get so angry!" suprising us by speaking in English for the first time. Later we realized that she had meant to say "frightened." Once there I went into what Sandy later described as my "professional mode" and scoured the shelves and drawers in the kitchen for the equipment I would need. The "Bari 40" started to trickle in and by the time they were all seated the noise level of their conversations had escalated to a deafening height.
Paola stood next to me during the demo, my first experience at public speaking in Italian, and helpfully supplied the word I was searching for every time I faltered. Twice during my demo Paola had to scream for silence, but everyone quieted down when the miniscule tastes of pie and cookies were handed around. It was Sandy's idea to take the group picture right before the cookbook meeting started. We left shortly after that to spend a few days in Grottaminarda, my mother's home town, just a couple of hours inland, going over the details of the day and the Bari 40 as we headed west on the highway.