RESTAURATOR: An unforgettable birthday + Tiramisu by Rosanna
PETROGNANO-SEMIFONTE, TUSCANY– My mother spoke with contempt of adult men who kept changing careers later in life. Even as a child, I was never okay with that. It seemed to me – and still seems to me – that when it comes to an occupation, you have to do whatever makes you feel happy, fulfilled and successful. I have been fortunate to have worked in the same career for over 40 years. I like catering. I never consider retiring and would never see myself doing anything else for my primary vocation.
However, I have learned that careers sometimes grow and acquire other professions along the way. In addition to catering, I ended up writing books, producing television shows, founding an association, and more recently got into the production of documentary films, the first of which will be released in a few weeks. I also lead tours in Europe.
None of these secondary careers were planned. The tour happened when my friend, watercolor artist Wyatt Waters, and I were on a coffee table cookbook promotional book tour that we wrote based on our travels in Italy. The people who had followed our trip to Italy kept saying, âI would like you to take me over there to go to those restaurants that you mentioned. Or “I would love to travel with you to see those places you painted.” At first we thought it was just people chatting while we signed their books. Although we continued to hear the same statements. I called Waters one day and said, âI think people want us to take them to Italy. I posted a post on Facebook, and five years and over 300 travelers later, I found myself in a career that I had never planned but that I love as much as the restaurant business.
In times of non-COVID, I spend a little over two months a year working in Europe leading tours. In March 2020, we were all ready to go to Spain. The most amazing part of the trip to Spain was that most people were going to travel with us for the third or fourth time. After Spain, I was to lead four tours in Tuscany, and in the fall another Rome / Amalfi / Naples tour, then more tours in Tuscany. COVID had different plans.
I should write this column from the Amalfi Coast where I would lead 25 guests around one of the most beautiful places on the planet. But apprehensions of COVID and the delta variant have worried many of our travelers when it comes to overseas travel. I certainly respect that. So for safety reasons and for the peace of mind of our guests, I have rescheduled all groups for 2022 and look forward to finally being able to travel with them. I have also added new dates as there is a waiting list of hopeful travelers that has grown during COVID.
Waters has retired from touring overseas and is focusing on a new book. However, I have grown to love turning people to all the people and places that I have discovered over the past decade in Europe, and I plan to do so – with my wife Jill at my sides – as long as people want to travel with us. .
So after having to reschedule the Fall 2021 tours, and since I had already blacked out my schedule at home, I decided to grab Jill and head to Tuscany to research some new sites. , places, restaurants, wineries and experiences for our future groups, because now we have started to create tours for those who have already been with me in Tuscany and want to come back. I call it Tuscany 2.0.
Without a doubt, the best – and most unexpected – part of organizing tours in Italy has been the friendships I have made. I knew that I would love to attract people to the places I had discovered over the years, but I did not know that I would make such meaningful friendships by doing so – friends who travel with us from the United States. , but also friends here in Italy.
I write this column from the villa that I have frequented for over a decade. I currently feel extremely grateful for the Italian friends I have made over the years. I was 50 years old in this villa. Yesterday evening, I celebrated my 60th birthday in this villa. It was good, but the icing on the tiramisu was that I had a wonderful dinner sitting at a table with so many of my Italian friends.
It was a collection of the Europeans I love the most. Annagloria and Enzo, the owners of the villa, were there, along with Marina and her boyfriend, Marco. Our friends Barbara and Alberto got off Milan, and our friend Jesse took the train from Rome. The dinner table was seated 16, and two of the best Italian cooks I’ve known, Nadia and Rosanna, cooked a six-course meal filled with all of my local favorites. Annagloria and Enzo’s daughters, Gemma and Bianca, helped serve.
In the middle of dinner, I walked away from the table and admired the scene. Marco and his wife Christina, who make the best pecorino I have ever tasted, at their sheep farm down the road, came up with a five pound quarter of aged pecorino. Massimo and Cecilia, owners of a good restaurant in town where our hosts learn how to make dumplings, brought wine. Paolo, who owns one of our favorite local restaurants, arrived late after working for dinner. Toby and Susanna, from the local bakery that I visit every morning, brought a wonderful birthday cake made of a Napoleon in the shape of numbers six and zero, and husband and wife tour guides Ricardo and Cindy came down from Florence . It was one of the most memorable and meaningful dinners I have ever had.
After dinner, a group reserved for Marina and Annagloria performed in the lower hall of the tower. This is a band that I first heard over 10 years ago when I first visited, and one that made me realize that Mississippi is truly the birthplace of American music.
Last week, before we left for Italy, my wife hosted a birthday dinner with some of our closest friends back home. Having the chance to also share a birthday meal with our Italian friends feels like an embarrassment of blessings.
It took me a while to discover the things in life that really matter. For years, I gave the most importance to material and monetary things. Eventually, I learned that the things that really matter in life are spiritual and relational things. Faith, family, friends, food and fun are where I find happiness and joy these days.
After dinner I told my wife that I believe I am entering what will be my best decade. I plan to spend it with friends I will meet on future tours, and friends I have known from kindergarten, friends I made overseas, and friends from all over Mississippi and the United States. .
A native of Hattiesburg, Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He wrote a column in a weekly newspaper for over 20 years.
â¢ 4 large egg yolks
â¢ 6 tablespoons of sugar
â¢ 1 cup of cold heavy whipping cream
â¢ 1 tablespoon of Marsala wine
â¢ 1 pound of Mascarpone cheese,
â¢ 2 (8 ounce) premium quality lady’s cans
fingers, preferably Pavesini brand
â¢ 2 cups of strong brewed coffee, cooled
â¢ 1/4 pound sweet and sour chocolate, chopped,
divided into thirds
â¢ Unsweetened cocoa powder as needed
1. Combine egg yolks and sugar in the cooled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Beat on high power until pale yellow and doubling in size. Add whipping cream and continue beating on high power until soft peaks start to form, about 3-4 minutes. Add the softened mascarpone and Marsala and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 5-6 minutes.
2. To prepare the tiramisu, spread a very thin layer of the cream mixture on the bottom of a clear 9 “x 11” saucepan, just to help keep the first layer of lady’s fingers still. Divide the rest of the cream mixture into thirds.
3. Briefly dip each lady’s finger in the coffee and cover the bottom of the casserole dish. Continue with a layer of the cream mixture and chopped chocolate. Repeat this process until you are done mixing the cream. Sprinkle the top with the cocoa powder and the remaining chocolate.
4. Refrigerate a few hours before serving.