Playing Hooky

Suggested Wines: Chianti Classico, Fonterutoli (Grapes: Sangiovese and Local Varietals); Eligia, Poliziano (Grapes: Prugnolo Gentile and Sangioveto)

When I was fifteen, I enrolled in Scuola Alberghiera, the hotel and restaurant academy in Montecatini. Fifteen sounds young to be taking classes in a specialized institution, but in Italy, it’s normal. Mama and Papa wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer, but nothing bored me more than studying. I wanted to be a chef, not a dottore, the name we give anyone with a degree. When I heard about Scuola Alberghiera, where they taught courses on food preparation, I thought I had the solution. No math, no science, no French. This was my kind of curriculum. But Montecatini was still a school, and one that complied with Italian educational regulations. It was business as usual-calculus, geography, and so on. I’d been had!

But not for long. On days I knew I’d be in the kitchen, I was always punctual. But on days when I had French or math or anything else, I’d somehow forget to get off the train. By the time I realized it, I was in Florence or some small village far from school. It was uncanny. My favorite way to spend these missed days was trying new restaurants. Once, on my seventeenth birthday, I even treated myself to lunch at Pinchiorri, a restaurant in Florence sacred to Italian gourmets.

Usually I’d manager to miss my stop with Emilio, who didn’t even go to Scuola Alberghiera, but nevertheless, found himself on the same train. Often, we’d get off at Lunata because Emilio had a friend who had some older friends there with an empty house. They used it after dates as a bachelor pad, but since we were only ifteen and not yet interested in girls, we liked it for its well-stocked bar and kitchen. My contribution was always a jar of wild barley salad I loved making. Emilio, who had a pollaio, a chicken coop, would bring our secondo. For dessert, we always had buccellato, the typical sweet from Lucca, which we’d buy from Taddeucci, a 200-year-old shop in Piazza San Michele, before we got on the train in the morning. This might not have been the way most kids would choose to play hooky. Too bad for them.