The school of the Mediterrean Diet in Ceglie

The newest cooking school in Puglia, Med Cooking School in Ceglie Messapica recently opened in a former Dominican convent renovated to provide the most advanced technology in cooking. Ceglie Messapica is often referred to as the capital of gastronomy in Puglia, much thanks to Chef Antonella Ricci who runs with her husband Chef Vinood Sookar, Al Fornello da Ricci, a restaurant that has held Michelin stars for 22 years.

Up to 20 students aspiring to become professional chefs can be accommodated in the facilities. As the school aims for students to become immersed in the Mediterranean culture it does not provide housing on site but helps students find rooms in the city. While these students participate in two month semesters it is possible to attend the school for a week, weekend or for one day.

The public can also attend non-professional classes to learn more about Mediterranean cooking, such as how to replace butter with olive oil in baking, incorporating typical ingredients into meals as well as pairing wine or beer with food. For visitors to the region the school is associated with 14 different hotels in Ceglie with varying prices for bed and breakfasts, masserias, and a variety of hotels.

Experience reinvented traditional meals

It was a great experience to visit the newest cooking school in Puglia, Med Cooking School in Ceglie Messapica. It recently opened in a former Dominican convent and we expected to see very rustic conditions but on a tour of the facility we realized the building kept its traditional exterior but was equipped with modern facilities inside.

We learned that the students are limited to 20 per term to keep the quality of instruction and while there are rooms on site they are for instructors only. Students are encouraged to experience the Mediterranean culture and so they live in town, understanding the lifestyle in Ceglie. We had the very special pleasure of a cooking class with Chef Vinood Sookar, who runs Al Fornello da Ricci with his wife Chef Antonella Ricci a restaurant that has held Michelin stars for 22 years.

While the term had finished, several students were invited back to the school to have a special cooking class. Today he would show us how to make cavatelli, a small traditional pasta that is found in Puglia. The pasta would have a special flavor as he included a small amount of toasted flour in the mixture. While Chef Vinood Sookar is originally from Mauritius, it was clear he had been making pasta for years as he skillfully showed us how to create the shape.

Interestingly he also showed us if we decided we wanted to eat orecchiette we could simply turn the cavatelli inside out to form the little ear shape that signifies orecchiette. Afterwards he included a demonstration of a number of traditional dishes and we were able to eat his delicious food. It was a treat to meet and learn from such a talented chef and eat his food. I was happy to see that it’s also possible to take shorter classes, there are many ½ day, full day or weekly classes which would be perfect for a traveler.