Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More pictures, less talk.

I seriously overslept this morning, and woke up, can you believe it, just FOUR MINUTES before our bus to the Riviera left the hotel. So my brain's not working too well tonight (and it IS after 3AM, past the time I usually get up for work!) I'm just going to post more Riviera pictures for you to enjoy, and add in comments later. Thanks to Liz and Cherri for sharing their pictures!

(BTW, I can get ready in two minutes because, with my usual working hours, it pays to have a routine down pat, of get up, get out!!)

The church at Camoglie


The remains of the castle at Santa Margherita Ligure

The Chef/Cartoonist/Flirt Extraordinaire

When we first arrived in Italy, our group expressed and interest in taking a cooking class, and our incredibly wonderful guide Arianna (whom we all adore!) immediately mentioned Fausto. Not only is he a brilliant chef, she said, he is also a talented cartoonist and "a very particular type of man" (which you can read as, "a real character.) So she set up this afternoon of cooking and entertainment for us.

When we arrived in Rapallo this afternoon at his restaurant, U Giancu, he popped out of a second-story window.

Below is the outside of U Giancu, proudly displaying Fausto's love of cartoons. (The window right above "U Giancu" was where we had our first peek at Il Signor Fausto Oneto.)

When he came downstairs, wearing a blue shoe on one foot and and orange one on the other, he greeted us warmly and led us into his beautiful restaurant, lined with original cartoons including some by Chic Young (Blondie). Fausto had closed his restaurant for the afternoon to accomodate us. His kitchen was SPOTLESS (and having worked in kitchens of some fastidious chefs, I can still say this is the cleanest one I've ever seen.)

All right, the food. First of all, remember that Liguria is a coastal state, renowned for its seafood.

Fausto serves only meat at U Giancu. "Everybody else serves the fish," he says, "so why should I?" This bit of information is a a mere hors d'oeuvre to his personality.

He was going to show us how to make focaccia, the real Ligurian variety, filled with stracchino cheese, as well as one with onions. A quiche of swiss chard, fresh herbs from his amazing garden, ricotta cheese and two crusts. A fresh green vegetable medley with fettucine. Pesto, the real Ligurian way. Gnocchi, to serve as a medium for that pesto. Rack of lamb, seasoned with fresh herbs, also from the garden. For dessert, we melted a chocolate-hazelnut combination called gianduia (pronounced jahn-DOO-yah) and mixed in roasted whole hazelnuts, then put it to cool in molds, for a treat called nocciolato. And for starters, tempura-style fresh sage flowers (fior di salvia), which he took us into the garden to pick.

Beverly and twin sister Barbara with Fausto, holding the freshly picked sage blossoms.

Fausto began with the focaccia dough. Notice that he changed his cap. (One of many cap changes he made today.)

Outside the window you can see lemon trees in his garden (more on the garden in a moment.)

He made sure each of us had a chore. Here Fausto explains the correct way to saute the vegetable medley while his assistant Stefania works; Blaine sets about his task of coating the rack of lamb in the herb mix.

All this time there was an incredibly diverse mix of music playing from his iPod through a stereo in the kitchen. I heard an Italian favorite, "Mamma," sung by a tenor; Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Aaron Copland, to name just a few!

Fausto certainly was charming. After Beverly chopped some herbs, this is what he did with her finished product.

I can't even begin to describe his outrageous flirting. (That thing with the herb heart was pretty mild, believe me.) Fausto's assistants were just rolling their eyes. He was having the time of his life with us.

When it came time to eat, oh my word. Or should I say, there are NO WORDS. In addition to the dishes we prepared, he presented us with bruschette, salami, pickled baby eggplants, and AMAZING white and red wines bottled especially for his restaurant.

Fausto is a great big showman with an obvious passion for his work. He is very knowledgeable, and intimately understands the historical and cultural context of Ligurian cuisine. In his three cookbooks are his very clever cartoons. His garden gives him fresh herbs, onions, garlic and salad greens. The trees bear figs, cherries, lemons, oranges. The shrubs give capers, flowers, berries. I can’t tell you how much else there is in that garden, but clearly Fausto uses the garden as inspiration, coming up with dishes based on what’s ripe and at its peak. The garden is just beautiful, and so fragrant. Nothing about his cooking is contrived or affected. Nothing is over-seasoned. He simply flows with the best nature has to offer at any moment. Everything in perfect balance.

Under all the flirting and hamming is a serious and brilliant chef. AND Fausto has more personality than all the chefs on the Food Network, put together. Ask any of my tourmates, and I know they will back me up. He is beyond outrageous. He is – in the truest sense of the word – an original.

I tell you, if you ever have the chance to come to the Italian Riviera, you MUST go to U Giancu (pronounced ooh-JAHN-koo) in Rapallo and eat one of the most amazing meals of your life, AND partake of the whole Fausto experience. It's rare to see a this much talent, charm, passion and eccentricity, all in one body.

Okay. Now we get to the final picture of the day.


Leave your suggested captions in the comments section, or e-mail me.

All I can say is, if you show an Italian man your cooking skills, you'll go far with him. Notice the change of cap?

And on that note, buona notte, amici.

Gillian Coldsnow

The Riviera really is as amazing as you've always heard.

Portofino harbor

I lived on the Oregon coast for seven years, and felt really blessed to live in such surroundings. But I confess that over the last ten years, I've seen changes that have detracted from the natural beauty. Development, mostly, and the horrendous tourist traffic in the summer, to name just a couple.

Somehow, the towns of the Italian Riviera have managed to avoid that. The picture you see above is of internationally renowned Portofino. The glib and glam flock here - but doesn't it look just like a little fishing village, still? In fact, many of the homes still sport laundry lines outside the windows! And the relaxed and friendly demeanor of the locals doesn't give away the hidden character of Portofino's part-time citizens.

But it took some laws to keep the town's aura. Tour buses are not allowed to drive through, and when tourists arrive by boat (as we did) the guides have to quit using the microphones before the boat pulls up to the pier.

Doesn't this seem like a sleepy little town?

What you can't see is what's behind the facades of those old fishermen's homes. The interiors, a long time ago, were torn out and transformed into small but gorgeous apartments for people who live elsewhere most of the time. A studio looking out on the Portofino harbor can easily cost more than a million Euro!

Part of the character of the Riviera towns come from the distinctive colors. Only four colors are allowed on the facades: faded yellow, a terra cotta-ish pink, brown or green. These old fisherman's homes have all been designated as historic landmarks.

We hiked up the path to the cliff where the historic San Giorgio church sits looking out above the Mediterranean.

A relic of Portofino's patron saint, Giorgio (yes - that's one and the same as England's St. George!)is believed to be found here.

And this is the path leading up to the church, with some our our tour members listening to our guide, Fausta.

From L-R: our Liguria guide, Fausta (with back turned to camera), Melinda, Sylvia (hidden), Barbara and Liz. Leaning up against the fence are Cherri and Blaine.

Look at the stone path leading into the church:

Individual stones, black and white, arranged into that beautiful pattern. We saw the same type of path leading up to the town church in neighboring town Camoglie as well.