A Cooking Class

Travelling Spoon is an online platform that connects travelers with local people around the world for cooking classes in their homes. I have taken classes with a family in Beirut, a young couple in Barcelona, and a retired grandad in India. The first classes I took were via Zoom, but now they are offered at the person’s home. The Travelling Spoon website stresses that all hosts are vetted.

Peter’s daughter, Vicky, who is a psychiatrist, visited with us for a week. After seven years of marriage to Peter, she is the only family member from his side that visits us. As his third wife, I feel vaguely tolerated by his family members, but their tolerance does not include visits.

During Vicky’s time in Florence, I arranged a cooking class via Travelling Spoon. We had planned to meet the host at the market, shop together, and then go back to his place and cook and eat the meal we cooked. Numerous reviews expressed positive comments about the host’s delightful personality and the cooking class at his home.

We stood outside the market doors and waited for our host at 9:30 am. He appeared at 9:50 am; Italian time. He was a man in his late 30s. He did not exactly look like his online picture; today he was rather scruffy like he had had a night out on the town.

He led us through the morning market and explained what we were going to cook, what to buy at this time of year, and what was local and not local. He appeared to be very knowledgeable about food, and I was beginning to feel more comfortable. After paying for the food he commented, “My car is parked downstairs in the car park. We will drive to my apartment 10 minutes away.” Vicky and I climbed into the old, very dirty Jeep and waited for him to pay the ticket.

“You okay Vicky I asked?”

I don’t like getting into strangers’ cars.” She was more skeptical than I was “I googled his address. It’s not far, and there are no freeways.” He returned and we proceeded to exit the car park. After he circled the car park three times he stated:

“I do not know how to get out. I think we spend the day in the carpark.” I wanted to burst out laughing. I looked at Vicky; she was not amused. We continued to circle and finally found an exit and zigged-zagged through the traffic for 30 minutes instead of 10.

We entered his home. The kitchen was designed as a cooking classroom for eight people, fully equipped with modern appliances.  He spoke about his work as a cook and cooking teacher and where he worked. Vicky had started to chat and appeared to relax. We were going to make a bruschetta using the garlic, oil and tomatoes from his father’s farm. Spinach and cheese ravioli, making the ravioli from scratch and then his grandmothers’ secret cake. He positioned us on a huge worktable, Vicky at one end and me at the other.

“First we make the pasta.” He stated.

He gave us each flour and an egg, and we proceeded to use our hands to gently mix them together.  As we continued to work the dough he stood in the center of the kitchen and placed his right hand on his forehead. In a melodramatic pose, he extended his left hand and commented, “I have a dreadful headache today. My ex-girlfriend phoned me this morning. She stalks me. “ Slightly perplexed Vicky and I exchanged looks but then looked up from our dough and gave him a sympathetic look. He continued, “I do not know when she will appear. She makes me crazy. I do not know what she is going to do next. Maybe she is on the balcony. “

We both turned our heads like lightning to see if she was there. Relieved that she was not, we continued with the dough.

“I forgot the bread. I go get bread. You keep massaging until the dough is transparent. Please don’t steal anything,” and he left. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. But I also felt sorry for him. I started to think back about how I reacted to breakups. I did not display sorrow in public, instead, pain chewed my stomach, perhaps he is wiser.

“I’m so sorry Vicky. He’s not too professional.”

“He’s the least of my concerns. I’m just concerned about what we are going to do if the girlfriend appears now and finds us in his flat. She doesn’t sound too rational.” she replied.

“For now, let’s focus on the dough so we can move forward.” He returned 10 minutes later and appeared to be more distressed. I wondered if she was outside the door.

“Look, look she texted me 20 times since we were together this morning.” He announced as he entered the kitchen. “I think I go crazy.”

I think we just need to do this cooking class I thought to myself, eat, and leave before the stalker arrives. We proceeded with the task. The dough was in the refrigerator. Now onto the dessert.

“Vicky, what do you do for work?” he asked.

“I’m a psychiatrist,” she replied.

He stopped what he was doing in the kitchen and slowly turned to face Vicky with his eyes wide open.

“I have many problems.”

Shit, I thought, I wish she would learn to say ‘I’m a street sweeper or garbage collector.” Those types of jobs don’t invite his type of comments. He continued.

“My girlfriend, ex, is crazy but I feel bad. I want to be just friends. But my mind is crazy I can’t stop thinking. What is wrong with me Vicky?” The more emotional he became the worse his English became, dropping nouns, and verbs and adding this sing-song rhythm, which I would appreciate, if I spoke Italian, to the point where Vicky and I could not understand. But that was not going to stop him.

Vicky replied “Why don’t you just block her calls, that will give you time to reflect. “

“No, she climbs up the balcony.” I checked the balcony again; no crazy girlfriend there. I then tried to get the cooking class back on track.

“Let’s get the dessert in the oven; I’m starving.” I was successful with my request, and we completed the cooking, put the food on the table, and sat down.

He joined us. Placed his head in his hands and said in a very dramatic voice.

“I have a headache, my eyes hurt. My body has pain when she calls. Is this right Vicky?” Vicky must be one of the sweetest people I know, probably too sweet for her profession. She begins to explain about physical pain and emotion. When she got to the end of the sentence he burst into tears. Not the odd tear that one tries to control, but the type of tears the female lead has in an opera when she finds out her lover is dead. Huge, operatic tears.

All I wanted to do was give Vicky a nice week in Florence, and here we are sitting in a kitchen with a crying cook. Vicky continues to nod her head with empathy, and I proceeded to work out the hourly rate of what I was paying him and the platform for the cooking class and free therapy.

As his howling increased his English language continued to decrease and Vicky and I looked at each other and rose our eyebrows exchanging looks of despair. I had to get us out of this situation. Vicky might be 30 years old, but I feel responsible.  I always feel responsible for everyone’s happiness. But if this situation becomes stranger, on the scale of the movie ‘Misery’ strange, where Kathy Bates keeps James Caan prisoner, I will not know what to do. I don’t think this cook is going to kidnap Vicky to have free therapy for the rest of his life, I just think he is very emotional and confused and is as crazy as his girlfriend.

“Wonderful pasta. Can we have the dessert now? “I asked. Actually, this guy was a great cook and I learned a lot. His recipes were simple and delicious, but he does need to work on the boundary between his work and personal life.

After finishing the dessert, I looked at my watch in alarm.

“Oh, how the time flies. Vicky is spending the afternoon with her father, and I must get her to him now.”

Once out on the street and slowly walking back to the center of town I commented, “Vicky, do you think we should check and see if we are being followed by the girlfriend?”

“Yes,” she replied instantly.

We both turned together and looked at the people behind us. No one gave the impression they were following us.

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