Monday, July 27, 2015

La Dolce Vida: Living the Sweet Life

When was the last time you made puff pastry from scratch? I thought so. Me, too. Puff pastry is possibly one of the most labor-intensive things that you can make in the kitchen besides croissants but don’t tell that to Laura Buccehri who thinks nothing of doing it the day before she puts on an enormous Italian feast for a cast of hungry San Miguel food lovers. I am one of them.

Laura Buccehri is the latest addition to San Miguel’s growing base of personal chefs.What sets Laura apart from the rest of the pack? She does everything with love. You can taste it in her food. Like the remarkable, full blooded Italians in my own family, brother-in-law Phil and sister-in-law Liz, she embraces the fact that for most Italians, food isn't just nourishment, it is life. 

Laura has the wonderful ability to create dishes such as the homemade cocoa tagliolini with walnuts, gorgonzola sauce and mesquite smoked bacon that we had this past Sunday. It was an unusual combination of ingredients but the flavors worked so well together. It was one of my favorite dishes. She got the inspiration for the dish from her craving for both chocolate and cheese. I’m with her on those two.
One of the few female chefs in San Miguel, Laura’s experience is both extensive and diverse. Laura grew up in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, in Messina province, and like any large Italian family, food was a key part of their life. 

Messina is famous for cakes and ice-creams which she learned to make from her mother and her grandmother when she was just a child. Pretty soon, she was thinking about how things would taste and smell, learning about Sicilian ingredients, sampling delicious Italian flavors, devouring books and conversations about food. It’s safe to say at this point, food was in her blood. She cooked with her grandmother a lot and some of the most traditional dishes Laura cooks are her grandmother's original recipes. She claims she never got to do those recipes as well as her grandmother. We beg to differ because we can't imagine how anything could taste better than the Sicilian food she cooked for us, including her mother's Lemoncello recipe, which is the best I've ever had. 

Laura got her professional start at age 19 in one of the finest restaurants on Lake Como, Trattoria da Angela, where she began learning more about Italian cuisine from the French-trained chef, Adriana Zedda. Laura would spend hours in the kitchen watching her cook and writing down all of her secrets. Like Laura, Adriana had a touch for desserts. In fact, Laura's panna cotta, lemon custard and a couple of other desserts come directly from Adriana. 

She went on to work, cooking on private yachts and ultimately as the personal chef for a Russian tycoon. At this point in time, she become accustomed to cooking dinners for 75+ on a two hour notice for many well-known guests including Vladimir Putin.

She cooked in South Africa, then traveled to Greece to help her uncle out in at his restaurant. She also worked at the Raya Hotel on the Island of Panarea in Italy and as the restaurant and hotel manager at Villa las Estrellas in Tulum before coming to San Miguel. The only thing she misses in San Miguel is the sea. I’m with her on that one, too.

Her multi-cultural experience shines through in her cooking and when you have the pleasure of sitting down to one of her comidas, you will be surprised to observe that she cooks it in a tiny kitchen which was recently upgraded with a chefs table. Laura somehow makes it work and maximizes every square inch of space.

Laura and Justin own a Bed and Breakfast in Siracusa, where Justin comes from. One of the oldest towns in Italy, it is on the sea and is rich with ancient Roman and Greek remains; a reminder of the enormous power and wealth it had in those times. Laura and Justin will be leading culinary tours in Sicily when they’re not in San Miguel and will teach Italian cooking classes. 

From my recent class with Laura on puff pastry and sponge cake, I can tell you that Laura is a natural born teacher.

Her husband Justin tends to the large garden on their property where many of the things you eat at Laura’s table are grown. Just seeing it, along with their greenhouse, will inspire you to grow your own. The mixed organic green salad she served on Sunday (lettuce, kale, tatsoi, and arugula) was divine. Her menu changes weekly with whatever happens to be growing in her garden at the time.

To give you a taste for her food, here are the menus for the two days that I was there:

1st Sunday:

Cocktail: Shrimps cocktail profiteroles. 

Starter: Pistachio and sesame-seed crusted Salmon with homemade orange- 
mayonnaise and pan focaccia with extra virgin olive oil and rosemary. 

First Course: Risotto ai Frutti di Mare in a parmesan nest.

Second Course: Sicilian style stuffed baby calamari in pinot grigio wine sauce with
butternut squash and cinnamon mash stuffing.

Desserts: Parfait with croccante di mandorle and hot chocolate sauce.
Individual lemon meringue tart.

Bianco e Nero (whipped cream filled profiteroles in chocolate and hazelnut sauce).
Affogato al caffe.

Second Sunday:

Appetizer: Onion pudding in parmesan zabaglione sauce.

Main courses:
Homemade cocoa tagliolini with walnuts, Gorgonzola sauce and   mesquite smoked bacon

Filetto di maiale in crosta (pork fillet in puff pastry coat stuffed with prosciutto crudo and mushrooms cream) with apple sauce.

Salad:Mixed organic green salad (lettuce, kale, tatsoi, arugula) from our vegetable garden.

Dessert: Delizia al limone…her lemon sponge cake with homemade lemoncello. 

I can attest to the fact that she probably does Italian desserts better than anyone in San Miguel. I didn't just sample four desserts, I ate four full-size portions and refused to share  them with anyone, including my good friend Preston, who helps Laura and Justin out whenever they have a full house… which happens to be most days lately.

Laura's charismatic partner and husband Justin started La Cucina di Afrodita with Laura last year. Justin was a police officer for 20 years and was selected to represent his country for the United Nations mission in Kosovo, where he served for over five years as a criminal intelligence officer. In addition to doing weekend dinners, he also works as a landscape designer for Viveros del Desierto, a nursery specializing in rare desert plants and teaches private Italian classes. In order to go to Italy prepared to experience it to the fullest, plan to take a basic Italian class from him before you travel.

Contact Laura for a reservation at

It was just yesterday that I was living the sweet life, out in the country, soaking up the sun, happy on Italian food and wine, chatting with a group of 18 people (many who have been to Italy recently or are going) who love food as much as I do and certain that in our next life we're all coming back as an Italian from Sicily.

La Dolce Vida is as good as it gets!

Buon Appetito!