How long has Soul of Sicily been established?
Soul of Sicily began its first programs in Noto in 2006, and is Sicily’s first and only farm-to-table home cooking school.
Who owns the school and runs Soul of Sicily?
Soul of Sicily was founded by Renée Restivo, the Director of the school and programs. Renée is proud to celebrate the heritage and traditions of her ancestors, who were honest, wise, hard-working farmers in Southern Sicily. Business of this type in Italy are often run by wealthy land-owners of an aristocratic heritage, but Renée started her business from scratch on her own. As Italians often remind her… it is her American dream.
What is the meaning of the name Soul of Sicily?
Renée Restivo’s search to find the soul of the island, its flavors, its ancient traditions and her quest to gether as much wisdom from Sicilians during her travels as possible over the past 12 years, led her to want to share those experiences and findings with other English speaking travelers who did not have family on the island or who could not speak Italian. The search for the Soul of Sicily is in every trip that Renée offers. No trip is the same, but all trips are life-changing in some way.
Are cooking classes in Italian or English?
All cooking classes are taught in English personally by Renée Restivo, along with a local home cook who speaks Italian and Sicilian during the class while showing techniques, tools and ingredients. You will certainly improve your ear for Italian and have a chance to practice speaking it if you like.
What should I wear for cooking classes?
Wear something casual, whatever clothes you feel comfortable wearing. You may want to bring walking shoes to explore the farms,
gardens and olive groves. You may bring your favorite apron if you like.
Do you provide recipes? Do I need to take notes during the class?
We provide recipes for all cooking classes but not for any of meals you enjoy during the culinary tours. We suggest that you do not take notes, so that you can see and experience more with your senses during the class. We will provide all tips and notes to you with the recipes.
What are the ages of people in cooking classes? Do more women than men attend?
The ratio is usually about 60% women to 40% men, but it varies. We have a non-cooking option for those who just want to eat! Ages are from 18-65 and we have had a student that was 85 come to cook with us and find her roots later on in her life!
Where are Soul of Sicily’s week-long and day-long cooking courses located?
Soul of Sicily’s week long home cooking school, classes are located in a private villa in the heart of the most beautiful countryside in all of Italy, just minutes from the Baroque town of Noto in Sicily. The day classes are held in a home in Noto.
Does Soul of Sicily offer private day classes? If so where are they located?
Yes, Renée Restivo now offers day classes during the months of April, May, June in the Spring and September and October in the Fall. Classes are held in a private home in Noto.
Noto is located in the South Eastern corner of Sicily, in the province of Siracusa and is about a 20 minute drive south of Siracusa and its vibrant markets. See google map here.
Renée Restivo chose Noto as her base for Soul of Sicily after she fell in love with the town, its ingredients, its culinary traditions and culture of farming while she was on a quest to discover pastry making traditions there over ten years ago. Noto is a UNESCO world heritage town, famous throughout the world for its baroque architecture, and has pristine beaches, ancient archeological sites and some of the most beautiful countryside in all of Italy! Farming traditions are very strong in Noto and that makes classes a pleasure, as Renée’s focus is on sharing agricultural traditions and seasonal recipes and culinary rituals. For more information on Noto, please see our About Noto page.
To read highlights about Noto click here.
How much experience does Renée Restivo as a culinary educator and cooking instructor in Italy?
Renée began her professional career in regional Italian cooking over a decade ago when she worked as a recipe tester and special events Chef for La Cucina Italiana magazine in New York. After a trip to discover her roots and visit the Restivo family farm in Agrigento, Renée began to research and write articles and specialize in Sicilian culinary travel. Since Renée wanted to learn authentic Italian cooking in the homes of Italy (instead of studying at a professional cooking school in the states as most other people did at the time), she moved to Italy. Renée’s first job in Italy was as a Chef Instructor at the cooking school Toscana Saporita in Tuscany. At that school, she became a seasoned Cooking Instructor, and learned to be funny and entertaining at the same time, as well as the Italian art of eating and relaxing. In 2004, Renée’s students asked her if she would consider taking them along with her on some of her adventures, to show them some of the authentic places to eat, taste wine and see how artisan food was produced. So, in 2004 Renée offered her first tour in Italy – a wine tour. Renée created a Taste of Sicily Tour in 2006 when most people in the biz had Tuscany on their minds. In 2007, Soul of Sicily began offering olive harvest tours before other companies did. Soul of Sicily is more often than not the first company to come up with new ideas, new themes, original tours and years later the others follow.
Why is the focus on the land and agriculture so important in Soul of Sicily cooking programs and culinary tours?
Without the land and preservation of the landscape we would not have our farms which are the source for all of the rare culinary ingredients found on the island. Sicily is world-famous for having the best blood oranges, almonds, artisan cheeses, grains, heirloom grapes, figs, pomegranates, fava beans, wild fennel, herbs, seafood and pomodori among other things. Ancient wisdom of generations old farming methods combined with some of the most fertile land in the Mediterranean, make Sicily a culinary paradise.
Sicilians cook with local ingredients and seasonal traditional cooking methods. This way of life is being replaced by one that is more convenience oriented, as large supermarkets replace small markets and golf courses are made where grazing land for Sicily’s cows and sheep once was. Mass tourism and careless real estate development are destroying the Italian countryside in Sicily. Pirates once invaded the island, but today the island is threatened by other types of invaders – foreign interests who want to turn a quick profit without considering the future of the land and agricultural traditions here.
Why should I choose Soul of Sicily?
Soul of Sicily is a network of Sicilian artists, wine makers, art lovers, historians, agricultural specialists, farmers, home cooks and experts. During our adventures, you may meet shepherds, pastry masters, painters, photographers, singers, Sicilian mammas, historians and even map-makers. All of our programs benefit the local economy and a portion of your program admission fee goes towards Renée Restivo’s documentary projects to support local artisans, local farmers and fishermen and to preserving the countryside and educating the public about Sicilian art and culture.
How small are your groups and what are accommodations like?
Please visit our photo gallery to see the rooms in the hotel and villa kitchen where lessons take place.
Day classes have from one to 6 students usually.
Private (week-long) cooking programs are located at the villa (available for weekly rental with a week-long cooking program) are for groups of 4 – 6 friends of family members who already know one another and who want an intimate home setting in the countryside.
How do your programs compare to those offered by large tour operators?
There is no comparison, because no one else does what we do. We offer the chance to experience Sicily through a family and their way of life. It is very personal and customized.
When comparing experiences and prices, please note the maximum amount of people in the program group. Many large tour operators offer trips for 25-50+ people in a large bus but do not state that clearly on their sites.
All of our programs are customized and include original experiences that are created for the individuals in each group. We do not run cookie-cutter tours, and we hand-pick restaurants and locations based on years of experience in the area. We are one of the only week long cooking programs in Sicily, to take you into the home to enjoy food preparation and an authentic meal. We are known for that.
What airport do I fly into to get to Noto?
Our driver and private mini-van picks up our guests at Catania airport on the start date of each of our programs. Noto is about an hour and a half from Catania airport in Sicily, which has direct flights from Rome, Milan and most other major European cities. There are some direct flights from New York to Catania.
How to I get to the cooking classes in Noto?
For day courses, the transportation to Noto is on your own and we provide directions to the house once we confirm your reservation.
Can you help me to plan an extended stay or a visit to another part of Sicily or another region in Italy?
Please send us your special requests to us for consideration and we will design something for you. We have experience in Tuscany, Vento, Lazio, Umbria and Puglia.
What kind of food can I bring back from Sicily to the USA in my suitcase or in my carry on bags?
Please visit the website for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and download the PDF titled, “Know Before You Go,” for complete information. You can also call the 800 number on the website to listen to a recording or order publications.
What’s the weather like in Noto, Sicily and the province of Siracusa?
Please click here for current weather conditions and maps of the area.
time of your stay. There are different types of plans for different lengths of stays and coverage.
How to I sign up for a day class or a series of Soul of Sicily cooking classes during my stay in Sicily?
First, please email firstname.lastname@example.org the dates you’ll be in Noto or Siracusa, the number of travelers in your party and your interests or request. Please write Cooking Class Reservation in the subject line. Once we’ve confirmed availability in the course, you can complete the reservation form online and send in payment to hold your reservation.
How did Renée become the TV Spokesperson for the Silver Spoon cookbook?
The Silver Spoon cookbook is the English translation of an important collection of regional Italian recipes. The original book Il Cucchiaio d’Argento was published in the 50s and was a collection of recipes from home cooks all over Italy. Renée’s love and commitment to authentic, classic regional Italian food and home cooking led her to be chosen for that project. The night before the LIVE TV demo, she found out the 3 recipes she’d be preparing (out of thousands in the book). It was quite an experience and an honor for her to be cooking LIVE from the book on national TV -- especially since she was presenting recipes from Italy’s anonymous home cooks!
When is Renée Restivo’s Sicily book going to be published? Can I pre-order it?
Renée has finished her manuscript and is planning to publish her book in 2013. Please sign up for our newsletter for more information and updates.
What are the costs of day classes?
It depends on the number of travelers in your party and the menu. Please look at the cooking course page for pricing.
How long are gift vouchers valid for?
Gift vouchers do not have an expiration date.
Would Renée Restivo organize our private group or family reunion in Sicily?
Yes, we can also organized large group events upon request. We often put together unusual programs for families (such as a recent request to match a Sicilian American family with a family of fishermen).
Please send possible dates, the number of people in the private group and special interests of the group. Renée has organized tours for groups of chefs, food producers, family groups and friends at the private villa in Noto and in other areas of Sicily. Private classes can be arranged and a customized cooking course too.