On a beautiful fall morning with crisp cool air and a deep blue sky we start our morning off with a walking tour of one of our favorite Umbrian cities, Perugia. And we love Perugia not just because it is the name of our favorite drinking game, but because of the sweep of its history, from Etruscan to the Roman to medieval
powerhouse to a center of the renaissance. And today it is so much more than a museum, it is a living breathing city, one that happens to be breathing cool, crisp autumn air with hints of chocolate. For Perugia is the home of Perugina, a historic chocolate company where we will be making chocolates later in the day. And Perugia is host of the annual Eurochocolate festival, which we enjoy after our tour has ended.
Sandwiched in between Perugia and Perugina is our visit to our friend Federico’s winery, Terre Margaritelli in nearby Torgiano. And as wonderful as is the tour of the winery, where we learn of this year’s troubles with a super hot, dry summer that caused the harvest to be advanced by several weeks, as well as Terre Margaritelli’s commitment to organic, sustainable farming, the highlight of the day is lunch in the winery prepared by Federico’s wife Jennifer.
For anyone who doesn’t know the background – Jennifer, Federico and their two children flew to the states last December before Christmas for a work vacation. Plans included catching up with family and friends in the states, promoting Federico’s wines and olive oil and for Jennifer to showcase her talent in Via Umbria’s kitchen, followed by a well deserved 10 days in the Caribbean.
For all of our Umbrian friends – cooking at Via Umbria is easy, its natural. Where many American chefs see a small, impossible kitchen to cook in – our Italian Chefs see an open space where they can create anything. Unfortunately while we are away enjoying that Caribbean vacation our Chef has decided that ours is not the right kitchen and gives her notice.
So – after 10 beautiful days in the sun, as the Bibi family is packing their bags to return to Italy I invite Jennifer out for drinks and ask the impossible. “Any chance you can come back to DC and cook for us for a couple of weeks while we find a Chef?” My powers of pursuasion must be good, or maybe Jennifer is just a good friend, but in any case she agrees to help out and we scramble to rearrange plans, call, beg and plead to find a space in school for the children, and two days later we are back in Washington with Jennifer at the helm of Via Umbria’s kitchen.
Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into a month, a month turns into months. Every week we change the return on the ticket. Facebook posts starts appearing (probably written by Federico) – Free Jennifer! Free Jennifer! T-shirts are made for the entire staff. And finally we find Chef Liam, someone we can trust to manage the kitchen at Via Umbria and Jennifer is finally paroled, returning after three months to Italy to her family.
Today’s lunch is our chance to see Jennifer back in her element. In the world she has created for herself in Umbria. We sit back and relax. Enjoying a meal – created in a tiny kitchen no bigger than the one at Via Umbria – that captures our favorite Umbrian flavors and experiences.
All of this is washed down with a parade of Federico’s wines, making our afternoon in Torgiano not only relaxing but delicious.
We may miss Jennifer back in Washington, but on a magic day here in Italy, we’re glad we freed her to come back to her new native land.