It all started by surprise in July when the phone rang and we got the news that one of our students had raved about her Tuscan Women Cook experience to a producer of the Today Show feature, "Your Life Calling." This is an AARP-sponsored segment, featuring people 50+ who are reinventing how they live and work, hosted by Jane Pauley. In the past Jane's interviewed such diverse folks as Ken Wood from Maryland, who created an organization that installs water drills in impoverished African villages, Antoinette Little who became a chocolatier and opened a successful shop in New Jersey, and Tripp Hanson, a Broadway dancer who embarked on a new career as an acupuncturist.
Apparently when Jane Pauley heard about a Texan who ran a successful real estate business and his graphic designer wife, who together left all that behind to create a cooking school in a Tuscan village, they thought we were a perfect fit. If anyone had told Patty and I years ago when we began our Montefollonico adventure that someday we'd be AARP role models, we'd have had quite the laugh. But there we were this summer, on the phone, saying, "Come on over!".
First to arrive was producer Kim Sedmak, the crew, and their spouses. It's unusual for husbands and wives to come along on work trips, but when they heard about our dreamy Tuscan spot, they would not be left at home. All checked into Hotel La Costa and were immediately as enchanted about the place as we are. They were looking for locations to shoot and to use as B roll-in show biz lingo that's the atmospheric shots used around the interview. We had a great time showing them where we take our students, going to our friend Flavio Andreucci's winery so they could meet the handsomest vintner in Tuscany, Belagaggio Agriturismo with its beautiful vegetable gardens, chicken yard, and 3 generations of cooks. On other days we visited the bustling Torrita di Siena food market, introduced them to our friends Simonetta and Albo of 13 Gobbi restaurant in our village, guided them through the stunning Val d'Orcia countryside, and they filmed part of our Monday cooking class, with La Chiusa's glamorous chef Dania teaching.
Jane arrived days later with her husband, Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau. They checked into La Chiusa, where owners Dania and Umberto fawned over them, as they do to all their guests. Since the airline "misplaced" Jane's luggage, she quickly solved the problem with a shopping trip to Florence. That night the crew unloaded two vans of equipment on our patio, and covered them with a tarp, so all was set for the following morning's interview.
As you'd expect, Jane was a charming pro. She insisted on authenticity, so we didn't actually meet her until the interview. She arrived very early to finish her hair and makeup in our guest house, then we joined Jane, along with a dozen+ camera operators, sound technicians, still photographers, lighting directors and producers came to begin the interview on our patio. Suddenly, there we were on our patio talking to Jane Pauley-THE Jane Pauley-who we'd watched on the Today Show and Dateline for decades. She was relaxing to be with, and there was no fluff about the interview. She asked important questions, and we told her how our passions brought us to this extraordinary place, what it was like to take the risk to follow our dreams, and the ups and downs of adjusting to the Italian lifestyle. After the interview, the entire crew joined us for lunch prepared by our daughter Shelby. Then we brought in one of our delightful cooks, Anna, to make tagliatelle. Jane was a great sport, joining in to knead and cut the pasta.
That night we had our Wrap Party at Osteria La Porta in Montichiello, practically taking over the whole lovely restaurant with all 20 of us-the crew, their spouses, Jane and Gary. Owner Daria Cappelli was her usual enchanting self, starting us off with carpaccio and shaved truffles, followed by ravioli that former students of ours renamed "Better Than Sex", stuffed with ricotta and a little spinach, sauced with a delicate cream. Next came tender beef cheeks braised in wine and then an assortment of desserts, including La Porta's fabulous chocolate tart.
The wine flowed, the atmosphere was lively and celebratory. Jane was genuinely impressed by all she'd seen during her time in and around Montefollonico-how distinctive it is from other places in Tuscany, unchanged by tourism. Then I saw Gary look at his watch in astonishment. It was midnight, "We've been here four hours, and I love it!," he said, amazed that he was experiencing this phenomenon of long-stretched-out Italian dinners he'd only heard stories about. The evening ended wonderfully, when as we were finishing our last sips of wine, Jane and Gary, a couple who've dined at top restaurants all over the world, said, "This is the best meal we've ever eaten!"
How will all these beautiful days be edited down to a few short minutes on "Your Life Calling"? Tune in or set your DVRs for the morning of November 17 to see. It may inspire you to join our 2012 classes or come back and visit. After the great time Jane and Gary had, maybe they'll be back too!
For a more information on Jane Pauley's "Your Life Calling", visit the web site here.