On a recent Friday evening, Jackie Ruby’s kitchen was filled with fresh ingredients from Arthur Avenue, along with decanted wine and two Valentinos in chef’s coats – one, a small, fluffy dog; the other, a chef visiting from Italy who’s about to whip up a feast from antipasto to dessert.
Amid preparations, Jackie (also known as WAG’s Saucy Realtor), George Valentino Pestritu and his wife and business partner, Larisa Lavinia Laudat, relive a memorable day two years ago when Jackie and husband Doug were vacationing in Italy and the two couples ended up cooking together from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.
When Jackie and Doug called their travel agent to book a cooking class, they were told all classes were full and were connected to Valentino and Larisa. The couple runs Tastemotions, which offers visitors private chef services, cooking lessons, wine and cheese tastings and more in Lucca, a city in the Tuscany region of Italy. Jackie and Doug had the rare treat of going to the couple’s home.
“It was 12 hours of pure bliss,” Jackie says.
Every year during one of their few off months, the couple visits the U.S., traveling around the country to cook with clients they met in Italy. (One includes Martina McBride, who dedicated an entire chapter of her how-to-entertain book, “Around the Table,” to Valentino’s recipes.)
Valentino and Larisa work together seamlessly — slicing fresh tomatoes, checking the oven and swiftly switching from Italian to English to chat about everything from their lives to the different cheeses in each region of Italy.
Valentino says he knew he always wanted to be a chef. A cookbook was the first book he ever read. But, following family tradition, he went to military school and started his career in airport security. Yet eventually, with his father’s blessing, he pursued his passion for cooking. He and his wife, a trained sommelier, started working together managing a villa. Valentino also worked as the head chef at a restaurant. Larisa was there to support her husband, having known him since childhood through their grandparents.
Now they enjoy the variety of working with different clients and learning from new experiences together. Larisa says she and her husband move efficiently, because they understand each other so well. The easy bond between the two translates into the environment of the kitchen.
Spending time with the sweet pair, you feel like part of the family.
The chefs believe in using fresh ingredients, creating real, delicious meals and making everything from scratch. They assembled a vibrant antipasto and dishes of melt-in-your-mouth crostone with Italian sausage and creamy cheese and valdostana, puff pastry with tomato sauce, ham and mozzarella. (See the recipes at wagmag.com.) Watching the creation of the meal — pappardelle with a ragu meat sauce, veal ossobuco with broccoli and fontina cheese phyllo dough baskets — and eating with the chefs made the meal even better. I’m hoping the next meal I have with Tastemotions is in Valentino and Larisa’s hometown.
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- 12 slices of Italian bread (ciabatta or pagnotta)
- 1 package ( 8 ounces) of creamy cheese as Crescenza or Robiola
- 4 links of mild Italian raw sausage
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Mix cheese and sausage (out of its casing) in a bowl.
- Cut the slices of bread in your favorite size (from 2 to 4 bites) and spread the mix on top with a fork, being generous with the quantity.
- Place bites on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake on convection for 15 minutes or until crisp. Larisa recommends serving it warm with chilled Prosecco or Franciacorta sparkling wine. Serves six.
- 1 package of puff pastry sheets, 2 sheets per package
- 5 slices of Italian prosciutto cotto di Parma (cooked ham)
- 3/4 cup of tomatoes puree, dressed with a pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of dry oregano
- A few leaves of fresh chopped basil
- 1 package of dry Mozzarella (8 ounces), sliced or shredded
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Defrost the puff pastry and lay one sheet flat on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Spread half of the tomato puree, Mozzarella and the slices of ham on the pastry sheet.
- Add the remaining puree on top of the ham and close with the second sheet of puff pastry.
- Press the edges with a fork. (To close them more easily, brush the edges with water before you put the second sheet on top.)
- Bake on convection for 25 to 30 minutes or until the food is crispy and gold in color on top. Try not to open the oven door until it is done. Serve with Rosé wine, Larisa says. Serves six.