On the chef's tour, our food did the talking

Madison, Wis. "chef of the year" Dan Bonanno samples yet another fine meal on our first-ever "Chef's Tour" of Italian small towns in Tuscany and Umbria.

Madison, Wis. "chef of the year" Dan Bonanno samples yet another fine meal on our first-ever "Chef's Tour" of Italian small towns in Tuscany and Umbria.

Can he do it better? Amend that rustic and delicious pasta we pushed by hand out of a pasta maker? Tweak the reliable bistecca di Fiorentina? Or maybe refine that exquisite dessert we can no longer recall exactly … but it was sooo good.

Chef Daniel Bonanno is always thinking about how he could improve on what he just ate.

And did we eat. During our 10-day small-group visit with Dan to Tuscany and Umbria in October 2017, we cooked with one of Italy’s rising young chefs and joined legendary butcher Dario Cecchini for lunch, among many other singular culinary experiences.

And did he think. Dan reveled in the availability, quality, display, care and freshness of the local meats.  He’d know. He spent boyhood alongside his father in the widely known Italian deli Tenuta's of Kenosha, Wis. Today at Madison, Wis. restaurant A Pig in a Fur Coat, Dan creates specialties that draw one couple in our travel group to his restaurant an average of twice a week.  

Just before we left, Dan was named Madison’s chef of the year for his culinary artistry at the restaurant where he says he “lets the food speak for itself.”

The food did a lot of talking as we ate our way through a series of charming local restaurants across Umbria and Tuscany. We, like Dan, were listening.

We visited a range of beautiful small towns, wineries and one famous butcher shop. We were in the kitchen alongside Dan and Certaldo chef Giuseppina Pizzolato plus her son Luca, learning how to make Pici all' Aglione (pasta with tomato and garlic), and Ossobuco. See more below ...

Even a quick lunch stop in Chianti could prove enlightening with Dan, who served as sous chef for Tony Montuano at Spiaggia in Chicago and studied culinary arts in Florence. In fact, he broke away for a night on his own at his old haunt, where we joined him the next day to appreciate Florentine arts as well as food and drink.

We especially enjoying joining Dan as he prepared dinner with another young rising star, Eden Antonini, of Redibis, as they shared some ristorante tips in a small class for us in Bevagna, shown below ...

And of course, we had to tap our 10-year connection with the now-legendary butcher Dario Cecchini of Antica Macelleria Cecchini for a visit and lunch at his shop, seen below ...

After returning to our Tuscan retreat, you could count on Dan to share a few observations on the day’s meals – and perhaps propose an extra dinner on top -- as we watched the sun set from our villa’s rustic overlook of the countryside. In addition to the exquisite meals and cooking classes, we enjoyed private wine tastings, hunted truffles with local truffle hunters and their dogs, took excursions to small villages and Florence, and more.

We’re working on Dan to return next year with a new group and fresh experiences. But at the moment, back home in the kitchen he designed at A Pig in a Fur Coat, he’s more interested bringing Italy here to us. And making it even better.