Starting a Cooking Business in Italy

Few places on Earth ignite the romantic senses like Italy—it’s a country people dream of visiting, and once they do, they dream of returning.

From the mouth-watering food, the exquisite wine and classic art, to the rolling hills of Tuscany, the glittering Mediterranean Sea and la dolce vita lifestyle, Italy is the stuff of dreams.

While most visitors only fantasize about returning, some savvy expat food-lovers have found a viable way to make that dream a reality—by opening cooking schools.

If it sounds strange for a North American to be teaching Italian cooking in Italy, think of it this way: most tourists who come on a cooking vacation to Italy are American. An American chef understands what they already know about Italian cooking and what they want to learn.

New Yorkers Ashley and Jason Bartner are just two of the expats finding success with a cookery school in Italy today. They chose to set up their business in the Marche region of central Italy, a region located east of Florence and sandwiched between the Appenine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Think of it as the “calf” on the boot of Italy.

The Bartners chose to set up their school in a 300-year-old stone farmhouse, which they lease, outside the small village of Piobicco.

“We chose this location because it’s Italy’s best kept secret,” Ashley says. “We really wanted it to be a rural, more authentic experience for our guests. The people here are wonderful and very welcoming.”

The couple fell in love with Italy while honeymooning in 2006, and set about making their dream of moving and working there a reality. They founded La Tavola Marche, an agritourismo business that is a combination cooking school, organic farm, and small inn, just a year later.

Jason took charge of the kitchen, and Ashley runs the business side of things—including organizing tours and playing hostess at the inn.

Their goal was to produce meals that were “super local, seasonal, and traditional,” according to Ashley. They raise their own chickens and keep a large organic garden that supplies herbs, tomatoes, garlic and more, all of which goes into the cooking. They have even begun producing their own wine and recently bottled more than 600 bottles of red wine.

Their advice for other expats considering a similar venture? As Ashley says, “Keep up that American spirit of hard work and you’ll do well.”

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