The Upper East Side’s 92Y space is among the most versatile in New York City, lending its auditoriums and classrooms to informative forums, seminars and interactive chats with celebrity guests. Recently though, the venue has been ramping up its selection of food-focused events with local chefs and cocktail artisans holding court over a few dozen attendees in an intimate setting. With that in mind, Monday evening allowed a small group of folks to travel from Manhattan to Italy without having to leave 92nd Street as author and food historian Francine Segan would host “Undiscovered Italy: Tasting Tuscany.” The entertaining ninety minute session focused on Tuscany’s diverse array of food and drink by region and unearthed a multitude of informational nuggets as guests chomped on snacks indicative of the Tuscan culture.
The classroom setting was certainly appropriate during Segan’s program, led by a slideshow of still photos that helped to reinforce the region’s noted historical references and provide a glimpse at some of Italy’s most sweet and savory dishes. But even without a trip to Tuscany in your recent plans, there was still plenty to glean from the evening’s casual presentation. Discussion points were aplenty ranging from the way that the region’s ‘lardo’ is created using slabs of marble in Colonnata to the northern area of Pietrasanta where many artists learn the craft of sculpting to the beauty of the beaches in Forti dei Marmi- which Segan compared to the Hamptons- to the beauty of Massarosa where during ‘Notte Bianca,’ the city hangs their best whites on clotheslines around the city and restaurants stay open all night long. In short, the session provided a glimpse into how vastly different the region can be from province to province.
Though the history of the area certainly put our understanding into perspective, we listened most eagerly as Segan detailed the many culinary delights of Tuscany- the famous desserts in Siena (‘Panforte’), the medieval city of Lucca and its family run restaurant (Antica Locanda di Sesto), the home of the world’s best chocolate (Amedei) in Pontedera, and of course some of Italy’s finest restaurants in Firenze. From panzanella to sciacciata, our collective mouths watered from picture to picture, while others in attendance scurried to take notes on Florence restaurants and sandwich shops like Semel, All’Antico Vinaio and Hemingways based on Segan’s recommendations.
Of course no class dubbed ‘Tasting Tuscany’ would be complete without some light bites to nosh on ourselves beginning with delicious pours of the balanced 2008 “Caprili Brunello di Montalcino,” a big spicy Tuscan red wine. Passed around spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil and trays of Corsini Biscotti, Tuscole Tomato and Chili Pepper Crackers and Amedei chocolates made their way around the room throughout the evening which only enhanced the many flavors that Segan was discussing in front of us. And Segan to her credit, is a particularly effective orator in that she fondly recalls so many of her tasting experiences almost like a close friend or relative recalling a recent excursion. Her classes are relatable because of her presentation style while her diverse travel history and penchant for making things sound and look delicious only lend even more credibility to her expertise. Though we sat inside of a small room filled with New Yorkers on Monday night, it certainly felt like we were transported to Tuscany- if only for a short while.