For Chowhound. February 2018.
An American girl travels to Italy, meets a charming Italian man, gets married, and together they live happily ever after. It sounds like a cliché love story, right?
Well, it happened in January 2009 when Meredith Hall, a resident of Atlanta, met Luigi D’Arienzo (who goes by Gigi) during a milonga in the medieval city of Siena. Gigi and his friends hosted and attended a tango social each month held in different towns around Italy. They would often cook for 80-100 people and enjoy evenings filled with drinking local wines, dancing, and meeting new people. “The first moment I saw Meredith was emotional. I wanted to dance with her. I didn’t think of anything, I just wanted to be with her. And then it was the best dance I had ever had!” Gigi recalls.
Since then, the couple has been dancing and teaching others around them how to savor the good life with their family-run Italian café in Atlanta and curated culinary trips to Italy.
Tuscany at Your Table commenced as a home-based cooking school offering small groups a chance to experience regional dishes from around Italy, honing on Gigi’s background of running an agro-tourism farmhouse in Tuscany. “Each week we would tour a different region of Italy through our palates,” Gigi says, teaching Italian food lovers how to cook carbonara from Rome, chickpea soup from Tuscany, and migliaccio (ricotta cake) from Naples. Those who wanted to dive deeper into the country’s rich culture embarked on trips to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast with the young couple.
After over 100 cooking classes, the city demanded more of Gigi’s original recipes demonstrated in a southern Italian accent with his sweet wife baking crostadas by his side. They rented a storefront in the trendy Virginia-Highlands neighborhood, known for funky boutiques and notable restaurants.
More Romantic Italian
Gigi now spends his days making homemade pastas, simple sauces, and delicately layered paninis, while Meredith specializes in desserts. The menu changes daily and is based on seasonal ingredients. Soups, salads, and pastas can be bought by servings or weight to take home for dinner. There is also a storefront selling Italian imports such as olives, chocolates, wine, cheese, prosciutto, and ceramics. While there’s not much room to dine-in, Tuscany at Your Table becomes a neighborhood hangout in the evenings.
Cooking classes, wine tastings, and tango nights are what draw singles and couples into the shop. Regular customers come in each week and meet new people from the community. They bring friends and celebrate birthdays over Italian food and wine. Often, Gigi and Meredith offer an impromptu tango lesson and everyone starts dancing. Perhaps someone else will also find their lover at one of these events.
Food is an integral part of Gigi and Meredith’s life. Though they work together and have a newborn baby, they take time to have a romantic meal at home from time to time. Gigi prepares orange and fennel salad, champagne and strawberry risotto, and molten chocolate cake, paired with a bottle of Lamùri (meaning love) a fine ruby red wine from Sicily. “We work well together dividing our responsibilities and are compatible at home and work. Even though we are busy, we are happy!” Gigi claims and offers to share his romantic secrets at a Valentine’s day cooking class.
Keeping with Italian tradition, on Feb. 15, Tuscany at Your Table will celebrate San Faustino, or “Singles Day” as it is known in Italy, with a cooking class only for singles. Typically, unattached men and women go out for drinks, dinners, and dances in Italy as a retort to San Valentino.
When recounting her time in Italy and what led to start her business, Meredith says, “What do I not love about Italy? I love the countryside, the people, and the language. I went with the excuse of learning the language, but discovered beautiful architecture in quaint historic cities, and warm, fun-loving people. I love that the food varies from region to region and there’s so much variety. That’s ultimately what we want to share through Tuscany at Your Table here in Atlanta.”
Header image courtesy of Rosemary Calli.
~ Written for Chowhound. February 2018.