About Us

CASA LARA COOKING EXPERIENCE

Why did I create the Casa Lara cooking Experience?
A desire to cook
A chance overnight stay at La Fenice Agriturismo
A wrong turn on a mountain road en route to Bologna airport
Taking part in RTE’s HEAT programme with Kevin Dundon and Kevin Thornton

These were many of the reasons why I, Ann Hamill chose to create the Casa Lara Cooking Experience and ‘find myself’ at 50!!

In 1968 I joined the Cathal Brugha College of Catering in Dublin and completed a two year Cooks Diploma Course. I truly wanted to go on to cook as a career but the family business beckoned and on completion of my course I joined the family business, Hamills Rent a Car and all things cooking were sadly left behind.

Rolling Emilia Romagna landscape

Rolling Emilia Romagna landscape

For my 50th birthday my family treated me to a cookery course in northern Tuscany, just a stone’s throw from Emilia Romagna. Everything that I had loved about my Cathal Brugha training came flooding back and the cooking bug had bit me again. At that time I had also become a member of the newly formed Mullingar Farmers Market helping a good friend on her stand. I was now passionately back into cooking as we braved good days and bad days at the market with my potato cakes, beetroot chutney, soups and savoury tartlets and lots more. Back to Italy in the meantime! My second week of that trip was spent in Emilia Romagna; the home of Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and of course Parma ham. On my final day I was driving through that spectacular countryside and by dusk I realised I needed an overnight stay. My Alastair Sawday guidebook took me to where I now call my home from home in Italy and my first meeting with the Giarandoni family in their La Fenice Agriturismo. After dinner that night I asked the chef for some recipes. I was looking for three recipes, he said he would give me one; but that I would need to return if I wanted another recipe! Well of course – any excuse to return to La Fenice and over the next three years I took many trips back and each time chef would give me only one recipe. During my visits we talked about the possibility of opening a cookery school. Was I mad as I was still working full time in Ireland and snatching weekend trips to Italy?

On 24 October 2006 en route to Bologna airport I decided to visit The Chestnut Museum closeby to La Fenice. On the way down the mountain I took a wrong turn and as I rounded a bend I saw a sign nailed to an oak tree which read “VENDESI” (For Sale). This was my first sight of Casa Lara… could it be a home for the cookery school?

Casa Lara restoration work

On July 4 2007 my sister and I became the proud owners of a derelict hillside house but with the most spectacular views. Were we mad or what?!!! Lengthy Italian paperwork meant that the restoration did not commence untl May 2008. The possibility of starting the school anytime soon was not looking too hopeful.

The final twist in the story was to be my taking part in the RTE cooking programme called HEAT. This really accelerated the process of having the cookery school up and running more than I ever could have imagined. Getting to the final of HEAT was more than a dream come true for me. It gave me the confidence and courage that I lacked and even more resolve. I had called my Italian family to tell them how I was progressing on the TV programme and frantically asked them how long it would take to complete the restoration of Casa Lara as now I really felt the Cookery School could be a possiblity. “But Anna YOU ALREADY HAVE A KITCHEN here at La Fenice” replied Remo and Paolo. I could not believe that these wonderful friends were offering me their restaurant kitchen in the interim. My dream come true.

On 13 September 2008 my first group of students arrived. Kevin Dundon and Kevin Thornton who had been my mentors on HEAT, joined me for the inaugural cookery school and fell in love with Emillia Romagna.

I will be forever grateful to both Kevin Dundon and Kevin Thornton for their friendship and the courage and confidence they have inspired in me.

Ann Hamill in Italy