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A Cooking School in Tuscany

A couple from Texas turns their love of Italy and its cuisine into a thriving business

Bill and Patty Sutherland love everything about Italy — especially the food.

Their love affair started years ago when they began vacationing in Montefollonico, a Tuscan village located a few hours north of Rome. Bill had been traveling to Italy since the late '60s and fell in love with the people and culture. Montefollonico, known for its restaurants, caught their eye because of its small-town charm and the fact that it remained off the tourist track.

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The Sutherlands began making local friends and found it harder to leave, so in 2000 they decided to give up their day jobs, sell everything and move there for good.

"We had too much wine one day at lunch," Bill Sutherland recalls. "We just made this wonderful, earthshaking decision and within 90 days we sold everything and moved here."

In order to make their move abroad work, the Sutherlands needed a plan and a source of income.

Bill, who was in real estate at the time, had owned a gourmet shop and studied with several chefs, including Julia Childs. His passion for food led the couple to start a cooking school, which draws American students to Montefollonico to get hands-on cooking instruction — and a taste of the local culture. They named their school Tuscan Women Cook, inspired by the local women who teach the classes.

We asked the Sutherlands, now in their mid-60s, a few questions about their new life in Italy.

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There are hundreds of cooking schools for vacationers. What makes yours different?

Bill: We found that most Italian cooking schools have well-known chefs or celebrities. But here you get the heart and soul of Tuscany. Our cooking is about food from the kitchen of real Italian women. The location and view is also breathtaking.

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Who teaches the classes?

Bill: A wonderful friend of mine in Tuscany helped me find great cooks. He said he'd eaten at every home in the village. We walked together past the side of our house and he pointed across the valley to a villa. At that home there were four generations of women under the same roof – from the great grandmother, who was 92, to the youngest daughter, who was 11. They all became our cooks and also inspired the name Tuscan Women Cook.

What do students do when they come to your program?

Patty: Every afternoon I take the group out to experience the local culture, landscape, history and hopefully fulfill their many perceptions of a wonderful week in Tuscany. Every evening we go to a different village and restaurant for dinner. We also take the group to Florence for the day.

Bill: We show them what Tuscany is really like. We show them how food is grown; we take them to the real farmers and winemakers and to a wonderful place where they make Pecorino cheese.

Running a business isn't easy, particularly in another country.

Patty: We had to figure it out as we went along. After about two years the honeymoon was over. I went through a difficult time. We were very isolated in the winter. We had six grandchildren who were growing up. It was tough. But now we spend the offseason back in Dallas.

What's next for Tuscan Women Cook?

Bill: We don't know. That's what's exciting about it.

Patti: Whatever happens we don't want to say "I wish we would have done that." I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to look at the photo albums and say that was my crazy grandmother and she really had an adventure.

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