Follow your taste buds from Newport restaurant Giusto to Piedmont, Italy

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Chef Kevin O’Donnell has made a name for himself in the Newport restaurant scene. His hit, upscale Italian restaurant Giusto opened in 2020 with much success, and three years later he opened Mother Pizzeria in Newport with his team from Giusto. His menus have brought a taste of Italy to this coastal Rhode Island town, and now Newporters (and Rhode Islanders at large) will have a chance to travel with the chef on a culinary tour in the nation inspiring his restaurants’ cuisine.

The trip lasts from October 13-20, and travelers will explore Piedmont and Turin, Italy, with O’Donnell through the lens of food and culinary arts. O’Donnell partnered with the nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, Oldways, to open this journey to the public.

Chef Kevin O’Donnell

Oldways, Sara Baer-Sinnot explains, the president of the company, was founded by Providence native K. Dun Gifford who, through culinary travel in the 1980s, realized that “a lot of traditional food and old ways of [preparing] food were disappearing and replaced with more what he called ‘techno-food,” highly processed, mass-produced alternatives. “He founded Oldways to promote and preserve these ways of eating, and our first project was the Mediterranean diet,” she says. 

That diet, associated with countries like Italy, promotes plant-based eating and healthy fats like olive oil. At a time when the United States government was saying that fats are bad, developing a Mediterranean diet pyramid with olive oil prominent on it was “revolutionary.” In order to educate Americans about the healthy Mediterranean ways, “we raised money and took journalists, chefs, and food writers to different parts of the Mediterranean on culinary journeys.” Then, the non-profit opened the trips to a much wider audience: the general public.

The Piedmont trip continues the mission to support culinary education and traditional practices through travel to the source. Travelers will “look at the cultural food traditions, the traditional ingredients that make the cuisine of this part of Italy so special,” emphasizes Baer-Sinnot, and under O’Donnell’s guidance, learn to make meals inspired by the region. “He is one of the best teachers,” Baer-Sinnot asserts.

O’Donnell has worked with Oldways once before, when he still worked in his Boston restaurant SRV. Through the tight-knit restaurant and culinary connections there, he was introduced to Baer-Sinnot, and together they curated a group trip to Veneto, the region of Venice and Verona, Italy. From this experience and from his experience working in Italy under a chef who thrived by creating cooking classes and tours of different producers, O’Donnell has become a master educator of his craft.     

Highlights of the culinary tour include only regional favorite foods and activities. One event is white truffle hunting in the heart of truffle season right in the town of Alba, which is world-renowned for their white truffles. This fungus is truly a speciality: “the flavor and aromatics of the white truffles are far superior than all the different black truffle varieties. They are also much more expensive. By the time they get to the United States, they can be anywhere from three thousand to five thousand dollars per pound,” explains O’Donnell.   

Piedmont is also well-known for its high-quality wines. “People that love Italian wine will almost always mention Barolo or Nebbiolo as some of their favorites, and they are both from this region,” O’Donnell explains. To celebrate the wine traditions, the group will pay a visit to G.D. Vajra, a vineyard whose wines are among the select list at Giusto. 

Other experiences include a rice farm tour and a class from O’Donnell on making the perfect risotto, as well as a chocolate factory, a tour of a cheese farm and tasting, a vermouth experience, and a hazelnut tasting. One of the gems of this culinary journey, however, is a class from O’Donnell on an Piedmont-inspired three-course meal. While the chef is still finalizing that menu, he plans on creating something classic from the region: “There’s one [pasta] called agnolotti that is a traditional ravioli shape from Piedmont,” he says, musing about the first course. “Meat is a really big part of the cuisine there, in particular beef. They have these really large, white cattle called Piedmontese,” which are extremely tender and have a reputation that rivals Wagyu. Then for dessert, “there’s something called ‘Gianduja,’ Nutella’s ancestor. Gianduja is a chocolate hazelnut spread, and they also make little chocolates that you eat. Those are from Piedmont because hazelnut trees are everywhere and the most prized hazelnuts in Italy are grown in Piedmont.” Hungry travelers can expect something chocolate-y and hazelnutty for a smooth finish to their meal. 

After the trip, O’Donnell expects to bring Piedmont inspiration back to the Giusto menu, making the journey from Newport to Italy and back again all the more special, as it will be a memorial “based on our travels together,” O’Donnell says.

Interested travelers shouldn’t be put off on the notion of group travel. “It’s really quite wonderful,” Baer-Sinnot gushes. The group is entirely made up of “people who love the same kinds of things that you do – who love food and love to cook and love to learn.” Many of those who take a chance on these group culinary journeys make lifelong friends, she says.  
Save your spot today at OldwaysPT.org/Travel and use the code WHATSUPNEWP to get 5% off.

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