I don't think I talked about how this trip came to be. We live in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. A half-block away is the Radisson Hotel. In the hotel are several great restaurants, one of which is Zazios Italian (our fave). (Click here to read more).
The founding and executive chef there was John Korycki (a Polish name pronounced Kor-iss-ky). Chef John led the team at Zazios for ten years and we often attended his Chef's Table. It is a stadium setting where he entertained, educated, and prepared excellent meals right before your eyes. Each month is a different theme and menu paired with appropriate wines.
Chef John earned a degree in Culinary Arts from Kendall College in Evanston, Illinois. Among other places he cooked at Spiaggia's in Chicago, as well as "stage-ing" in various restaurants in northern Italy. Stag-ing (from the French word stagiaire and pronounced staag with a soft A and soft G) is working in an unpaid internship briefly in exchange for training, room and board. (Click here to read more about stage.)
Chef John also promoted southwest Michigan produce and meats at a James Beard Foundation dinner in NYC in 2014. Recently, he accepted the position of Director of the brand new Culinary Education Department of Kalamazoo Valley Community College. (Click here to read more about the KVCC Culinary Program.)
And besides that, Chef is just an all-around great guy.
Anyway ... through Chef's Table and numerous recommendations from others that had traveled with John, we decided to join his next culinary tour. I have always been an Italio-phile at heart since we were "adopted" by friends' Joe and Cheryl's Italian family when we moved to San Francisco. Plus Mike was about to turn the Big-Seven-Oh. Sounded like great excuses for a big splurge dream trip of a lifetime.
We also talked our friends Lynn and Sandy into joining us. Mike and Lynn started at Northwest Airlines about the same time and retired from there. The wives, Sandy and I, came along with the package. We have been dear friend for forever and have all always enjoyed and appreciated fine food and spirits.
To wrap up our group of seven, we met two brand new friends, Steve and Karen. They found out about the tour the same way we did, at the Chef's Table. We didn't know them at all until we invited the whole group over to our place for a meet-and-greet a short while before the actual trip. We knew right away that they would fit in well to the party.