Cooking and Wine School in Puglia

The Only Cooking and Wine School in

 Puglia, Italy

Yle Sambati, CEO of was recently interviewed by
Lee Laurino, Editor/Writer of Home to Italy about her Cooking and Wine School in Puglia, Italy.
Participating in a cooking class may be one of the top activities for travelers to Italy.   It may be your first trip or your yearly return to Italy,

Cooking with mamma’s has long been part of the creative experiences Ylenia designs for her guests.   Local Italian women, grandmothers, have taught countless guests the cooking secrets handed down for generations.  

The Puglia Cooking School offers more than leaning to cook Italian food.  Yle, her name all her friends use, tells me, “When I started our culinary program, I really felt that this was the time to introduce people to a new way of cooking and eating.   Not just the common and well known Italian dishes, but above all the healthy and incredible vegetarian cuisine you can create using seasonal organic ingredients.”

“Most people think cooking vegetarian style is like not eating.  Wrong.  Cooking vegetarian means being more creative and focused on using fresh ingredients that create seasonal menus and special foods available at a specific time of the year.”
“And when it is about cooking ‘cucina povera’ style so much the better.  It is the cuisine style that our ancestors have always cooked and that it is now so popular in the south of Italy.  It is only inspired by the “prodotti natural dell terra” the natural products of the earth, and it is great for feeling good, strong and happy.”

How did you become interested in vegetarian cooking?

“I have always been a vegetarian, this is not a secret and I am a big fan of the cucina povera. It is amazing, so creative, never fake, and so delicious. I’m not surprised that this cuisine style is loved by the Puglian people from generation to generation. “

“With my job, I’m a Puglia Travel Consultant, I am visited by so many friends from all over the world.   Food and wine was often a main topic and sometimes they joined cooking lesson that were similar to other cooking lessons they offer in other parts of Italy    . When I told guests about cucina povera and explained to them what they were eating, they simply loved it and wanted to know more about the ingredients and how to combine them.”

Local Mammas share their secrets

When did you expand your cooking lessons to include cucina povera and wine?

“So I realized it was time to create my own cooking and wine school because it was a great way to share this experience with friends visiting me and joining my tours from all over the world.   I did not want them to join a common cooking class, some cooking course they can easily find everywhere in Italy.”

 “I really wanted to recreate the most authentic atmosphere, cooking with local mums, using the most genuine ingredients and educate them on how this type of cuisine could be a real elixir for the health, eventually introducing it a couple of times in the week, at least in the beginning.”


Where is your school located and who are your instructors?

“So I started looking for the most inspiring mammas from the area (I did not need English speaking mammas I wanted fabulous local mamme),  extensively researched  this type of cuisine, studied the nutritional facts, personally visited farmers purchasing the ingredients and finally found a gorgeous location to open my lovely Cooking and Wine School in Squinzano, north of Lecce.

It couldn’t be but there it is: in a place that tells everything about wine production and where you can really enjoy the sweet rhythm of the life in a typical Salento village.

The very moment I saw the Piazza in front of my cooking and wine school, I thought I really wanted this place to be the witness of what food, wine and olive oil means for the Pugliesi people.”

The view from the window of the piazza

Where did you learn to cook?

 “I learned to cook spending a lot of time with my Nona.  My grandmother was wonderful. She was amazing and she spent a lot of time cooking for our big family.  I have always kept in my heart her sweet image, making pasta from scratch and telling me so many amazing stories about her life, the countryside, and the traditions.
*On her necklace she had a pendant that you could open and find the picture of her husband. She always had it with her. How sweet.”
Why did you decide to add a wine school to your new cooking school?
“With food came wine. I’ve been interested in learning about the incredible Puglia enological background for many years now. I have been organized so many events inspired by wine and personally know many local winemakers. Actually we still do events together or special programs with a focus on wine and olive oil.”

“So I decided also it was time to have my own labels for Wine and Olive Oil and UVA and OLIVA were born.  They’re both available for tasting and shipping at my cooking and wine school and I am now creating a new blend for a white and for a rosato wine.”

“Two years ago I was appointed as the President of the Strada del Vino Vigna del Sole connecting with so many great wineries and since one year I’m focusing on a program related to the use of quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil working with several Olive Oil producers and agronomists .”

“Our Cooking and Wine School is now a destination: we welcome friends from all over the world. They join our food and wine experiences because there are really looking for authentic and a special time spent with locals, cooking with real mamme, tasting great wine and olive oil.”

“In creating this program, I really wanted it to be 100% real: real mamme as cooking instructors from the area, local women who daily cook great food for their families and who would use only the best ingredients for their loved ones.
And I also wanted the best venue for my guests: a palazzo overlooking a gorgeous Piazza like on a movie set. bright spaces, beautiful natural light and great atmosphere from the very arrival of our guests/students.”
“Our cooking school offers so many programs: traditional, cucina povera, Mediterranean, organic, vegetarian and wine and olive oil tasting as well (we have so many great labels in our cooking and wine school and we never stop including new ones).”

“And I personally select the wines from local wineries and we invite winemakers to come to our cooking and wine school anytime they want to make a special presentation.

It’s not just a cooking lesson. You can find everywhere. We are not that.  It’s a cultural immersion through food and wine/olive oil. 
It’s about the experience
It’s about having a real Puglia culinary and wine experience in a unique setting.”

You can contact Ylenia Sambati at the above links and

in the near future you will find recipes for vegetarian dishes featured at the Cooking School, offered in Italian on

photos are the property of or

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

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