Thelma & Leez’s Fabulous Food Escapes: epic Tuscany cooking classes to meeting local artisans

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Travelling to food-related hot spots around the world is always a treat, but it’s extra amazing when you get to do so alongside a passionate team of wanderers who make it their business to uncover the tastiest destinations, prettiest places, most authentic Tuscany cooking classes and coolest people possible. This is why we were so excited to learn that sisters Thelma Schempers and Liezie Mulder-Färbinger have finally decided to open up their epic trips to fellow foodies who want to tag along as they eat and drink their way through Tuscany.

Thelma is an interior designer who creates exquisite spaces and fabulous events, and Liezie is co-owner and chef of the renowned Knysna restaurant and bakery Île de Païn. As sisters and the best of friends, the pair grew up with parents who love to entertain and encouraged them to cook, eat together (loudly!), work hard, play hard and appreciate all the beautiful things in life.

“I did my formal training in the United States,” says Liezie. “After graduating I worked at a few top restaurants over there, including The Everest in Chicago, Rialto in Cambridge, and Balthazar in New York. I travelled across America baking in wood-fired ovens and met Markus at a bread baking conference in Minneapolis. It was love at first sight and our food journey together started there.”

The Markus in question is none other than Markus Färbinger, who built the first wood-fired oven for bread baking in South Africa, intent on continuing in the baker artisan tradition of his Austrian family that dates back to 1700. Markus and Liezie opened Île de Païn in Knysna in 2002, which has since become the holy grail of baking in sunny South Africa, providing on-the-job training for top bakers like Fritz Schoon Paul Cremer, Jason Lily, PJ Vadas and many more.

“For the last 17 years, our focus have been on building a trusted brand  and running a successful business. As such, we travel two to three times a year with food as our focus. This is how we find our way into the culture of a country. We always try and incorporate either a short work experience or food related experiences such as Tuscany cooking classes on our trips, to meet local artisans and build our culinary skills and knowledge,” says Liezie.

“As a chef I borrow, share and am inspired by others. I absorb what is happening around me at home and in my travels, and then I twist and turn it to make it my own. Through travel I step out of my immediate surroundings and immerse myself in different cultures. This is where I find my inspiration and my voice to create food that looks good, tastes good and makes you feel good – food that feeds memories and emotions.”

Thelma and Liezie also travel together often, exploring cultures and cuisines as they hunt down the authentic values of each region they visit, talking with the locals and indulging in the food they make. Together, they’ve now created Thelma & Leez Fabulous Food Escapes, a nomadic gathering of food enthusiasts and friends that offer fellow foodies the opportunity to share in their curiosity and enthusiasm as they discover and experience the passion of the food-growers, farmers, chefs and skilled craftsmen who form the beating heart of the beautiful places they visit.

The accommodation they secure for their trips are always something extraordinary. Such as the flopping villa in Tuscany for their Tuscan food adventure, which is something truly special. The villa the sisters have chosen is cared for by a couple who have been living and working in Italy for 16 years – Hildegard, a South African boeremeisie and Christiaan, a Sardinian.

“It is one of those authentic farmhouse villas that you always read about and see in photographs and dream of one day living in or visiting,” says Thelma. “It’s completely different from staying over in a hotel or guesthouse; it’s a privately-owned home and it becomes our haven for a week. It has that very real, authentic Tuscan feel and a lovely tranquil energy about it. Think hand-painted murals in the expansive dining room, airy en suite bathrooms, three outside terraces, a large pool, huge woodfired pizza oven and views to die for. You’ll wake up here to views over rolling hills, lavender hedges and olive trees before getting busy with the most delicious Tuscany cooking classes, Truffle hunting experiences, picnics amongst the vineyards and gourmet shopping in local villages. It’s sheer bliss.”

The artisans they choose to visit on tour are all handpicked and have certain characteristics in common – they represent a new generation that has taken over the artisanal business from their fathers or family. “They work and farm with integrity and sustainability in mind and want to make a difference in the food production of the future. They are all passionate about what they are doing and love to share it with likeminded people,” Thelma enthuses.

The Michelin-star restaurant, Cum Quibus, that is included on the tour itinerary was chosen for its welcoming ambience and the owners’ approach to their craft. “I visited the Michelin restaurant last year in May during our walking trip on the Via Francigena,” says Thelma. “I really liked the casual atmosphere and the owner combination of Lorenzo and Alberto – these two young guys are very passionate about food. The menu is next level with a few very cool twists.”

Combine all of this loveliness in one trip and it’s easy to see why Thelma & Leez Fabulous Food Escapes are causing a buzz amongst culinary travel enthusiasts. We look forward to seeing what kind of marvellous adventures they dream up next!

If you want to read more about their trips or are interested in joining one of their food adventrues you can find more information here.

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