Civitello & The Gourmandise

My scents were activated as the aromas of lemon, mint, Italian parsley, and caramelized onions were mixed together in a deliciously aromatic concoction. As guest chef and author Linda Civitello demonstrated how to make a basic yet exceptional meal, a man in the crowd asked, “Where can I find the recipe?” Civitello replied: “There is no recipe,” and that her meal was easy to make without measurements or complex tools. Civitello would go on to explain that one can use different ingredients and go by the same concept; just mix and match the vegetables.

The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories is responsible for weekly cooking demonstrations by guest chefs or authors that start with a walking tour of the adjacent Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Third and Arizona. The market will in turn donate produce to cement its involvement and support in the community. Co-owner of the school, Clemence Gossette, explained that she and her partner, Hadley Hughes, try to host at least three of these kinds of classes per month.

Claire Soley, a recent graduate of Santa Monica College, is now an assistant chef at the school. At this particular demo, she was assisting Civitello by chopping some of the vegetables and providing necessary tools to prepare the day’s meal.

“Italian food is not Italian food as most of you know it, it has been ‘Americanized,’” Chef Civitello explained to the class. “Spaghetti does not traditionally have meat in it, it is served simply with spaghetti noodles and sauce,” she added as everyone chuckled.

Civitello’s book, “Cuisine & Culture: A History of Food & People,” was published in a third edition last March and explores the ways history has shaped the food we eat today.

The ingredients Civitello used included lemons, Italian parsley, mint, cardoon (often used as filler in flower arrangements- big, purple, fuzzy flowers), asparagus, eggs, artichoke (hearts only), and an award-winning goat’s milk cheese made by “Redwood Hills Farm.” Each ingredient was purchased before the class at the farmers’ market, guaranteeing its freshness. One of the largest out-door farmers’ markets, farmers travel from all across California to downtown Santa Monica every week to display their goods.

Civitello prepped herself. “The key to Italian food is ‘pazienza’ [patience in Italian],” said Civitello as she started chopping vegetables.

Civitello heated up olive oil in a saucepan, and began caramelizing thinly sliced white onions. When the cardoon stems were all chopped into bite-sized pieces, she par-boiled them and discarded the bitter leaves.

With the onions caramelized, the rest of the ingredients were ready to be added. Once everything was in the pan, the Chef explained the importance of making sure the pan doesn’t stick, as you will be flipping the whole thing over in the end.

As the cooking process came to a close, everyone was anxious to take a bite, and after much anticipation, everyone seemed satisfied.

Free to the public, the market tours and demonstrations require only a reservation. Located in the Santa Monica Place, The Gourmandise School also offers a wide variety of classes, ranging from baking and decorating sweets to full lunch and dinner meals. These classes are private and range from $75-$95. A calendar can be found at