"Aggiungi il sale," booms pizzaiolo Luigi Esposito. "Aggiungi la farina rimanente!"
Eight language students add salt to their dough as instructed at Via Napoli, Esposito's lauded pizzeria in Hunters Hill. Some are drinking Aperol, others are onto their second beer. Everyone looks equal parts happy and confused at their first Italian and pizza-making class.
"I thought I knew how to make pizza, but boy, this is a different way of doing it than I expected," says 42-year-old student Loretta Lacalandra. "It's a little hard to keep up with Luigi too. I can already speak a bit of Italian, but he's using a Naples dialect I'm not that familiar with. Regardless, it's still a lot of fun."
The cooking and language classes are a new concept from Co.As.It Italian Association, established in 1968 to promote Italian language and culture in NSW. Students attend a basic language class at the Co.As.It head office in Leichhardt, and a few of days later use the Italian they've learnt cooking in a restaurant.
For Sydneysiders more interested in the language and technique of ravioli-folding than pizza, Surry Hills' Pasta Emilia is working with the association. Schibello Coffee in Rhodes is also on board, teaching students how to pull a proper espresso and order coffee in Italian – important for any future Roman holidays.
"By no means are we transporting people to Italy, but since it's impossible to travel at the moment, the classes are probably as close as Australians can get to feeling like they're in the country," says Co.As.It general manager Thomas Camporeale.
In an address to the National Press Club this week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg flagged international borders would remain closed throughout 2021. Cultural experiences similar to the Co.As.It cooking classes may well become more popular with Sydneysiders looking for new ways to satisfy their wanderlust.
Taste Cultural Food Tours reports an increase in bookings for its culinary treks of Sydney suburbs, for example. The four-hour tours might explore the Vietnamese kitchens of Cabramatta, or Syrian restaurants in Merrylands. Meanwhile, workshop specialist ClassBento has been popular over the past six months for its online and in-person classes featuring subjects as ramen-making and Turkish mosaic.
Indeed, Italian-born Esposito speaks little English as he guides students through the process of making true Neapolitan pizza. (Knead dough with knuckles to make it more elastic; only ever use San Marzano tomatoes; cook the pizza at 400 degrees to get a Naples-style blistered crust.)
"Luigi may have challenged the students a lot more than we usually would on a second lesson, but he engaged them and that's the main thing," says Camporeale. "We also have a language teacher attending the classes to help with translation."
Student feedback for the $175 experience has been overwhelmingly positive, says Camporeale.
"Learning a language is less daunting when it's more interactive and engaging. At the end of the day, the courses are just a taste of Italian culture and a fun way to be exposed to the language. If people have a good time, we encourage them to enrol in our more formal classes too."