Meet Henna Garrison, program director of Sicilian cooking school, Anna Tasca Lanza
Plus her mini guide to Cefalù, Sicily
I got to know Henna Garrison at Anna Tasca Lanza, the renowned cooking school of Fabrizia Lanza in central Sicily, when Henna invited me and my daughter Mariù to take part in their annual tomato harvest week. It is firmly etched in my memories as one of the most wonderful food experiences I’ve had the privilege to experience (I’m already counting down the days until I’m there next in September to host a cooking workshop), but so much about that experience is special because of the people there — and Henna and Fabrizia really make a top team.
I want you to get to know Henna too — she is a gem of a person — so I’m really happy that she’s agreed to be interviewed and share her insider tips. I hope to make this a thing, a series of interviews of really wonderful people, people in the know, passionate about food and place and experts in their field. Do let me know what you think and if you’d like to see more of these!
Henna is Programs Director at Anna Tasca lanza and a mindset coach. She’s originally from Nantucket in the US but now lives in beautiful Cefalù in northern Sicily, so I’ve also asked her to share her favourite spots in Cefalù and just reading these makes me want to plan a trip there asap (and to Salemi when they decorate the town in bread!). If you’re thinking about visiting Sicily, this stunning costal village might need to go on your list next too, so save Henna’s insider info for that trip (fun fact, some of the scenes in Cinema Paradiso, one of my favourite films, were filmed in Cefalù).
ED: How did you arrive in Cefalu, Sicily, from Nantucket, Massachusetts (aside from an obvious love of islands!)?
HG: You nailed it, a love of islands! I came to Italy to study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2014 for a Masters in Food Culture and Communication. From Piemonte, I moved to Bologna after graduating. And for my 30th birthday, I took a solo trip to Sicily. It was end of March and I landed in Trapani. I had an amazing AirBnB host who took me to see the San Giuseppe celebrations in the tiny town of Salemi (they decorate the whole town in bread!) and then for my actual birthday spent a night on the island of Favignana. There was so much that was felt right! The sunshine, the sleepiness of an island in the off-season, the food (I survived on pastries that weekend), and the water. Then and there I decided to move to Sicily! It all came together from there: one friend who put me in touch with Fabrizia, another who encouraged me to visit Cefalù in the off-season.
ED: The stars aligned! Now, you are the Program Director and organiser of Cook the Farm at Anna Tasca Lanza, one of Italy’s most important food learning centres — please share with us how you landed this dream job!
HG: Great question: part luck, part skill, all joy! When I first met Fabrizia (a dear friend of mine put us in touch when I told her I would be moving to Sicily), she wasn't looking to bring anyone on the team. The position of Program Director didn't exist and Fabrizia had been hosting a cast of rotating yearly interns. I was working freelance at the time and had other commitments so wasn't really looking for a job, but was intrigued to see the school and meet Fabrizia. We met, we chatted, and she asked if I'd be interested in working on a crowdfunding project for her new documentary. I told her that wasn't really in my expertise area but I'd give it a go. After a month or two of working together (a bit remote, a bit on-site) she asked me to outline what a full-time position might look like. I have always been interested in education and the Cook the Farm program was in its infancy. I knew I wanted to focus on building up that program and help bring organisation and structure to the school. That was back in 2017 and here we are now!
ED: So basically, Fabrizia realised what a gem you were and wanted to keep you there! You are also a mindset coach, do you find that food has a cross over into this aspect of your work too?
HG: Absolutely! I got into coaching because many people who join for Cook the Farm are in transitional periods of their life. They are often searching for a stronger sense of self and some sort of tangible connection to the world. Food is amazing at that! Food gives us the opportunity to explore our own well-being, but also our connection to this earth, our environment, our communities, and those around us. It's a concrete way to see how specific changes influence our daily life and impact the world around us.
ED: How has living in Sicily had an influence on your view of food (or lifestyle)?
HG: As far as food is concerned, it has ruined me! I'm so completely spoiled... everything is just so good, especially the vegetables and produce. I've always appreciated good food, but in Sicily I've really learned to appreciate good ingredients. I'm so happy with a pile of cherries in the summer, or sauteed wild greens in the winter, or fresh ricotta on toasted bread. As far as lifestyle, Sicily really tests and tries my patience. I am an organized, efficient person and I'm forced to be more flexible and have faith. There is not much of an attitude about planning ahead here, which can be nerve-wracking when you're in charge of planning a two-month program for foreigners. But after five years I've learned to just trust that even if it doesn't work out the way you've expected, it's going to work out the way it will, and it's always amazing!
ED: Describe a dish that everyone should try when they visit Sicily.
HG: Anything at Anna Tasca Lanza, obviously! I could eat panelle (fried chickpea fritters) for days, but I'm super picky. They have to be crispy and freshly made (preferably at the school)! The other thing I'd say is to try to give anchovies a try, even if you're not a lover of them. One of my favorite sandwiches is bread with olive oil, oregano, pecorino, and anchovies. It's just divine! And, of course, if you're here during peak artichoke season (March/April) eat everything and anything you can get your hands on. Otherwise, I love the little artichokes in oil that you can find in some alimentari.
ED: I’m with you on the anchovies and artichokes. I hear that you love honey too! What are some of the ingredients you cannot live without?
HG: I do love honey! But I don't consume it fast enough so I always have about three jars around the house. Right now I have a Lemon Blossom honey from Miele Thun, a local Sulla honey from the school's gardener Giovanni, and a "mille fiori" from Carlo Amodeo. I will embarrassingly admit that I can not live without peanut butter. I found a brand in Florence that offers free shipping over 30 euros which means I order 8 jars of peanut butter at time. And then finally, I love cooked veggies: this winter I couldn't stop eating roast radicchio. Now that it's hot I'm making a ton of green bean and potato salads.
ED: I always have a jar of that same peanut butter in the pantry too! Let’s talk about Cefalù. Most important thing, where should we eat when we visit?!
HG: I have to be honest that Cefalù isn't known for amazing cuisine, but there are some hidden gems. Number one for a delicious and carefully curated meal of local ingredients would be Qualia. They are amazing, have a beautiful wine list, and a very seasonal menu. Second, my favorite cannolo in Sicily is at Pasticceria Cangelosi. Don't be scared if you walk in and see nothing displayed. They fill everything on demand, as it should be. If you're like me and want the best of of the best, go for a cartoccio: essentially a donut like tube stuffed with sweet ricotta. Be prepared for a nap after. Finally, Il Covo Del Pirata is my favorite lunch spot. Enjoy a plate of simple seafood pasta with sea views and sounds in their open air restaurant.
ED: Where should we go for breakfast?
HG: I always go to Bar Duomo. They have the prettiest ceramic tabletops and my favorite cornetto al marmellata (jam stuffed croissant). In the winter I go for a cappuccino, but in the summer I go for a caffe shakerato, an Italian iced coffee: espresso shaken with ice and often served in a martini glass.
ED: A good spot for a view?
HG: Hike up to the top of the Rocca! The best view overlooking town. But my all time favorite view is when you swim out 200 meters from shore. You can see the whole town and hear nothing but the birds and the sea! 💛 or take an early morning walk all the way to the end of the lungomare and see the town from a distance.
ED: Thank you so much for sharing all this with us Henna! Is there anything else that you would really love to talk about? Also please tell everyone where they can find you!
HG: I am always fascinated to hear from people who are interested in visiting Sicily. It can be a challenging place and my dream is that those who visit leave feeling full of the same magic that I feel each day. I don't know how to put it without shamelessly self-promoting, but I have been working with more people in coaching who are interested in making big changes in their lives: sometimes that means spending more time outside their home countries (often in Italy) or re-considering their careers etc. I'm always open to talking to new people. You can find me on Instagram @hennamg or my coaching site, Your Horizon Coaching.
More Cefalù food spots:
Bastione + Costanza is nice for a different take on Sicily (I usually love their octopus dish) but their pizza is really good too
Da Sasa (great for sunset time) and good pizza (haven't had their restaurant food but it looks decent)
Fermento 2.0 also good pizza but nothing fancy as far as views
Rossorubino wine bar. They do light snacks and have a nice curated selection of wines. Good spot for people watching too.
La Botte: Another good traditional place. They typically have good fish pasta or pasta con vongole.
Tinchite: This is a nice casual option. Their menu is limited but I've always had a good easy meal there.
Fri: It's more of a bar scene with cocktails, food isn't great, but the only place I go for a margarita.
Passafiume: Near the duomo. Always really good meals, and their desserts have been delicious too.
Cortile Pepe: More refined tasting menu place but also good wine list and cocktails and cute courtyard.
Where to stay:
There are SO many airbnbs now. I like looking for something on the top floor with a little terrace. I prefer the historic center but you can't bring a car in and usually have to walk unless you take a taxi from the train station or whatever.
Ossuna Bay Hotel — Nice, newish, simple, with an elevator and not a far walk from anything. I think only the top floor has views.
Cefalù Design Suites — Three room B&B in a good location with nice beds and good water pressure. Not necessarily sea views.
Thank you for sharing this with us Henna! Looking forward to sharing another one of these lovely aperitivi with you in Sicily in September.