Forced to close her culinary school to in-person students last year, Natalina Bombino Campagnolo says she’s keeping it shuttered permanently in order to focus on offering online classes and leading cooking-related tours.
“It’ll be bittersweet, for sure,” she said of selling the Guelph/Eramosa Township property where she both lives and runs Natalina’s Kitchen culinary school, which specializes in Italian food. “We’ve had 10 great years. … I’ve had a lot of good times here. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Bombino Campagnolo started the school in 2011, at the age of 46, following a career in banking and spending several years as a stay-at-home mom of four.
Through the years she took a number of recreational cooking classes, both in Canada and Italy where she lived from 1997 to 1999, as well as completing her Culinary I, II and III training, in addition to international culinary and pastry education.
“This is my passion,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”
In addition to the fully-inspected and approved kitchen classroom, Bombino Campagnolo would often make use of her rural setting by incorporating her garden and the wood-fired oven in her yard into lessons.
The school closed to in-person students in March of 2020 but has continued offering online classes – something that’s been available since 2017 – but that doesn’t pay the bills.
“We’ve been just decimated by COVID-19,” said Bombino Campagnolo. “It’s not enough to operate a business, with all the overhead expenses.”
Part of the problem, she said, is that with the pandemic and people having extra time on their hands, many folks have started hosting free or low-cost online cooking classes. Not only that, people can take online classes offered from anywhere in the world, so there’s a lot of competition.
“The market is saturated with all kinds of courses … so it’s hard for me to sell classes that are based on my experience, my education, etcetera,” she said, noting some cooking schools also operate stores that have helped keep them financially afloat.
Though she applied for provincial and federal government grants to help, Bombino Campagnolo said she was turned down.
The in-person school’s permanent closure was announced in September. Since then, Bombino Campagnolo and her husband, Bob, have concentrated on getting their property ready to put up for sale.
A Facebook post spreading word of the pending closure garnered numerous comments from students.
“You are so creative and connect well with your students,” posted Toni Jeffery. “I’m sure your new adventures will be even more successful.”
In addition to the culinary school, Bombino Campagnolo has been offering food and wine-related tours of Italy since 2015, more recently adding Guelph and Niagara region outings as well.
She said they regularly sell out, with many repeat participants, but of course those were also put on pause due to the pandemic.
“Now that the vaccines are rolling out, I have a number of clients that want to go on the Sept. 30 departure. This is provided that Italy is open, she said. “We’re just waiting to see.
“They’re very hands-on. We go to wineries. We go to cooking schools. They are food and wine-based but we also incorporate local guides and tours through significant areas.”
Bombino Campagnolo self-published her first cookbook in 2017, titled Natalina’s Kitchen: Bringing Homemade Back, and is working on her second, which will focus on foods from southern Italy. She’s not set on a title just yet.
With her youngest daughter getting ready for university this fall, Bombino Campagnolo said she planned to sell her home/school facility within the next few years, but the pandemic prompted that to happen sooner rather than later.
“I don’t like to use the word retirement because I’ll probably never retire. I’ll probably always be writing cookbooks and engaging in this (online) space,” she said. “I’m re-aligning my business based on my stage of life.”