Tuscan Women Cook brings women to the Italian countryside to learn recipes from locals.

Meet Coleen Kirnan: the visionary owner of Tuscan Women Cook, an immersive weeklong cooking school in the beautiful medieval Tuscan village of Montefollonico.

Inviting visitors to delve deeper into the local cuisine and traditions of Tuscany, Coleen’s work brings together curious travelers and local Tuscan women cooks who teach recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation over the centuries.

As experiential travel and immersive experiences dominate the travel trends headlines, Tuscan Women Cook celebrates more than 20 years in the business of bringing people together around a table of good food and a warm welcome.

Coleen’s company was a finalist for the Wanderful Award at the 2024 Bessie Awards, which is awarded to a brand that has gone above and beyond to support, empower, and represent women in the past year.

The Bessie Awards honor women and gender-diverse people of impact in travel, particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and other representatives who have contributed unique voices and work to the travel industry.

We delve into the story behind this culinary adventure, where immersive travel experiences and family bonding converge under Coleen’s leadership.

A Culinary Odyssey in Montefollonico

Coleen Kirnan of Tuscan Women Cook. Photo courtesy of Coleen Kirnan.

Amidst a flourishing commercial real estate career in the US, Coleen anticipated the transformative power of technology, redirecting her professional path entirely. 

She decided to sell her real estate business and devote more time to her true passions: quality family moments and immersive travel experiences.

“Fortuitously, a friend introduced me to the proprietor of Tuscan Women Cook, who, amid health considerations, sought to sell the business,” she explains. “This opportunity felt serendipitous—a perfect convergence of family bonding and travel pursuits. Little did we anticipate that not only would this venture become an integral part of our family, but the enchanting village of Montefollonico, where the company is nestled, would also warmly embrace us into its fold.”

That village and the people who live there are now the heart and soul of Coleen’s motivation — along with the incredible team she says she is privileged to work with.

“The sense of community I’ve discovered transcends the conventional notion of a job,” she adds. “It’s a profound connection that goes beyond the confines of professional duties.”

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the travel industry worldwide, and especially in rural Italy. 

“With nearly 200 residents relying on the vibrancy of tourism, the struggles were palpable,” Coleen conveys. “Witnessing the reopening of travel, and the subsequent reunion with my friends and extended family in the village, evoked tears of gratitude. We stood together, having weathered the storm of hardship, emerging not only resilient but stronger than ever before.”

This shared journey is particularly heartening when it comes to her collaboration with the nonne (Italian grandmothers). “Many, due to physical constraints, cannot endure the demands of a restaurant kitchen for extended hours,” Coleen explains. 

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“Through Tuscan Women Cook, they find a welcoming space to share their cherished family recipes for a few hours, enabling them to spend the rest of the day and week with their families. In preserving tradition and providing for their loved ones, these women play an integral role in weaving the fabric of our close-knit community.

Women Supporting Women

Photo courtesy of Coleen Kirnan

Among Coleen Kirnan’s proudest moments is the work done within the village. “Helping local women keep their traditional recipes alive and share them worldwide, all while working just a few hours a week—it’s been incredibly rewarding,” Coleen offers. “When I purchased Tuscan Women Cook, it was a struggling company. Now, it’s one with a packed calendar. It was no small feat, but it’s a success story that proves hard work and determination pay off.”

Helping local women keep their traditional recipes alive and share them worldwide, all while working just a few hours a week—it’s been incredibly rewarding.

Coleen Kirnan, Owner of Tuscan Women Cook

Women who support women offer Coleen professional and personal inspiration. “Especially older and younger women making a name for themselves,” she says.

Her focus on uplifting women and preserving community traditions has earned her a nomination for the 2024 Wanderful Award at the Bessies

“It is a profound honor to receive a nomination for a Bessie Award,” she tells us. “This recognition extends beyond just myself; it embraces the remarkable nonne who form the heart of our enterprise.” 

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While Tuscan Women Cook was originally aimed at showcasing local cuisine and charming villages to guests, its evolution has centered around the extraordinary women Coleen says she is privileged to work with. “I express my gratitude for sharing this nomination with a cohort of hardworking and deserving candidates and am delighted to be acknowledged by our supportive community.”

Envisioning the Future: Regenerative and Conscious Travel

Tuscan Women Cook
Photo courtesy of Coleen Kirnan

In envisioning the future of the travel industry, Coleen sees a paradigm shift towards regenerative and conscious travel. “It’s not just about exploring new destinations,” she explains. “It’s about leaving a positive and lasting impact on the communities we visit.”

Industry conversations around sustainability often focus on the environment. The sustainability of local communities and culture, however, is just as significant. “In our interconnected global landscape, the travel industry is more than just a means to relax or explore; it’s an integral part of a worldwide conversation,” Coleen asserts. 

In our interconnected global landscape, the travel industry is more than just a means to relax or explore; it’s an integral part of a worldwide conversation.

Coleen Kirnan, Owner of Tuscan Women Cook

“As responsible participants in the global community, we cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocities and challenges faced by communities in lands not commonly associated with leisure,” she continues. “The travel industry, with its vast reach and influence, has a crucial role to play in addressing these issues. It’s not just about providing a getaway; it’s about fostering a sense of responsibility and awareness among travelers.”

Coleen aims to move beyond traditional tourism models to ensure that travelers’ presence in small towns is a force for good. Her work actively contributes to the improvement of local economies, supports sustainable agriculture practices, and, most importantly, uplifts the lives of the people who call these places home.

Her vision is rooted in a commitment to responsible travel that fosters meaningful connections, preserves cultural heritage, and creates a more harmonious relationship between travelers and the communities they encounter. “I am committed to empowering the beloved nonne in our charming village, fostering a community where their wisdom and traditions flourish, and creating a lasting impact for generations to come,” Coleen tells us.

It’s a vision and mission we completely support, and we can’t wait to see what comes next for Coleen and Tuscan Women Cook.