Thursday, February 24, 2011

Verona and Siena

So its almost the end of another week and once again I can't believe that the time is slipping away so fast.

This past week was full of trips, over the weekend Chelsea, Pasquale, Pete and I went to Verona and then on Monday and Tuesday our entire class had a field trip to Tuscany. Verona was gorgeous! It's so picturesque it looks like it came straight out of a post card, the perfect little story-book village nestled in between white-capped mountains and a winding river. The weekend was alright, to be honest I think I have a different idea of traveling than my companions do; all they wanted to do was shop, I spent most of the only day we were there bouncing in between sunglasses stores and sneaker stores. I actually came away from the entire experience pretty bummed that I had spent the weekend in a place that I had always wanted to visit and all I saw were two streets. Granted, we did see Juliette's balcony from Romeo and Juliette and that was pretty cool. People from all over the world had come and written their names or declarations of undying love all over the walls. It was the most beautifully sentimental graffiti I have ever seen.

We got back from Verona on Sunday, just in time to shower, re-pack our bags and get to sleep because we left for Sienna very early that Monday morning. The trip to Tuscany was full of farms and wineries, for two days straight we went from farm to farm to long lunches and then to wine tastings. It was acutally more daunting than it sounds, every time we all piled back onto the bus after a stop we immediately fell into comas similar to tuckered out toddlers that fall asleep in the back of the mini-van after a trip to chucky cheese, Except that we were stuffed full of carbs and wine, so ours was more of a food/alcohol induced coma.

The first day we drove for 3 hours to arrive at a Chianina cattle farm by 9:30am. I don't know if you have ever been at a farm first thing in the morning but it is truly an unpleasant experience, the smells seem more potent, you're still groggy from slumber and it seems even more surreal that you are now eye-to-eye with a 800lb bovine. After the farm we went to lunch at a restaurant that was run by a friend of the farm owner. The lunch was fantastic, we ate four courses of exquisite food and drank several bottles of Chianti Classico. Thankfully after that we were allowed to sleep on another long bus ride to a winery just outside of Sienna. We tried several varieties of local wines including Sangiovese and Chianti. I'm pretty sure we were all done for the day after that and we all slept on the bus as we made it into Sienna for the night. We got to the city around 7pm and immediately showered and changed to go out for dinner. Pete, Nick, Chris and I decided to break away from the group for a bit and go to dinner as a foursome. We took a taxi into the center of town and found a little trattoria that was hidden in a little alleyway. In my experience the little out-of-the-way restaurants almost always prove to be the best in quality.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and once again piled into the bus for another full day of tours and tastings. We started with a farm that defines the word organic. This farm had free range pigs, cows, veal, goats, sheep, chickens, and horses. All the animals had enough room to live naturally. This farm's claim to fame was actually their chicken farm and their 1euro eggs. These eggs were delicious! They were hormone and chemical free, fresh daily, and incredible delicious. The farm owners' son took us around the farm and told us all about what they did their and their philosophy on good locally grown organic meats and products and he prepared for us to try one pouched egg each. He topped the egg with olive oil, a caper, freshly ground black pepper and some dried oregano and insisted that we take the entire egg into our mouths like a shot and break the yolk in our mouths, combining all the flavors together. It was incredible, it didn't taste gross or slimy like a normal egg would, it tasted creamy and mild. After the farm we went to two other wineries and tried a variety of Sangiovese based wines. They were amazing and all, but I was pretty much done with wine at that point. We had a three hour ride home and we were all ready to get some space from each other. The trip ended late that night as we pulled into Colorno and had never felt so happy to be back at our apartments.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Marchesi Code

On Friday I met a living legend Gualtiero Marchesi. He is the founder of the ALMA school of cooking and an Italian culinary giant. He has opened several restaurants, written several books, including The Marchesi Code which is pretty much the bible of Italian cooking, and is a Michelin starred chef. Mention his name to anyone in the culinary world and they will know who he is. The teachers at ALMA and at the ICA in New York pretty much worship this guy. He is now 82 and no longer cooks but some of his recipes were created before their time using techniques that are only now catching on with the rest of the culinary world.
Pretty much he's a genius and a culinary rock star and meeting him was like meeting a superstar. We were all ecstatic. What's even better is that Francesca (our den mother) negotiated for him to come teach a class with us on March 1st. I can't wait!

This weekend Peter, Chelsea, Pasquale and I went to Verona for a night. The city was gorgeous, everything was built in classic Italian renaissance style. Since this was the city that the story of Romeo and Juliette took place there was plenty of romance in the air. We saw the balcony that was supposed to be Juliettes. The coolest part was that on the walls leading up to the courtyard where the balcony was located people from all over the world had written declarations of love in graffiti. The walls were abolutely covered and although is was technically defacing the monument it was beautiful to see how many people in love had come there to honor the classic love story of Romeo and Juliet.
But for now I must get some rest because we leave our apartments tomorrow at 6am for a two day field trip to Tuscany and an overnight in Sienna.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Central Kitchen

Central kitchen was sweet!

We had to be in the kitchen by 8am so we all scrambled out of our apartment building this morning and, blurry eyed, made it into the kitchen for a full day of cooking. Me, Pasquale and Henry were with me in a parti. A Parti is pretty much a broup of people who focus on the same tasks during prep and service, so we were all assigned to dolci today. The pastry kitchen is its own little corner of the kitchen so we got to have some space from the others while we did our prep. We made a torta di ricotta, Henry made the crust and I made the filling. It was so good!

The pastry chefs name is Giulia and she actually lives in the apartment next to Chelsea and I. I've been trying to find a way to meet her since I found out she was my neighbor and now, I'm in! Service went well, we put out delicious food and everyone was very impressed with us. Above our normal lunch service we also had ten V.I.P's who came to ALMA today, they were all higher-ups in the Hilton Hotel corporation and knew what was what when it came to food. They were so impressed with us and the lunch we made for them that they had us come out after their meal so they could applaud us and let us know about their upcoming openings at future Hilton Hotel locations. They also got us to all take a picture with them, it was really one of the proudest moments I have had to date. I've never walked into a dining room and had a table of people applaud me for the meal I helped create for them. It was an indescribable feeling, I felt like a million dollars. I've waited my whole life for a moment like that; to have a group of people appreciate the work you've done so much that they actually applaud...that's priceless. Nothing could buy that moment.
I wish we could to central kitchen every day. That was awesome!

Some of us in the class...we have serious skills.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Salmon Sashimi

This week is going great so far, two days in the kitchen and one (tomorrow) in central kitchen cooking for our school. I've been assigned to the dolci team which means I'm going to be baking and making sorbetto all day, not my favorite thing to do but it will be good practice.

Today was a relaxing day in the kitchen, we made one recipe (lamb chops with a spicy bell pepper sauce) and then prepped for our recipes tomorrow. So we sauteed mire poix veg and roasted oxtails and other such mundane tasks. I swear if I see a head of broccoli right now I'll scream, I literally took apart a box full of those today. In the afternoon Chef Bruno wanted to demo a complicated recipe for us, a fish terrine. He filleted a monkfish, a branzino, and a whole salmon before carefully arranging them into a mold, it was pretty cool. The best part was that at the very end of class Henry, Pete, Danny, and I got to take home all the rest of the fish that wasn't used. We made off like bandits and probably took home fifty bucks worth of fresh fish. We immediately took it to Henry's apartment and scarfed it down sashimi style. Henry actually made some rice and we were just cutting up pieces of salmon and spooning them down with a little bit of rice and a dash of soy sauce. We were in heaven! Not to sound ungrateful but we are all getting a little sick and tired of Italian food. I can't eat any more pasta or pizza, seriously, its becoming a health concern.

Can't wait for central kitchen tomorrow :-)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bologna Part 2

This past weekend I gave Bologna another shot. The first time I went with Chelsea, about two weeks ago, was one mishap after another. This weekend however, things were looking up. The weather was beautiful, there was no art festival to mess up our plans, and a lot of kids from school were going. Nick, Chris, Micheal, Danny and Jeremy went late Friday night after class but Peter and I decided not to spend the night and so we met up with them just on Saturday.

Pete and I got to Bologna around 3pm and decided to take a look around and found a few sights we wanted to see. First on my list was the tower. Now what this tower is, or what its called, or when it was built I don't know, but this thing was hiiiggh. Its the tallest building in Bologna and so I definitely wanted to climb that sucker. We got to the top right around sunset and it was gorgeous, you could see the whole city lit up in orange and red.

The rest of the afternoon we spent people watching and drinking wine outside of a little cafe in the center of town. I kept telling Pete to keep his eyes open for our friends and sure enough who did we see about twenty minutes later? Michael with his bright shiney green European style Geox jacket and Chris in his slick blue sweater and button down. One Italian, one American, both actually Americans from Jersey. We hung out with them for a while, it was right in between siesta and dinner time so we killed a couple hours watching the Scotland Vs. Wales rugby game at an Irish pub in town. Once we all had a little buz going we went our separate ways, Michael and Chris to go fetch their lazier comrades at their hotel, and Pete and I went in search of the perfect bolognese meal. After walking aimlessly for nearly 40 minutes we happened upon this gem of a restaurant called "Il Doge". Not much from the outside but this place was massive once you got in, and completely full of Italians happily munching away at a huge variety of dishes. The first thing Pete noticed was the portions, perfectly large. This kid is big on portion size. Chelsea and Pasquale didn't make it into Bologna until well after 8, too late to catch dinner with us.

Anyways, this meal was epic. We started off with l'insalata caprese, the tomatoes were fresh and the buffalo mozzarella was bananas! Next was the main event, lasagna bolognese. The first time in bologna this had been my biggest let down, not this time. This lasagna was gooey, rich, and had the perfect amount of crunchy cheese hardened to the top layer from the broiler. Bellissimo!
Believe it or not we continued on our culinary quest and next ate half a pizza each, and dessert. We were so full by the time it was all said and done, definitely suffering from food comas and ready to head home and hit the sack.

Bologna has definitely redeemed itself. I didn't want to leave, but I have a feeling I will be back soon.

Sunday is always a lazy day in Colorno, everything is closed, and everyone just chills. It's pretty much the same as the States except there's no football and no delivery Chinese food so basically, it sucks. I went to the grocery store early enough that they hadn't closed and so I stocked up on essentials for the next week or so. After that I met up with Peter and Tony, our resident rockstar and went to hang with some of the Italian sous chefs at ALMA House 1. They all work at ALMA and switch off helping our head chef Bruno each day, sometimes we have Davide, sometimes we have Luca, and sometimes we have this little 18-year-old kid Giovanni. They're all very nice boys and seem to really like us Americans. The best part is they're all around our age, Davide for example is the one we all know the best, we started the program with him as our sous chef so he's the original, and he's only 26. They all go to the pub and hang out and drink beers with all of us, they don't seem to take their role as educator too seriously. Davide also has a friend, one that's worth mentioning simply because he strikes an uncanny resemblance to the worlds favorite vampire, Edward Cullen. This kid is a dead ringer for Robert Pattinson and, not saying I think Robert Patinson is that attractive but its unbelievable how much he looks like him. His name is Tomaso and get this, his real last name is Sanguedolce. For all those who do not speak Italian that means his last name translates to "sweet blood".
No I am not making this up. For all my friends who are diehard twighlight fans, feel free to swoon, pictures to follow.

We were all chilling at Luca's apartment, I suddenly became very aware of how different Italian boys are to American boys. For example, we went over and Luca's friend had made fresh focaccia that morning and put out two different kinds of cheese and three different types of prosciutti. All the Italian kids were dressed to perfection as if they had somewhere very fancy to be going. Us Americans in our hoodies and jeans looked extremely slobby, I felt underdressed. They also fit about six men onto one small couch that in America would have fit two, maybe three guys. They just sandwiched themselves in there and had no problem being extremely close with one another. It was cute. Anways we went back home as the Italians made their way to Parma to get out of Colorno for the day.

Now Sunday is coming to a close and its time to head to bed, Italian class at 8am tomorrow and I'm exhausted.

Buona Notte

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pesto Paradise

This past weekend Peter and I went to Genoa for some time away from Colorno. We had already booked a hotel and found a train, but the best part was that the weather was going to be sunny and 60 degrees!

We woke up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and made it to Genoa by 10:30am. Two of our classmates, Nick and Micheal decided to join us for the day. Pete and I couldn't check into our hotel until one so we all decided to explore the city together. The blue sky and palm trees were the first sights to greet us and instantly put smiles on our faces. The city is beautiful, an old port town with everything centered around the bay. It was a bustle with excitement and there were people everywhere, kids, dogs, people from the Middle-East, and strange and enticing aromas coming from street-food stands and back alleyways. It was in every way a hodgepodge of centuries worth of importing, people, goods, foods, and languages. Peter and Nick, both big eaters, made it their mission to eat something at every place we passed. Before siesta they had eaten two Doner Kebabs, a piece of foccacia, three scoops of gelato each, and un'etto (100 grams) of fried calimari.

Around three Pete and I bid our friends goodbye as they made their way back to Colorno and we retired to rest up for the night ahead, we had big plans. We had found a little restaurant off of the main drag earlier in the day that had been written up in the Michelin guide the past five years running so we knew we had to check it out for dinner. We started with an appetizer of steamed mussels, they were delicious and huge and the sweetest mussels I've ever eaten. Next was pesto genovese for me, I was pleasantly given a simple plate of al dente spaghetti with a hand-made pesto (none of that blended crap). The greatest joy came with the secondi, Peter and I couldn't make up our minds so we decided to share two plates, the mixed grilled seafood plate, and the gamberi rossi. The mixed grilled seafood was divine, everything was fresh and perfectly cooked (the plate included swordfish, grilled anchovies, sea bass, squid and shrimp). Peter had never before sucked the brains out of a prawn and so I inducted him into the club in the most wonderful way. These were not just prawns, these were the biggest, sweetest, almost lobster-like shrimp I have ever seen let alone tasted. Their meat was succulent and melted in your mouth. The brains were a sweet and juicy treasure, by far the single best morsel of the entire meal.
That night Peter and I took Genoa by storm. It started off slow, after all most Italians have dinner until close to midnight. We strolled for a while, walking off our meal by the water, enjoying the beauty of the port and all the boats lit up at night. We sat for a while on a long pier and just talked, about school, about our pasts and what got us to this moment in our lives. However after about an hour and a half of this we were ready to get our party on. We started slow and hopped around a few bars, looking for a real party. Around 2am I finally asked a local, our cocktail waitress at the second bar we had found and she told us about a discoteque not far from there. We found it with a little help from two more local kids we found outside of a dive bar on the way and they nicely escorted us to the front of the club. Pete and I then danced until the wee hours of the morning and enjoyed every second of it! We had both been craving a dance party and we got one hell of a dance party.

The next morning surprisingly I was the first one up, ready to go and see the rest of the sights of Genoa. The first thing on the agenda was the aquarium! Nothing gets me more excited than zoos, museums, and aquariums and this was supposed to be the best aquarium in Italy. The line was huge! I guess that going to the aquarium is the Sunday activity for young Genovese families. It was completely worth it though because this was by far the biggest and most impressive ones I have ever been to. They not only had fish, but they had sharks, seals, penguins, dolphins that played basketball (yea I said it!), it was out of control.

After the aquarium we went to explore the giant pirate ship they have parked in the harbor. This thing was right out of Peter Pan and was a dead ringer for the Jolly Roger. Needless to say I was in heaven! Jack Sparrow watch out, I almost hijacked that thing and spun it around the Mediterranean. Once we were finished doing our best pirate impressions it was definitely time for lunch and another fantastic meal. We went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant and sated our growing cravings for sushi and Asian food. Pete, usually a big eater, did some serious work at this place and I'm surprised they didn't charge him for two people. After such a big meal it was nap time again and we were out like tuckered out toddlers until dinner time. Unfortunately during all this excitement I had come down with a fever and could barely be roused around 7pm when it was time to start getting ready for dinner. However I pushed through and made it out to dinner by 8:30. We walked around for a while, most places from the previous night had closed because it was Sunday however we found a little hole in the wall place right in the main square. I once again started my meal with pesto and was once again impressed, and then Pete and I both ordered zuppa di pesce for our secondo. This thing was rustic, it was massive, and it was tasty! It literally had an entire fish body (head and all) floating in it. The meal was perfect but I was feeling under the weather and we decided to call it an early night after dinner.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and said good bye to a fantastic city, but not before we hit up that same sushi place again for our last meal. Thank god the weather had turned to cloudy on Monday or we may never have been able to leave.

until next time Genoa...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pigs, Prosciutti, and Pork Fat

After a long weekend I am back at the apartment with my roommates. These past few days have been jam-packed with activity. It was all kicked off on Friday when our class had another field trip, a full day of exploring the culinary traditions in our own Emilia-Romagna.

Chef Bruno suffered the loss of his father so we had another chef come with us. Chef Paulo had taught the American class before Bruno took over so he came along for the trip. The day was an ode to all things pork. We began the day with a visit to a parmiggiano-reggiano factory which was pretty interesting but a little too smelly for first thing in the morning. Most of us hadn't had breakfast yet and salty cheese was the last thing we wanted to be eating in large quantities, however the quality of the parmiggiano was outstanding and the process of making it was truly interesting. Next we went to a farm to see the production of culatello, a specialty of the region and a product that is still illegal in the United States. It is literally the back leg muscle of a pig that is bound, stuffed into its own bladder, and then dry aged. Although it sounds unappealing it is actually quite delicious and a sought-after delicacy. The farm they took us to was massive and we got to take a look at their barn full of still alive pigs before being taken to the cellar in which hundreds of culatelli were hanging. That was the first time I have ever gone and seen an animal directly before eating it, definitely unsettling. The castle, yes castle, that produced these culatelli was where we had lunch. After our lunch of cured meats, focaccia, and a heavy portion of the cheesiest polenta I have ever had, we boarded the bus and headed to where else? a prosciutto factory. At this point the last thing we all wanted was more pig fat, however that is exactly what we got. The factory was humongous and produced countless prosciutti di parma. It was the definition of mass-production and seeing that many dead pig legs hanging was enough to make anyone rethink carnivourism, if just for a moment. Once we had toured the factory we got to sample the product and so we all forcefully shoved even more pig product into our mouths. Needless to say we were all suffering tummy aches and pork fat hangovers for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


It's been a week since my last blog and so much has happened I can't believe I let the time fly by. Since I've already missed so many details I will fill you in on the highlights.

Monday we had our first turn at central kitchen. We arrived excited to find out where we would all be working and a little anxious about what this really entailed. I was designated to the meat course and the accompanying contorni. This was kind of a big deal since in the kitchen the meat prep and service is the more glamorous of jobs and comes with bragging rights. Little did I know that I would be prepping chicory leaves and carrots for the better part of two hours before I even got to see a piece of meat. However once service started I got to plate and serve the main course that was eaten by 300 of my peers. It was a fantastic day, Chef Bruno was very proud of our smooth operation in the kitchen and later by the great feedback we got from the rest of the school on our food.

Later in the week we had another field trip. For this one we stayed in our own region of Emilia-Romagna and went to visit one of the best producers of pecorino-romano in the area Ronato Brancaleoni. He and his wife own and operate a cheese cellar called L'Abbondanza.
The website for their place is - it's definitely worth a look. He has perfected the production of cheese in what's called a cheese cave. It is literally a thirty-foot hole in the ground that dates back to the 14th century and is used to store cheese for up to a year in order to ferment to the perfect taste and consistency. For lunch we visited his home and got a front row seat to Italian home cooking. His wife was a gracious and lovable woman who let us come into her kitchen and watch her prepare recipes that had been handed down to her by her mother and grandmother. The meal began with a plate of salumi and baskets of homemade flatbread along with bowls of pickled vegetables. From there there was a soup course, a pasta course and a course of braised meats that could only be described as hearty winter fare. Along with the bottles of red wine that kept appearing from the back, every one of us was ready for a long nap by the end.

The week ended and then it was time for a fun weekend away. Chelsea and I made plans earlier in the week to spend the weekend in Bologna, however when I say we "made plans" I would take that lightly. We basically just decided to go, packed a bag and left without a moments notice to an itinerary. That would prove to be the fatal flaw in our plan as we ended up having a 36 hour misadventure and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We got into town around 2pm, waaaay behind schedule. We planned to go immediately to find a hotel but instead we got side tracked by the amazing and humongous street market and ended up shopping for four hours. By the time we figured that finding a hotel would be a good idea they were all booked. Literally, every hotel in town was completely booked up because of a city-wide art festival that was going on; obviously Chelsea and I had no idea that this was going on that weekend. Thankfully we eventually and at the last minute got a hotel and went to eat dinner and party. Here is where our next disappointment happened.

We were starving so we chose a restaurant in utter desperation and as such, ended up with such an awful meal it may have scarred my unwavering devotion to all things Italian. The meal was such an insult that we almost walked out, and the worst part was that we ordered everything the waitress suggested! Now I've been a server for, let's just say a while, and if I suggest it and you order it it is going to be damn good! Not only were our meals suggested by the waitress, but they were lasagna and spaghetti bolognese for God's sake! We were in BOLOGNA! I have had better lasagna from a box and that is not an over-exaggeration. We almost left the city that very moment and had a serious conversation on whether or not to throw in the towel and make the journey back to Colorno with our tails between our legs. However, we decided to be positive and make a night out of it anyway, after all we couldn't come back to the rest of the group with such a lame story about our weekend. So we did what we do best and we went out on the town and partied. We ended up having a fantastic time and meeting a group of locals who bounced us around the Bologna bar scene all night until the sun came up. At that point Chelsea and I somehow got our act together and got to the train station promptly at 7am.

And here is disappointment number 3. When we arrived red-eyed and giggly to the train station, we were greeted with the horrific news that there would be no trains leaving Bologna for Parma, or Milan (same train line) until further notice. During the night it had begun to snow and the weather took a turn for the worse right about the time we got to the train station. Now this is Itlay, and no one gives much of a crap about you and your inconvenience. So inconvenienced and at that point stranded we were. So we did what any good American tourist would do, sat ourselves down with the nearest locals, made friends and drank beer until the trains started running two and a half hours later.

Arriving home in Colorno at midday we both went straight to bed to recover from our rediculous weekend, and although we didn't have the most perfect time, we had one hell of a good story.