Monday, March 28, 2011

Day Off

I made it through my first week here at Villa Maiella. I can't believe it went by so fast, but I guess when you are working all the time the days just seem to fly by.

I feel very welcomed here. I have finally gotten more comfortable with everyone and am now much more relaxed in the kitchen than when I first started. The other day I started talking to everyone about my finals and got some input on what I should make. Angela told me she would help me with the dessert and Arcangelo will let me practice some of my dishes in the kitchen when I need to.The other day after lunch service I went on a hike with Luca and Chef. I was so excited since I haven't been hiking since Israel and the mountains here are gorgeous. We hiked right next to a river that was flowing strongly due to the melting snow from the peaks. Luca pointed out some juniper bushes where they usually forage their own berries for the restaurant. I am continuously amazed at the freshness of their ingredients here. We hiked for about an hour until we reached the biggest falls. We walked right up to it and sat on a rock while we ate a couple apples Luca had brought. The sound was incredible and the cool mist felt great on my hot and sweaty face. I didn't want to leave but we had quite a journey back to the car.
I plan to go hiking again soon, weather permitting. It seems to be one of the most fun things to do around here, and the exercise doesn't hurt either.

Today is my one day off and I am already bored. This evening though I am tagging along with Chef, Arcangelo, and Luca to an Abruzzo restaurant demo for members of multiple food and culinary organizations. Chef will be making a dish to represent the culinary innovation of Villa Maiella and to further its reputation within and outside of this region. There will be other chefs there from other restaurants by I have no doubt that we will be the best, at least that is what Luca told me was the case at many other similar events in the past. I don't know how much I will be doing, but I will be interested to watch and check out the event.
We leave at around 5:30pm so until then I will be holed up in my room watching movies, pretty much just relaxing until its off to work again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mid-Day Recap

I am already starting to settle into my new surroundings here and it feels great. Today so far has been the first day where I felt at ease in the kitchen, the anxious new-kid jitters are finally passing. Right now I am on my break in between lunch and dinner service. I have to go back down in twenty minutes to start prepping for dinner. Luca already told me that he and I will be shelling two cases of fava beans when I get there so I am kind of dreading it.

This morning was the first time I really started taking notes on the things Angela and Arcangelo said. They are so knowledgeable it's incredible. Every time I am standing near Angela I just want to ask her to tell me everything she knows. Today Angela, Luca and I were making gnocchi and Angela explained what it takes to make the perfect gnocchi, priceless knowledge straight from an Italian mama. In the afternoon when service started winding down I started thinking about what I will make for my finals and I threw some ideas out to the crew. It was amazing how much they want to help, Arcangelo gave me the idea to do a lamb liver souffle for an antipasti and he even said I could practice my recipes in the kitchen whenever I want.

Now back to work!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Quality was the lesson of the day today at Villa Maiella. These people care so much about the products that they put on each and every plate they send out; if it isn't right, they don't sell it. The first time I encountered this lesson today was during prep for lunch service, I was introduced to wild asparagus, a product I barely knew existed. This stuff just grows around here and someone from the restaurant, usually the grandmother, goes to collect it whenever the weather permits. There is a dish on the menu that calls for it, however the menu specifies that if the restaurant does not have the wild asparagus they will not serve the dish. In my head, this is just an asparagus pasta preparation and the wild could have easily been substituted for regular asparagus. I was quickly corrected by Arcangelo who explained that the wild asparagus is thinner, has a more intense flavor and a more substantial texture and to make that dish with anything else would be a cheap knock-off.

My next lesson in quality came at lunch. This kitchen family values quality, not only in their products but also in their quality of life. Maybe this is just an Italian thing but I have never seen a kitchen crew sit down to a three course meal together, including dessert and espresso. They laugh, eat, drink, and relax for at least a good forty minutes. They may be at work, but that doesn't seem to stop their life, in fact, they don't even see it as simply a job, it is their way of life.

My third lesson in quality came from an unexpected and pleasant trip to L'Aquilla with Arcangelo to go see their onion and potato producer. He asked if I was interested in seeing this place because it is a farm that doesn't use any chemicals and still produces a high quality product, I of course said yes. The trip actually took about an hour and a half but it was a total dream the entire way, the scenery looked like it was out of a picture book. I am so glad I took the opertunity to see a great deal of the Abruzzo landscape because it was breathtaking. The area is a vast expanse of rolling hills topped by medieval villages, complete with stone castles and winding cobblestone roads. In the background were these incredibly majestic snow-capped mountains, they were impossible not to stare at and although I tried to take some pictures I have a feeling they wont capture the real beauty of what I saw. When we finally got to the producer they were just the nicest of-the-earth people. Their onions looked just like regular onions to me although I was assured they were a higher quality product than store-bought ones. At one point it dawned on me that this guy goes about three hours round-trip every week to buy onions and potatoes, a food staple that most kitchens will buy discount. This devotion to quality is something I have never seen before up close, chefs will always talk about it but I have never seen more care taken in the purchasing of two of the most humble ingredients.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Villa Maiella

My first day at work and I'm already certain that I made the right decision to come here. This kitchen is like none other, it is truly one big happy family. I met everyone in the morning, there is of course Chef Peppino Tinari, his wife Angela who does pasta and pastries, his son Arcangelo who mans the meat station along with Luciano, a man who has been working with Chef Tinari for 25 years. Then there is Luca who is the youngest member of the crew, he's twenty-one and has been working at Villa Maiella for three years already. He is now the pasta guy and can pump out fifty-thousand raviolis an year (or so he says). He also was the one who showed me the ropes today, seeing as he is one of the few who speak English. There are two pastry chefs, one who works only in the daytime and I honestly forget her name already, and then there is Antonio who comes in for dinner and does desserts.

Lunch service was really calm, not too busy, which was good for me on my first day. I helped Luca do a bunch of prep in the morning, peeling potatoes, making stock, and cubing baccala filets. Eventually though he let me plate the amuse bouche for service, that became my job all day, including during dinner service. It was really cool that they let me plate something on my first day.

The whole crew feels like a family, which isn't even a metaphor in this case because most of them really are. Grandma and Grandpa even joined the crew for family meal dinner; they originally opened the restaurant eons ago and still play an active role in its day to day operations. It was nice being around a sweet old Italian nonna, it made me start to miss my mom and dad back home a bit.

and just before I end this blog post I have to add in this little bit of Abruzzo knowledge:

Did you know that pecorino cheese has the same effects as Viagra? (still yet to be proven)....just a little food for thought

First Day Butterflies

In twenty minutes I have to go downstairs and start my first day at Villa Maiella. I wonder what I will have to do, I expect the worst, peeling potatoes and chopping onions. When I spoke to Chef Tinari's son Arcangelo last night he assured me that his parents believe in actually teaching the stagisti (stage-ists) useful skills and techniques. I can't wait to learn how to debone a lamb, Arcangelo said that they usually use about six lambs a week and they do all their own butchering on site. This place also cures their own salumi and makes fresh pasta every day. I can't wait to start learning! Better go finish getting ready.

Wish me luck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stage At Last

Somehow I have finally made it to my stage.

The restaurant, Villa Maiella, is in a tiny town named Guardiagrelle that's nestled between snow-capped mountains and the Adriatic sea. It is absolutely gorgeous here, very rustic, exactly what you would picture a small Italian village to look like. The building the restaurant is in also houses a small hotel, only about fourteen rooms. Contrary to what I had originally though I will not be staying with the Tinari family for the duration of my stage I have been given a room at the hotel. It's a nice room, pretty big, two twin beds and a bathroom. There's a little t.v. too but I don't think I will be watching much of the local cable, but thankfully there is free wi-fi. I've been on my computer pretty much since I got here, there's not much else to do. I think I am the only person in the hotel and have been on my own all day. Chef Tinari came a couple of hours ago and we spent a little while talking and he showed me some pictures, but after a while he had to get back to work and I've been awkwardly hanging out alone in my room since then. I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing and I am starting to get really bored. I have also grown very hungry and have been sustaining myself off of complimentary hotel candies and tap water....I'm pretty sure I will be dead in the next 30 minutes of a sugar overdose. I hope this is not how it is going to be my whole time here, but only time will tell.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Here I finally am, in the grey and misty seaside city of Pescara. I've rented a hotel room for the night so that I can get to Villa Maiella early tomorrow, after all it is my first day and I can't wait to get settled in.
I've never gotten a hotel room by myself. With all the traveling I have done I have never had to book a hotel, get to it, or stay the night alone. I'm not nervous, I already did a tour of the city and it seems like a really interesting place, nice restaurants and shops filled with sleek euro-style clothing. I walked the ten minute walk to the beach as soon as I got here, completely undeterred by the gusting winds, gray skies, or spitting rain. It has been a long time since I've seen the ocean and I couldn't pass up an opportunity.
I love exploring new places. I kind of like that I'm here alone, it gives me time and space to think and to reflect on the journey I have already been on up to this point.
Very soon I am going to get dressed for dinner and head out to eat dinner alone, something I've never done and have always wanted to do. I hope I find a nice little place that's open, after all it is Sunday and almost everything closes in Italy on Sunday. So I suppose I had better get moving...

Friday, March 18, 2011

I AMsterdam

I may be getting old, or perhaps my moral compass finally points in the right direction but Amsterdam is a freaking crazy city!

Since school ended all of us have been in need of a well-deserved break from each other. Most of us went away for the interim week between school and stage, some went out of the country, most escaped to little known corners of Italy. For example Ura went solo to London to meet up with some friends and drown himself in St.Patricks' Day beers, our good friends James and Erin both went to a hideaway in Cinqueterre on the Ligurian coast.
Pete, Tony, Chris, and I however took it upon ourselves to really unwind and relax for four days in the beautiful dis-functional city of Amsterdam. This place is probably one of the most fucked up places I have ever seen. It was like falling through the looking glass into this a quaint little Dutch town that looks like it got overrun by a unruly band of beer-guzzling and pot-smoking pirates. They sailed into to town and started setting up shop one street at a time, unloading upon this unsuspecting village of rosy-cheeked blond children wearing clogs all the horrors of sea-faring life: sex, drugs, and good beer.
I spent the entirety of my trip to Amsterdam in a daze, brought on by a combination of weed smoke and disbelief. I couldn't navigate my way around this place if my life depended on it, it was to me a labrynth of alleyways and canals all of which just became a blur, a merry-go-round of black latex and doughnut stores.
Oh yes, where there are stoners there are munchie joints. If you have a problem with self-control, of any kind, do not go to Amsterdam. My biggest vice is obviously food, and here is where Amsterdam and I ran into a problem. I have already been griping about my weight gain since Italy, armed with determination I was prepared to go into stage in "skinny mode", you know, low carbs and all that healthy mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately that was thrown out the window the second I got a load of what Amsterdam had to offer. This place has figured out how to get as much money from a bunch of stoned tourists as possible, they just put a food stand that sells pizza, loaded hotdogs, waffles with chocolate sauce, doughnuts, and ice cream right next door to a coffee shop filled with high kids. bingo! There's the million dollar idea!
There is every type of food, at all hours, and it is everywhere! I got my fix of all things Asian on this trip with a dinner of Indian, Thai and Chinese; a welcome break from my Italian culinary tour. Everything I ate in Amsterdam was phenomenal, whether or not it had anything to do with the pot...I don't really care.
We did do more than just ate and smoked, we also saw a good amount of the city. We walked clear across the city to get to the Van Gogh museum and spent two hours in there staring awestruck at the walls. This museum was set up unlike any other I have been to, it was set up so that the visitor progresses through Van Gogh's work the same way he did, from his earliest and most basic compositions to his later years when he fully established his style and love for primary colors. They also threw in some works from a few of Van Goghs' contemporaries such as Monet, which was a real treat.After the museum we strolled on over to the Heineken museum and saw the factory and drank some beers. The Heineken is truly better over there and the museum was so much fun, a really great interactive experience.

To be honest though, I was just fine leaving Amsterdam. The city was great, I didn't see a sex show or talk to any hookers, but I think that's alright just the same. I smoked a lot and ate my face off, saw a cool new city and managed to get out of there alive and somewhat unscathed.

Amsterdam was a wild time. I can't wait to get back there someday

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Last Day

Today was our last day at ALMA. It passed like any other, we were in central kitchen for lunch service. Craig, Erin, Pasquale, Henry, and Myself were on Secondi and spent the day making tripe and stuffed cabbage. Service went off without a hitch and once again Chef Bruno was proud of us. After kitchen the advanced Italian class had to meet with Giulia our Italian language teacher for one last lesson. It was almost torture because we all knew we were so close to the end of the day. The hour and half finally past and we were joined by the rest of the class for a farewell meeting with Chef Bruno, Francesca, Candita (an administration lady), the president and vice president of ALMA, Giulia, our wine teacher Matteo and our history teacher Stefano. They all went around and said many sweet and complimentary things about our class, the most touching were from Chef Bruno because we had all become very fond of him over the last few weeks and it seems he shared the sentiment. Both Matteo and Stefano advised us to stay passionate, and to continue tasting and learning everything possible.

It was a very nice ceremony, followed by prosecco and salumi, in true Italian fashion.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


So this past week we found out where we will all be going for stage. For those who don't know, a stage is like an internship for chefs, you go to a restaurant and learn as much as you can and work your ass off for free. It's a great mutually beneficial situation, both for the young stagist and the executive chef. The chef gets free, usually well-trained and enthusiastic labor, and the student gets to learn from a master without being afraid of getting fired or embarrassing themselves.

For my stage I will be heading to Abruzzo, a region on the Adriatic coast in the southern part of Italy. I will be working for Chef Giuseppe ("Peppino") Tinari, a Michelin star chef with a farm-to-table restaurant.

I can't wait, it should be an incredible experience.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Florence is a magical place. I had spent some time there before but when I went back this last time I felt like I was at home. This past weekend I went back to Florence with Peter, a newbie to the city and had the pleasure of showing him around and introducing him to the wonders and twists of the Florentine alleyways. The best thing about this city is that every part of it is a museum simply because the achitecture of the city is still rooted in its rennaissance past. Each corner and alleyway is an introduction to some other beautiful cityscape or historic building. Florence is the explorers dream. Peter and I decided to take this as a solo trip seeing as the rest of the group had made their own plans or had made no plans to stay in Colorno. So Pete and I decided to revisit one of my most treasured places in Italy. Florence is definitely over-run with Americans, ,myself unfortunately being one of them, however, I am certain that Pete and I behaved ourselves in a manner fitting of respectful and knowledgeable tourists. We are in fact living in this country nad therefore respectful of its cultural nuances.

We started our day on Friday, missing school to get to Florence early in the day, early enough to check into our hotel and get the lay of the land. We did a quick tour of the central part of the city, I showed him where the leather markets were and where the Mercato Centrale would be tomorrow morning during opening hours. We decided to go to sushi for our first lunch in Florence and although it sounds sacreligious is was just what we wanted. No offense to anyone but we were both sick of Italian food and were in dire need of some sushi in our lives, so we indulged. After sushi we went once again through the leather markets until we were exhausted and went back to the hotel for a well-deserved siesta nap. After our nap we went in search of a traditional Tuscan trattoria for dinner and that was precisely what we found, this place was small, friendly and had big portions of traditional tustan fair that would satisfy any appetite. We ordered a mixed crostini plate that included my personal favorite, the chicken liver pate crostini. We then shared a plate of papardelle and boar ragout. From there we moved on to the secondi which were incredible. Peter got traditional Osso Bucco and I ordered a veal bistecca all fiorentina. Both dishes were rustic and simple but bursting with flavor. After dinner we called it a night, both of us had become exhausted after our large meal and decided to hit the sack. After all, we had a lot of exploring to do in the morning.Morning came too quickly but we were up and out of the hotel in record speed. The first stop on our adventure was the Mercato Centrale, the biggest food market in Tuscany. This place is humongous, and filled with a hundred food vendors selling everything from fish and meat to pastries, bread, pasta, oils and vinegars, dried fruit, fresh fruit, salumi, wine, and spices.
It is definitely worth visiting if you find yourself in Florence. One of the hidden treasures of the Mercato is this sandwich place, it is the only vendor in the building that actually sells prepared food and there is usually a line. They have been around since the 1700's and sell the best roasted and broiled meat sandwiches ever! I insisted that Pete and I each get one for breakfast and he didn't quite understand why until he saw the guy slicing paper thin strips of fatty, juicy hot beef onto a crispy roll and then smothering it with harissa and a "salsa verde" that I still can't figure out. For whatever reason these ingredients come together to make the best sandwich I've ever had, seriously, and I'm from New York.
After the Mercato we switched into shopping mode and trolled the leather markets that Florence is so famous for. The streets smelled lovely as the wafting smell of leather filled every corner. Peter bought a leather jacket, of course, and I made off with a gorgeous leather purse. After shopping we went to see the Duomo and spent quite a while taking pictures and marveling at the architecture. Next on our list of things to do was to go and see The David. Peter had never been to a museum before and this was a really good one. After seeing David it was lunch time, and once again we indulged our love of Asian food with some of the best Chinese I have ever had outside of the U.S. I have to admit that after such a large lunch we were tempted to go back to the hotel and sleep it off, however we trucked on and we went to see the Ponte Vecchio and marvel at all the gorgeous jewelry store window displays.
After we had walked up and down the bridge we went to the Uffizzi Gallery to see some more priceless works of art. The Birth of Venus always takes my breath away and I could've stayed in there for hours, unfortunately the museum was closing and we had to leave after about an hour and a half. It was for the best though because we planned to go out that night.

After a quick shower and change we were out on the town for a long night of dancing at a discoteque. By morning the weather had turned and we left Florence in a cold rainy mess. It was sad to leave, I don't know when I will find myself back there again nor do I know when I will have a chance to have a weekend away from work again now that my career is starting, but it was a great time nonetheless.