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.