It was my final week living in Italy. I had finished up my stage at Peck in Milano, made an impromptu trip to Sicily for the weekend, then arrived to the familiar village of Colorno. This small town hosts my culinary school, ALMA. Upon getting off the train with my entire duffle, chef gear and knives in tote, I was comforted by the scenery of the foggy planes of the piana Piadena. It felt like I had never left. I was to end my Italian journey where it had begun. My culinary school experience in Italy consisted off 3 months living in Colorno. I fell into a routine of attending my daily lectures and cooking practicum at ALMA, exercising before or after class, early bedtimes, reading novels, and traveling northern Italy on my free weekends. I then moved to the fashion capital for 3 months and completed my mandatory internship or, stage as Italians call it. With that experience under my belt, I had arrived in Colorno again, ready to rock this town. My plan was to get my finals over with, graduate from culinary school, then let Colorno eat my dust upon my departure to the open arms of American soil (sorry, no diss to Italy, but America, I love you!).
But the week was not a cake walk. It actually kind of sucked. It consisted of long, stressful days of practical exams and presentations. One assignment was to present a report we were required to write called the Regional Project. We presented the region in which we completed our stage. I presented Lombardia where Milano resides. I spoke fully in Italian and highlighted aspects such as Ossobucco, Risotto Milanese, Quartirolo Lombardo cheese, Salumo Milanese, and the Panettone Easter cake.
Most importantly, we had 2 days of cooking, which if you’ve seen a reality show on the Food Network of people sprinting around the kitchen pressed for time and hoping to plate their dishes on time, you’re not far off. On the first kitchen day, we made 2 traditional Italian dishes that were a surprise to us. One dish was the classic Risotto Milanese which had to be perfectly salted, perfectly textured, perfectly colored with saffron, and perfectly “a londra” as Italians describe a risotto consistency. I actually forget what the second dish was, but I do remember kicking ass. Our second day’s assignment was to make dishes from our stage restaurant: primo or secondo (pasta or meat dish) and a dolce (dessert). We were to provide the school with our ingredient requirements 2 weeks ahead of time and bring along any local delicacies or special equipment needed for our masterpieces. Maurice and Pietro from Peck Ristorante in Milano aided me in perfecting the Paccheri con Carciofo e Botarga– a dish consisting of freshly sliced artichokes cooked in white wine, colorful toppings of fish roe and black olives, over a special thick rigatoni pasta that I had packed with me from Peck. The dolce that I made was of assistance from my favorite pastry chef in the whole wide world, Alessandro of Peck. While I wanted to make his famous French Macaroons, he convinced me that they would be too time consuming for the exam. Instead, I practiced with him, making a plated dessert dish of a chocolate cookie stuffed with chocolate ganache, a raspberry salsa, and vanilla cookie crumble. I forget what he called it, but looking at it now, I’d call it an Over-the-top Italian “Oreo” because let’s be honest, we all know Italians don’t do any thing half assed. This last photo is after all of the week’s chaos. Half of the people you see are my homies from our Italian program in New York. We had studied together in NYC then at ALMA before stage. Finals week was our reconvening after being placed in all different restaurants and markets throughout Italy. The other half of the students were from Turkey. Their home culinary school in Istanbul required a longer stage, which made their finals week over lap with ours. Sharing the kitchen with them for the week was a pleasure. We graduated the following day and received our diplomas. We had a nice banquet and went to our favorite Pub (and only Pub in the small ass town of Colorno). We celebrated, drank, and said our good byes to one another as classically trained, distinguished Italian chefs. “Ci Vediamo!