Italian Experience: A Labor of Love
The sky was a bright blue and the sun was shining. My espresso-hot and my cigarette-lit. I sat there and, in my head, ran through what I imagined my first day to be like. It involved a lot of nerves, some sweat and plenty of note taking. But as I entered the castle (yes, it is an actual castle – read about that later in another post) I was whisked away into what is now my reality.
We reviewed all the routine procedures, met the faculty and chefs, were fitted for uniforms, etc. We toured the classrooms, demo rooms and kitchens – all beautiful and grand! In the middle of it all there’s an adorable little cafe serving up delicious espresso for the students and faculty all day long. Pinch me?
However, I was still nervous as I approached the classroom door where my classmates and I would become better acquainted with our new chef instructors as they did a demonstration.
Chef Magada and Chef Ruffini decided to change up the program. They felt that rather than do a demo, it was best we just keep it casual; have a little “chat” as Chef Ruffini put it.
We were asked to introduce ourselves and share the thing we were most excited to learn. I guess it was a trigger. The anxiety of any shortcomings, self doubt or flubs from New York started to rise in my chest like they did the night before while I read that manual. Any of the insecurities I had in the kitchen formed into a golf ball that was now stuck at the bottom of my throat. My turn was coming up and I’d have to introduce myself to the chefs and tell them what excites me most about furthering my education. Was it perfecting my knife skills; working on my satisfactory-at-best taillage? Maybe I should mention that from time to time I have trouble following recipes because I’d rather eyeball measurements? That golf ball wasn’t moving and I was two moments away from having to share what I needed to work on most.
Then there was a moment of clarity. Screw it, I’m here to be a sponge! I should not have self doubt but only self confidence. I made it here thus far, and on my own accord.
I’m paraphrasing but it went something like this “I could say I want to focus on technique but that’s a lie. I want to learn it all. I want to soak up everything that you’re here to offer us.” That’s how I feel. Why focus on one area? Why limit myself? Why not perfect it all? At least that’s the plan.
Italian Cuisine is best described the way our chefs described it that day. It is a labor of love. It’s not about measuring grams or meticulously dicing a carrot. Sure, the technique is expected and should be there. However, the cuisine is about passion and it’s centered around the feelings that go behind every ingredient carefully chosen for every recipe that creates that perfect bite – every time.
It’s not about how fast you are or that you can just get through the recipe without missing some organized step… The Italian chefs didn’t really seem to view that as success. Success was crafting a beautiful emulsification with your fresh garganelli and accompanying it with a smile. It is about putting thought to action and appreciating each and everything you’re doing; paying attention to the little details that bring forth happiness. They said we should “have fun” and “love” as we’re working behind our creations, as it transfers into our dishes and THAT is success.
All I could think was “Oh my god, I am home.” I am not fast. Rather than use proper measurements – I use the “eyeball, taste and then add” approach. I should probably be more meticulous about technique and I should always follow what I learned for Serve Safe. But, heck, I’ve got passion. I already do this with love. That’s how I’ve always cooked.
In NY I would sometimes try to alter my cooking style and force myself to strictly follow the recipe. But that’s not me. Any time I did that my dish fell short and its taste was flat. It was when I was having fun, cooking from my heart… or when I was appreciating the ingredients for the dish I was preparing that it showcased my skill and talent at best.
So, yes. If that is how these chefs think, cook and expect us to cook then I am “home”. Finally, I can cook the way I enjoy to cook, with love.
But that’s all I can share for now because I still have to work on my satisfactory-at-best taillage.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. Explore your culinary education where the legacy lives on.